Erika Bearman, a.k.a. @OscarPRGirl and the mastermind behind all social media for Oscar de la Renta (194,700+ followers on Twitter! 152,000+ followers on Instagram!), stopped by Holt Renfrew on Bloor Street in Toronto to chat with Lisa Tant, Holt’s VP Fashion Editor. Wearing a simple white tee, floor-length charcoal Oscar de la Renta column skirt and ultra-high beige heels, Oscar’s Senior Vice President of Global Communications of almost five years was at her most charming. During her half-hour chat, she discussed her 80-year-old boss, the perks of her career (which she calls “a lifestyle more than a job”) and the making of Amy Adams’ Academy Awards gown. We also managed to slip in a few questions from FLARE between photographs with her stylish fans, who were out in full force. One fan even brought a gift—not too shabby for a PR girl!
As Senior Vice President of Global Communications, what does your job entail?
I oversee all of his communications worldwide. So that means media and advertising, all of editorial—so when you see any of Oscar’s products on any magazines or on television or in a newspaper, I look after that—all of our celebrity dressing, events worldwide including the five runway shows that we do in New York on an annual basis, and social media—which gets bigger by the day. And I do a lot of work for Oscar, personally—whether he wants Mariachis to sing at his apartment in New York or he’s working on an exhibition of Balenciaga.
I loved at lunch when you were describing his joie de vivre. Oscar is 80 years old and you were saying that he’s sometimes younger than everyone else in the room.
Oh yeah. He’s younger than me, for sure. Oscar has a really youthful spirit. And I feel fairly certain that it’s because of that spirit that he’s had longevity and the continuity he’s had in his brand. Oscar is always thinking about what’s next. Nobody loves life more than Oscar, and he’s taught me so much about living, and just enjoying every moment. Obviously Oscar is a legend in his designs and for his craft, but what I didn’t expect to learn from Oscar is how to live.
You briefly mentioned the red carpet and some of those gorgeous dresses we see the world’s most beautiful celebrities photographed in. Can you tell us what goes into creating one of those?
A lot of what you see on the red carpet is from the runway, so these are designs that Oscar has already created, and then in other cases we design things special. For example, Amy Adams just wore one of Oscar’s designs at the Academy Awards and she came to me and said, “I want to look like Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina,” and I went to Oscar and told him what Amy was thinking. Of course, he produces—as only Oscar can—this photograph of him with Audrey Hepburn, and they’re both young and beautiful and eating spaghetti in Palm Beach. He’s like, “Send this to Amy. I knew Audrey and that’s the kind of dress that I do.” I knew at that point it was going to be a brilliant collaboration.
How has social media impacted business?
I want to do things that are measurable for the brand, but I don’t discount the things that I can’t measure. I can’t measure if, six years from now, one of my followers gets married and buys an Oscar gown because something was in her mind that, when she got married, she was going to wear Oscar. That’s the sort of aspiration that I think a lot about. When do you get into your head that you’re going to get married in Oscar? What makes you save something, remember something, and go back to it when you are at that stage in your life? That’s what aspiration is and that’s how you build your new customers.
During New York Fashion Week last season, there was so much buzz about John Galliano and his role in Oscar’s studio. What can you tell us about that?
John came for three weeks to spend time in Oscar’s studio to help us put together the show and the collection and I know Oscar really enjoyed it. He feels that John is a very unique talent and having the opportunity to collaborate with someone at John’s level was a treat.
There’s so much that happens on social media. Have you put any limits on yourself as to what you’ll share?
I share more now than I ever have, and that’s because I feel people wanting it. You just have to go with what feels right. I never tweet anything that I wouldn’t want to see printed in a newspaper, because it’s happened to me before. I try to give enough that it’s interesting, because I know people want to know where I hang out or what music I listen to. I can fit that into the bigger realm of the Oscar de la Renta brand.
I love when you tweet selfies in Oscar’s studio and I have to ask: Can you wear whatever you want?
I have—as most people in fashion working for brands—a clothing allowance that is part of my salary and the way that I’m compensated. You have [a certain amount of] money to spend on Oscar’s clothes. That said, I do wear things that I don’t own, and they’re borrowed. They’re samples from the runway, which really keeps me in check, because Oscar’s samples have a 24-inch waist. Some of the more ornate things that I wear, I’ve borrowed and I return them to the house.
Are there any tools that you use to measure your social media?
It’s really hard. The analytics on social are really inconclusive. If anyone comes up with a way to analyze your fan base across these platforms, tell you where your duplication is and really give you some interesting data, please call me, because I want to use your product and you’re probably going to be very rich.
Any words of advice for [fashion] designers on social media?
I think that digital provides a tremendous opportunity for designers and brands to tell their own story, and that’s something that is really powerful. It used to be that we all relied on outside media sources to say “This is what your brand is about,” and now we are a media source ourselves. You have to be careful, but it’s powerful for brands to be able to say “This is what we think. This is who we are.”
You were in Mexico City last week, you’re in Toronto today. What are you working on next week when you go back to New York and into the studio?
We have a bridal show the second week of April, then we show resort the third week of May. We just opened a boutique in London, which we’re really excited about, so I’m working on putting a few events together for Oscar in June in London.
Erika then graciously thanked everyone for attending and posed for dozens of pictures. We managed to ask a few questions in the process:
How do you cope with negative attention?
I was just exposed to it when I dyed my hair blond and there was a lot of negative feedback. All you have to do is look at my Instagram feed and go to the first couple photos after I went blond. But here’s the deal: Social media is a conversation, good and bad. If I want to put myself and my pictures out there and say whatever I want to say, you can’t pick the parts you want. Negativity is part of it, and the negative validates the positive because it’s authentic. And I think your super-fans—they come to your aid. When someone says, “You look really ugly with blond hair,” someone else steps up and says, “You know what? You don’t know anything about fashion and she looks amazing.” The one thing that does give me pause: I think about young women growing up in this “Like” culture where everything is subject to someone else’s approval. I’ve been thinking about getting involved with something to do with bullying.
For you, blond or brunette?
Oscar just told me a week ago in Mexico that he really loves my hair blond now. He didn’t like it at first, or he was skeptical about it. He was like, “You’re prettier as a brunette,” which I get. You’re always going to be prettier with your natural hair colour. Right now I really like it blond. I’m going to have to dye it back eventually because it’s horrible for your hair.
What do you think will be the biggest social media platform in two or three years?
I’m reluctant to make any predictions, but I think there’s going to be a trend coming in digital that focuses on white space and quiet, because I think there’s been so much noise. I also see a shift coming with being anonymous versus being who you are, your name. When Facebook came along, the web became about people. But now—on Instagram and Tumblr, which are the fastest growing platforms with thirteen- to seventeen-year-old age groups—I’m seeing a return to those fake names and code names.
Do you have a starstruck moment?
When I first moved to [New York City], I was in a department store and I was standing next to Dave Matthews. This is so random, since I’ve met a lot of people, but I listened to his music since I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and he was one of the first celebrities I ever met in New York. He was so tall and he’s actually really good looking. [We didn’t talk but] we sort of acknowledged each other in a way where he knew I was his fan base.