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INTERVIEW: Interior Designer Sasha Bikoff, Plant Stylist Hilton Carter, And St-Germain Brand Ambassador Earlecia Gibb On Holiday Entertaining Advice, "Salon St-Germain," And More

Nicole Barylski

Interior Designer Sasha Bikoff. (Courtesy Photo)

Gathering with friends and family has posed quite a challenge this year. If you haven't quite mastered hosting a virtual affair yet, Interior Designer Sasha Bikoff, Plant Stylist Hilton Carter, and St-Germain Brand Ambassador Earlecia Gibb have some advice for you.

The trio will be taking part in a virtual "Salon St-Germain" series that will help viewers step up their holiday festivities.

We caught up with Bikoff, Carter, and Gibb to learn more about the series and get their holiday entertaining tips - from picking a theme to signature sips to keeping the soiree flowing seamlessly and more.

Tell us about the series.

SB: I'm so excited to be partnering with Hilton and Earlecia for the first iteration of the new "Salon St-Germain" series. The idea is to bring together unexpected pairings of creatives - like Hilton, Earlecia and myself - to collaborate on an inspiring experience surrounding the elevated at-home cocktail moment. Salon St-Germain is inspired by the Parisian Salons of the 1920s, where artists got together to create and find artistic inspiration. We took it a step further by creating themes for the Salons, based off of the iconic art movements that rose to popularity on the 1920s - Art Deco, Surrealist, and Cubism. We hope to inspire people to get creative with their holiday décor, tablescapes, and cocktails to add a splash of fun to this less than traditional holiday season.

HC: When St-Germain came to me with the idea for the Salon series, I was excited by the opportunity to collaborate with two other creatives that I might not have been able to work with otherwise. It's been fun to work with Sasha and Earlecia to build off each other's ideas and share our unique expertise to put together these virtual events. I love that viewers at home will have the chance to make these ideas their own and add a fun twist to their holiday entertaining plans in a year that is so far from normal. My hope is that people are inspired to take their decor to the next level for a fun and creative end to an otherwise difficult year.

EG: Salon St-Germain is an evolution of Maison St-Germain, an annual event put on by St-Germain liqueur hosted by a different creative visionary every year. In years past, we've worked with distinguished creators including floral designer Lily Kwong, stylist to the stars Kate Young, and Bravo-lauded landscape designing team The Manscapers. With in-person events not possible this year, we took this as an opportunity to evolve the event into a program that could bring the French elegance and collaborative energy of Maison St-Germain into people's homes through a virtual series. Sasha and Hilton were the perfect fit for the first iteration of the series focused on holiday entertaining, with their respective expertise in interior design and plant design.

What are your holiday entertaining must-haves?

SB: It might not come as a surprise that I love entertaining, especially around the holidays. What better excuse do you need to get creative for the ultimate hosting moment? As you'll see if you tune into the live Salon St-Germain sessions, I like to play around with non-traditional color schemes and patterns; you can forget the typical green and red thematic. I absolutely love an Art Deco vibe because you can incorporate the clean lines and vibrant colors synonymous with that style while still adding touches of silver and gold that are so intrinsic to the holiday season.

St-Germain Brand Ambassador Earlecia Gibb

HC: I love putting a spin on traditional holiday greenery like wreaths and garland by utilizing a mixture of fresh and dried flowers and plants. During the Salons, I'll be demonstrating how to make a fun DIY twist on the traditional holiday wreath that can hang as a floating centerpiece above any entertaining space for a chandelier-esque affect. I like using fresh greenery mixed with dried elements like a eucalyptus leaf garland to fully achieve the look. It's an easy way to add an eye-catching, modern accent to your holiday décor.

EG: Glassware is such an important element of entertaining, and the holidays are a great time to experiment with fun shapes and sizes. Instead of a champagne flute, serve your New Year's champagne in a traditional coupe glass for a fun 1920s twist. Or swap out your angular martini glassed for a rounded, not to mention easier to carry, Nic and Nora glass. Small changes in glassware make a big difference in the ambiance and tone of the event.

I would also recommend having a dedicated bar area like a bar cart, cocktail tray or cabinet. People tend to gravitate towards the kitchen during gatherings, so having a designated drinks area helps to spread out guests and signify a special, standalone cocktail moment, separate from the meal.

For those virtually gathering this year, what are some tips to keep the soiree flowing seamless?

SB: While many of us will be unable to see loved ones in person over the holidays, a virtual gathering is a great way to celebrate and still spend quality time together. Each 'virtual guest' can set their own table, coordinate dinner and cocktail menus, and share a meal and drinks together over Zoom. Even if you're only setting a table for those in your bubble or just yourself, making the extra effort to create a beautiful tablescape makes the moment feel special.

HC: Incorporating a DIY activity is a great way to keep guests engaged and involved during a virtual gathering. Creating a shared experience can help make you and your loved ones feel as though you're together and add some normalcy to your soiree during this new normal. The floating wreath I mentioned earlier is a super easy project and overall fun activity for a virtual gathering. Why not add another unexpected element of fun during your virtual cocktail hour?!

EG: For those getting together with loved ones virtually this year, a set cocktail menu is a great way to celebrate and have a shared experience without being physically together. Decide on a few cocktails in advance, collect the ingredients, and make them together over Zoom. It's a fun way to expand your cocktail repertoire and try something new while having a shared moment of joy with friends and family.

When beginning to plan their creative journey, where should one start?

SB: I always like to start with a specific point of inspiration, and I usually turn to subject matter such as art, music, film, architecture, photography, fashion or nature to find it. There doesn't need to be a connection between your inspiration and the holiday or event you are planning for. The more unique the theme, the more memorable the event will be, particularly during the holidays when events start to blur together. Once you hone in on a specific point of inspiration, you can start doing research. That includes choosing things like motifs, colors, patterns and textures - you want to fully immerse yourself in the inspiration that is driving you. I believe that entertaining and parties should transport you to a different time and place, and everyone needs some escapism this year. Theatrics and drama lead to a memorable and joyous event!

HC: You should always start with a theme or concept. For us, during these Salons, we decided to work within the art movements of surrealism, cubism and art deco. This provided us with a focus and an understanding of what we'd want each moment to look and feel like. After that, just have fun!

EG: Starting with a theme helps give to provide a bit of direction as you're starting to plan for hosting. Whether the theme is just the occasion, or more literal like 1920s Art Deco movement, it is much easier to base everything off an idea that serves as a starting point of inspiration. The direction can always evolve as the details come together and you decide what is feasible for the specific event, but a theme is a great place to start.

Plant Stylist Hilton Carter. (Courtesy Photo)

Sasha, you'll be hosting from your home in East Hampton. Do you have any special Hamptons holiday traditions?

SB: This will actually be my first time entertaining for the holidays in my new Hamptons home, and I'm very excited to make the most of the holidays out here. I'm going to use this time to create new traditions and take advantage of the beautiful nature that East Hampton has to offer. My plans will consist of enjoying the landscape and snow with friends and family, whether that means taking a hike, bundling up for a walk on the beach, or sitting by a fire. It's easy to get into the holiday spirit in the wintery Hamptons setting.

Let's talk decor. What are some unique ways to highlight a soiree's theme?

SB: They key to bringing together a theme is communicating it through chic, stand-out pieces that aren't overly matchy-matchy. For example, this year I'm going with a variety of colorful glassware and tabletop décor items that reflected the Cubism movement without being overly literal. The Mamo cocktail glasses and the Mondi Vase are a few of my favorites - colorful and angular, they add an extra touch of fun to the overall look.

Hilton, how can one incorporate greenery into their design?

HC: Bringing plants into your design can be simple if you have the right amount of light and the knowledge of the plants that can work well in the spaces you'll be providing them. When it comes to having events, there is nothing wrong with moving a plant into a spot that it typically wouldn't live in, just to create the vibe/look you want to achieve. In my nod to surrealism I wanted the greenery there to feel whimsical and strange, so I brought in juniper topiaries that would normally be outdoor plants. For my holiday event, they were just right to bring in for one night of fun.

Earlecia, Salon St-Germain was inspired by 20th century avant-garde. What was it about that movement that stood out?

EG: The name St-Germain elderflower liqueur was inspired by in the Parisian neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the iconic art-deco style of the bottle design pays homage to the art-movements popularized in that neighborhood during the 1920s. Saint-Germain-des-Prés was a hot bed for artistic collaboration, and the ideas that came out of it have informed and inspired the arts for years following. When ideating with Sasha and Hilton about the thematic directing of our salons to kick off the series, we saw Art Deco and its connected art movements as the perfect fit to bring to life the creative traditions of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

What are your go-to holiday sips and pairings? What is a signature sip that is always a fun addition to a soiree, and what advice would you offer when crafting a creative cocktail?

EG: My all-time favorite cocktail for entertaining year-round is the St-Germain Spritz. With only three ingredients, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, sparkling wine, sparkling water, and a lemon peel for garnish, it couldn't be easier to make and great to make in large batches for a crowd. The citrus and floral notes from the St-Germain cut through the richness of classic holiday foods, and the carbonation refreshes and cleanses your palate.

Other than the Spritz, I love a nice warming Old-Fashioned cocktail. I created a twist on this classic cocktail for the salons with a cotton candy topper for a fun surrealist twist. It is the perfect cocktail for a cold winter day and pairs well with the warm spiced used in cold winter cooking like clove and cinnamon.

"Salon St-Germain" will take place on Wednesday, December 16 at 6:00 p.m. and Thursday, December 17 at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are free. To watch "Salon St-Germain: Night 1," visit www.youtube.com.

To register for the series, visit www.eventbrite.com.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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