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Verve Man
May 17, 2017

Meet Akanksha Sharma – IKEA’s Youngest Designer

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

She also holds the distinction of being the first Indian on their design team…

All it takes is a scroll through Akanksha Sharma’s Instagram feed to know that design runs through her veins. I chance upon a sofa that looks like it is made of raw steak and a ring that is all teeth with braces. Her playful banter with friends about these macabre objects proves that her peers partake in her anything-but-vanilla approach to life and it doesn’t take me long to put together that this 25-year-old wears her whimsy with a cool nonchalance. It’s probably also why Ikea singled her out to work for them as their youngest designer and the first Indian one at that. She describes herself as a very visual person and loves the depth of indigo and the sensuality of red, something that she hopes to infuse into her work for Ikea’s India launch later this year. On a lighter note, she tells me about her other favourites such as her cat, who has been christened Marjory Stewart-Baxter. “Why?”, I wonder. “Well, I’ve never seen a street cat so gangster, yet so poised and graceful,” she explains. Akanksha is clearly an old soul in a young body and I proceed to explore her immersive personality.

Journey to the center of design
“I grew up in a strict, conventional family and it made me curious to explore unknown realms. My time at Delhi University exposed me to arts, culture, and literature and soon I was bursting at the seams, trying to find a medium to express my ideas. A year after,  I enrolled myself into NIFT where my thoughts found structure. The ball of energy in my head found an outlet, and I discovered that I was drawn towards an aesthetic that was bold, graphic and expressive. A most interesting project came my way in the form of a collaboration between Swedish designer Martin Bergström, Ikea and NIFT after which Ikea’s Creative Leader Karin Gustavsson extended an invitation to work for them. I had to turn it down because I was in my third year then and needed to graduate before I accepted any job offers. They were gracious enough to wait the year out and handed me a design internship to hone my skills. I finally joined them as an in-house designer in February this year.”

Ikea ideology
“My first project for Ikea was a collaboration between Martin and NIFT that entailed an alternate representation of India. The collection was called Svärtan (meaning blackness) and highlighted modernism through a monochromatic lens. When I left for Sweden to officially work with Ikea a couple of months later, it was quite unnerving to find a unique voice in the massive pool of talent. The company focuses on creating a better life for millions of people and that gives you perspective when you’re working. You also get to learn so much! Viktigt and Sinnerlig designed by Ingegerd Råman and Ilse Crawford are all about simple forms, natural materials, and honest imperfections and they’ve altered my own thinking. I have to say though, of everything I’ve learned here, my favourite is ‘fika’ – it’s a Swedish coffee break and boy, do the Scandinavians take theirs seriously.”

Material girl
“I’m a visual artist along with being a textile designer. Having specialised in Indian textiles, I work heavily with structure, construction, pattern and fabric manipulations and the technique of dyeing and printing. My alter ego explores mixed media like photography, collage, illustration, audio, and video. This is why I like to travel and get acquainted with new surroundings, cultures, tastes and smells; it inspires my design process. I am currently working on Ikea’s India launch collection and here you will find hints of anything that has ever moved me.”

Quick insights:

1. Evergreen inspiration
“Ahn Sang-Soo, who is the pioneer of Korean typography. He transmits his idiosyncrasies through various mediums like visual design, poetry, photography, and installation.”

2 .Favourite design element in your home
“My mother’s old saris.”

3. Favourite stores
“Aesop, an Australian skincare brand with a unique approach to retail architecture and design and Hay, a Danish furniture design firm.”

4. Favourite Indian labels
“Raw Mango for its understated, rustic appeal and Rashmi Varma for mixing the traditional with the contemporary.”

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