For interior designer Bebe Winkler, the little touches make big statements about her line of home accessories

November 29, 1992|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Universal Press Syndicate

Designing women always have been a fixture of the fashion industry, from Coco Chanel to Donna Karan, but in the world of interiors, female names have not exactly been household words.

It was in this environment that interior designer Bebe Winkler successfully but quietly plied her trade for nearly 25 years. Since she began decorating rooms in 1969, she has gathered a sophisticated, moneyed, international clientele and accolades for excellence in her profession. She has been widely published in home fashion magazines, including the prestigious Architectural Digest, as early as 1979, when just a handful of women had been featured.

But four years ago, when Ms. Winkler trotted out a collection of table and bed linens that she wanted to license under her name, she reached a point of exasperation when her pitch to manufacturers kept falling on deaf ears. Where a number of male colleagues had succeeded in getting their designs man

ufactured, Ms. Winkler couldn't get to first base. "Come on, give a lady a chance!" she implored.

She finally made it happen by manufacturing the collection herself, and her first collection was launched in 1988. Today Audrey Linens is her manufacturer, and despite the priciness of the line, with a typical range of $20 to $60 per place mat, for example, it's selling well.

With her line, Ms. Winkler has taken glamour mainstream, using her interior design philosophy as a springboard. She provides the decorative touches her clients have sought for years. Embodying the glamour is the ornamental look that has been her signature: tassels, braids and fringes. Also included are unorthodox shapes, such as a truncated fringed runner that becomes a place mat or, as Ms. Winkler calls it, a palette, because, like an artist's portable catch-all for brushes and colors, it's big enough to hold all the parts of a place setting -- even a couple of wine glasses.

Still it took four years of market exposure for the tables to turn and for manufacturers to begin knocking on her door. Now Ms. Winkler is being courted by manufacturers to create collections for them. Her most recent collaboration is with Vogue Patterns, which is packaging her ideas for decorative table linens and assorted home furnishing items selling at $9.95 and $10.95.

The same elegance that characterizes Ms. Winkler's interiors and product line has been translated to the patterns. The collection features window swags and jabots; bed coverlets (an alternative to duvet covers) that sometimes spill over the bed skirt as they do in Europe; festive table runners; generous-sized napkins (24 and 26 inches); reversible fringed throws that can be worn as shawls; a range of decorated cushions for sofas, chairs or beds; and even a holiday package, which includes directions for ornaments, stockings and outrageously giant bows for front doors.

Ms. Winkler sees the whole licensing involvement as just the beginning, and she is setting her sights on designing fabrics in her own blend of color and pattern, lamps and lamp shades, an intimate collection of furniture, more or less like her male counterparts -- Mario Buatta, Mark Hampton, John Saladino and Vincente Wolf -- who have made home couture accessible with licensed furnishings collections in the last five years.

Although some of those designers are associated with a particular look, Ms. Winkler has no design buzzword. Her design credo has been, "The more styles and textures you put side by side, the more interesting, intimate and unusual the space is certain to become."

What distinguishes Ms. Winkler's work as an interior designer and now a product designer is meticulous attention to detail: carefully chosen trims on cushions, window treatments, bed and table linens. She is not afraid of grand scale or color. But it's the finishing touches, the accessories, that embody the elegant look for which she has become noted. It's also the juxtaposition of her client's small personal belongings, treasured but ordinary, that she has brought out of the closet, deftly blended with carefully selected antiques or art objects.

There is more than a hint of opulence in Winkler interiors. In a time when the pendulum appears to be swinging from ornamental to more pared-down interiors, the idea of fringed swags or fussed-up pillows may seem to be passe.

But Ms. Winkler isn't ready to abandon her trims. "Of course I feel that we're streamlining our interiors. But we're not going a full 360 degrees, as we did in the early '70s. In the late '80s, we all went a little crazy with layering, how much we could pile on. Today, I'm not using as much tassel. I'm lightening up on braids. But trims serve as a frame. They can make a pillow a piece of art. You simply have to know how to edit."

While some of Ms. Winkler's ideas certainly are icing on the cake

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