It was during her weekly phone call with close friend and fashion icon Iris Apfel that Bonnae Gokson was struck with inspiration. “I thought, ‘God, she’s 97, she’s just been signed by [international modelling agency] IMG, and she still loves life. You don’t think about age but it still goes on. She’s really what I aspire to.’“
Gokson is no stranger to reinvention either. Having begun her career designing fashion boutiques for elder sister Joyce Ma’s Joyce Group, she was recruited by Chanel to spearhead its regional communications before setting up fine-dining restaurant and bar SEVVA, which was quickly followed by the opening of Ms. B’s Cakery and C’est La B.
Coming into its 11th year of operation, SEVVA has established itself as an institution on the international circuit for a select high-flying clientele – drop by on any mid-week afternoon and you’ll find a mixture of tai tai (太太) exchanging pleasantries over high tea, and besuited business types lounging on the wraparound terrace. But in the lead-up to the most important event in Hong Kong’s art calendar, Art Basel, Gokson has joined forces with longtime friend and Belgian interior designer, Gert Voorjans, to transform the restaurant’s vivid interior. The pop-up is a flamboyant display of Voorjans’ eccentric aesthetic, welcoming art-goers during the month of March.
Gokson and Voorjans are certainly equally matched in their proclivity for the fantastical. “Neutrals are easy, but I dare to play with colours,” says Gokson. “Gert is the guru of drama and unexpected colours, and that’s what I love about him.”
The result of the partnership is linens and passementeries, silks and damasks inspired by coral reefs and the Amalfi coast, including pieces Voorjans produced in collaboration with famed fabric mill Jim Thompson. They adorn every surface of the restaurant’s interior, from the cushions and lampshades to silk screens in between each window. “This is all about nature, opticals and flowers. It’s like a rooftop garden, a little oasis” says Voorjans.
The pop-up is a way for Gokson to bid farewell to the first incarnation of SEVVA, before it undergoes necessary renovations due to the increasing age of the ‘60s-era Prince’s Building, with a new look to be unveiled in September. While she is reluctant to reveal too much of what she has planned, Gokson assures the chandelier-laden Bankside dining room will remain untouched to better accommodate her regulars, who dine there up to three times a week.
“SEVVA will always have its own class. It’s not just a restaurant but a place of lifestyle,” she says. “I’m always looking for the new, and you can find so many transformations here.”