Aï Bihr


A former engineer in neuroscience turned respected mind in fashion, design, and creative concepts... the multifaceted Aï Bihr has long fascinated us.  As a former designer for brands like Band of Outsiders, Steven Alan, Uniqlo, and now a partner in her own firm Hansen Feutry Bihr Studio, Aï’s varied past and present outlook are a reminder to follow your own path, understanding that everyone’s differing journeys can turn out in unexpected ways. This winter, we shadowed her on a trip to Santa Fe, NM with her husband, photographer Cedric Bihr. What resulted was a study in light, texture, and palette — and a conversation on inspiration, travel, and perspective.

Aï Wears PERALTA TRENCH in onionskin

On childhood, experience, and working perspectives:
My childhood was spent…
I’ve lived in Japan, France, and the US, each about a third of my life, so I consider these places a piece of home and of who I am. Culture shock has been a process that has helped mold my perspective. At home, my mother ran a tight Japanese household, morning and evening Buddhist prayers and tea offerings, rice and miso the common denominator of everything that went into our bellies. Japanese was the only language spoken in the house… she gave us a kind of rhythm. Of course, when I left home I tucked all of this far back in the crevices of the mind…just in the last 10 years or ​so have I remembered those good things and integrated them back into my life in a new way.
My current focus is on…
I have a special place in my heart for my work with Glenstone Museum. I’m involved in a few creative projects with their team spanning from textile-focused projects to lifestyle... The museum opens sometime in late 2017. I am excited to talk about this more in the near future…. one project involves developing a tableware concept for their museum café that is functional, environmentally responsible, and beautiful. We’re working with different artisans and vendors to create a collection of ceramics, glassware, linens, and cutlery. It has been pure joy. I’ve also recently teamed up with Michael Hokenson, an impact investment entrepreneur. Our project, called Lysis, brings powerful female leaders together in creative and immersive environments, allowing them to connect with one another and explore how their resources can accelerate positive social and environmental change. We were surprised that there weren’t many existing organizations for these women. More to come on this…

Is there anything you fear?
It gives me anxiety to see so much plastic exchanged and thrown away daily in NY. It feels unsustainable. The amount of trash that we never see is also scary. I feel all of us who make product need to be aware of the waste we create and take initiatives not to overproduce. How can we become more conscientious together both as consumers and producers? I think about this often…
You studied neuroscience in school, and from there shifted into design and concept. For you, how do the pieces connect?
Whether you are building a program or designing a product, I think there are similarities in the process of bringing information together, designing it in a thoughtful way, and telling the story. It’s also about working with people and building relationships. You can’t do it alone. I learned fundamental things like how to collaborate with different kinds of humans, learn what it meant to have a job, actually see for myself how professionals turn ideas on paper into real products, and how to learn without slowing the rest of the pack down. It was a time that shaped a blob of jelly into something. Having this base made everything else—regardless of field— possible.
 "I learned fundamental things like how to collaborate with different kinds of humans, learn what it meant to have a job, actually see for myself how professionals turn ideas on paper into real products, and how to learn without slowing the rest of the pack down"
What have been some of the biggest turning points in your career?
Working with the head of our laboratory was an important time in my career. I remember the time he built a soundproof room in the lab where we were encouraged to bring any ‘instruments’ to play. For him, an instrument could be a kitchen pot, and he told us to bang on it like a drum if we pleased; he taught us to make music, invite others to play, create, and be happy. This was an important lesson and a ray of hope for me: Don’t be afraid to dance to the beat of your own drum, whether it’s a pot or pillow. Just go ahead and make your music.

Aï wears HEAVY WEIGHT PONCHO in cream
On travel, the American Southwest, and discovery:

How does travel influence you creatively or personally?
We are good at finding places to sit and watch life go by. Sometimes you have great ideas just relaxing in a foreign environment. A glass of wine and good weather help too.
What are your favorite cities to visit?
There is only one city that I have repeatedly visited for pleasure but have never lived: Rome.
What’s your favorite travel discovery of the last year?
It’s funny how sometimes it takes leaving your home and feeling far away to see the beauty of it. We refound Paris by being away.

You recently took a trip to Santa Fe. What are some of your favorite spots to visit or experience?
Lodging: Ten Thousand Waves
Meals: Breakfasts at Pasquals and Margaritas at Marias Santa Fe
Store: Shiprock
Museum: Georgia O’Keeffe house in Abiquiú
Drive: to Galisteo, take the ‘High Road’ to Taos, see Plaza Blanca in Abiquiú
Sunset: at the Gorge Bridge in Taos
Vintage: Santa Fe Vintage and Tesuque Flea Market
Hikes: Aspen Vista, 12 miles, up the SF National forest. Tent Rocks, Bandelier Ruins
What’s a personal mantra or quotation? 
In Japanese we say ‘ashita wa asu no kaze ga huku’ = ‘tomorrow a new wind blows.’ Tomorrow is a new day.

Aï wears SHIRRED AGATA in cream 

What are some of your favorite things to cook in the spring?
We picked up the Georgia O’Keeffe cookbook during our trip. We were pleasantly surprised and have enjoyed many recipes. She grew her own food, and made simple, elegant meals.
Aï's Wheat Germ Bar, adapted from the Georgia O'Keeffe cookbook
There is a recipe that we’ve adapted from her book that has become a lifesaver snack, especially helpful when we travel or are out all day with little time to eat. The O’Keeffe book explains, “wheat germ provides complete protein, vitamin E and B and iron. Cooking destroys some of the vitamin B1 and folic acid but most of the nutrients remain.” Wheat germ was apparently added to many of her meals to boost food value. I’ve added a lot of seeds to the original recipe which had indicated only pecans. I’m not quite sure of nutritional value but it gives you energy and tastes good.
¼ Cup Brown or Raw Sugar
½ Cup Honey
2 Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla
2 Tbsp Safflower Oil
1 Cup Wheat Germ
½ Cup Sunflower seeds
½ Cup Chia Seeds
¼ Cup Chopped Almonds or pecans
¼ Cup Hemp Seeds
¼ Cup Black Sesame Seeds
Preheat oven to 350. Mix sugars and eggs, add vanilla and oil.
Add/mix everything else. Spoon batter into a baking pan with parchment paper.
Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. When partially cool cut into squares.
Store in airtight container. I keep them in the fridge.
Cedric has asked that I find a way to dip these squares in dark chocolate. This is the next mission…

Watch Aï in our Fall '16 video on Vogue.com
Photography by CEDRIC BIHR | Interview by LEIGH PATTERSON