Erika Bearman is a tequila truther. As we settle into a plush red leather banquette at The Lambs Club, a favourite hangout of New York City’s media glitterati (Anna Wintour has her own table here), the 34-year-old senior vice-president of global communications for Oscar de la Renta—and the surprising non-celebrity, non-model muse of the house’s latest scent—is eagerly detailing the booze’s lesser-known virtues. “It isn’t made from grain, like most other spirits, which makes it more pure.” She adds, “I never get a hangover from tequila.”
That’s probably not the case for anyone who’s ever gotten swept up in the spirit of Cinco de Mayo or for the usual hedge fund bros who crush Patrón on the weekends, but Bearman’s not like most people. For one thing, on this sub-zero January day, she’s coatless. Her long, lithe frame is swathed in a clingy hunter-green knit dress—an Oscar de la Renta, of course—with an exaggerated cowl neck, which she has daringly paired with sky-high white patent-leather stilettos. “Oscar used to say that I always had on the wrong shoe,” she laughs.
At press time, the late designer, an icon whose sophisticated frocks have outfitted red carpet celebrities, First Ladies and Upper East Side socialites, is in the news more than ever. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that a street in New York will be named after the “giant of the industry”; the first posthumous exhibit, curated by André Leon Talley, runs until May 3 at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia; and Peter Copping, de la Renta’s chosen successor, has just shown his first collection at New York Fashion Week (besties Karlie Kloss and Taylor Swift sat front row).
But well before de la Renta’s death last fall, Bearman, who rose through the ranks at Burberry and Dior, was already laying the groundwork for the brand’s future following. Since she began tweeting as @OscarPRGirl in 2009, the company has racked up over 319,000 followers, who greedily devour teaser sketches of runway-bound designs, Jay Z shout-outs, and glamorous selfies of the beauty clad in head-to-fur-toe de la Renta, reworked in her signature luxe ’n’ low style. “Do I think more young women are going to wear Oscar de la Renta because of me? Yeah, I do,” she says. “People tell me all the time that I’ve made it more accessible.”
Bearman has proven so influential, particularly to a new social media–vibing clientele, that the late designer cast her as his muse for the brand’s new scent, Extraordinary. The bottle, shaped like a celestial burst, holds a pale pink floral-woody blend. Neroli and cherry blossom are the bright top notes; peony (her favourite flower) and rose are at its core; blonde woods and amber resin round out the warm base. A creamy vanilla orchid note satisfies Bearman’s request for a “sexy, addictive quality.” Sure to satisfy the Snapchat set, the range includes a dual-sided scented rollerball and lip gloss, a first for the brand.
“It was always fun to work on a fragrance with Oscar,” Bearman says. “He knew the scientific name for every plant and flower!” While the mentor frequently collaborated with an intimate team on the composition and concept of his many scents, Bearman specifically encapsulated this one’s younger, cooler spirit. According to the press release, the Extraordinary woman is “a risk taker who stands above trends and conventions; the star of her own show.” Sounds like Bearman in a bottle.
“Erika nearly stopped traffic on Sunset Boulevard once, when she turned up to dinner in a floor-length skirt, cropped sweater and ankle-grazing cardigan,” says Hillary Kerr, co-founder and co-CEO of WhoWhatWear.com. “I personally think the reason midriffs have been having such a moment on the runway is because Erika embraced that silhouette first.” It’s also possible that she inspired fashion’s renewed interest in blondes over the past few seasons. In 2012, Bearman made the dramatic decision to bleach her signature long, dark locks—a desire she’d harboured since watching Madonna’s Truth or Dare as a teen. Acutely aware of the commitment she was about to make, she sought expert advice from Vogue’s beauty director, Sarah Brown, who insisted on documenting the transformation on Vogue.com.
The ensuing mixed reaction (some of it not so nice) gave Bearman pause. “I had to remind myself that just because someone says you look ugly, it doesn’t change who you are.” Yet she did rethink her wardrobe. “I dressed far more conservatively as a blonde,” she says. “I never wore anything low, short or revealing.” Now back to her original rich brunette, she’s also returned to her “Bond girl style”: “I like things to be a bit off. I’ll wear a really elegant coat, but underneath I’ll wear a bra top, or I’ll wear a fur with a baseball hat.” In other words: straight-up, on the rocks and with a twist.