Meet the Silver Women: Q&A with Erika Ehrman
Describe yourself in three words.
Lover and creator of beautiful things.
Tell us your story.
I grew up in New York City as the only child of a Japanese mother and German-Jewish father. They had their own haute couture atelier, Ernst Reiko Designs, creating one-of-a-kind dresses for American socialites. My childhood was rich in creativity. I went to the United Nations International School and, later, to FIT, with the plan to take over my parents’ business. After becoming disillusioned by the mass production side of the fashion industry, I rebelled by doing something different from my parents. I took a job as the studio manager for an advertising photographer. Soon after, I became his producer, traveling the world working on amazing jobs. He eventually became a commercial director and I followed.
During those 10 years, I got married and had two beautiful boys. When my youngest developed health issues, I made the choice to become a stay-at-home mom. Once the kids were in school full-time, I turned my hobby making jewelry into a business that lasted 8 years. When the recession happened, I found myself at a crossroads. Unwilling to risk the inconsistencies of fashion, I decided to go back to production, taking jobs at a couple of full-service studios and then a digital agency. The days of traveling the world were gone and I didn’t feel fulfilled the way I used to.
This was a challenging time as I was turning 50 and found myself divorced and becoming an empty nester with both kids in college. I refused to let it get me down and instead began to paint and draw again. Today, I am combining my passion for textiles into a fashion/lifestyle business developing prints and designing dresses. They are simple in shape, yet make you feel sexy and empowered, without having to be concerned about having a perfect body. Most importantly they all have pockets. In order to celebrate and honor where I came from, I named my company Ernst Reiko Designs.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Starting my own jewelry business while being a full-time mother and doing it alone. I am proud I have never given up on myself. With every hurdle that knocked me down or stopped me, I managed to get back up and try again.
What do you like most about yourself?
I feel when people meet me they are able to see someone who is warm and compassionate. I think that comes from being able to love yourself and I couldn’t say it before, but I can now. I have a whole new level of respect and acceptance for who I am, inside and out.
What are your greatest passions?
My newfound ability to work in different media. I don’t limit myself. I paint, work with clay, collage, draw, design textiles and dresses. I love texture and colors in what I wear, what I make, and even in what I surround myself with in my home.
Which women inspired you as a young girl?
My mother, Reiko. She was magnetic, dynamic, and brimming with charisma. Loving to be the center of attention, she exuded a carefree positivity. People felt adored and special in her company. She taught me by example that consistency, positivity, and faith in oneself are invaluable.
Which women inspire you now?
Friends, new and old. I feel very privileged to have met so many strong, talented, and dynamic women. Some I have known since I was a little girl and some I have just met. My friends are my rock and support system.
Have you had female mentors?
Again, my mother. The 20 or 40-year-old me would never have said that, but with age comes wisdom and perspective. She had no shame with what we now call “rebranding,” and age, circumstance, and social mores never seemed to be a factor. She taught me the art of networking and how to hustle with grace and elegance. A professional connector even into her 90s, she delighted in making introductions and alliances.
Do you mentor other women?
I think I have been helpful and inspiring to some. I am not afraid to show my vulnerability and I feel women can come to me for honest and non-judgmental feedback.
THOUGHTS ON AGING
What do you like most about getting older?
Wisdom, confidence, and caring less and less about what other people think. Self-awareness…I have a lot more of it.
Do you think older women are valued and celebrated?
Right now, I think women are kicking ass and we cannot be avoided or ignored anymore. I do think there is still a lot of work to be done, because misogyny still exists, but we are on the road to being valued and having a voice.
Which women do you admire for aging with grace and integrity?
My mom is 95, has dementia, and lives in a nursing home now. Even with her condition, she has always kept her positive outlook and this keeps her spirit young. I have a lot of respect for women who embrace the aging process in a natural way. I have always admired Chrissie Hynde. I saw her in concert two years ago and she was fantastic.
What advice do you have for today’s young women?
If you do not believe in yourself, why would anyone else? It’s easy to say, but I see how negative chatter can hold me back and I believe it forced me to compromise my own needs for the sake of others. Develop a healthy relationship with yourself first and you will attract healthy people into your life.
What is your perfect day?
Having my morning tea, journaling, meditating, then going into my studio and painting or working on some kind of creative project that I just get lost in.
BEAUTY RELATED QUESTIONS
Who is your beauty inspiration?
Mostly French women. They seem to have such an effortless sense of beauty and style. They seem so natural.
How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
20 minutes tops. If I wash my hair, then an hour.
Do you enjoy wearing makeup?
I do, but I like to keep it natural and light.
As you get older, do you wear more or less makeup?
Much less, especially in the warmer months or if I have a bit of a tan. I actually feel I look older if I wear a lot of makeup.
A FEW OF MY FAVORITES
Anything written by the Nautics, my son Kenzo’s band…for obvious reasons.
“The Abbreviated Life” by Ariel Leve. This book basically unpacked my childhood in many ways. I have also been getting into more spiritual/self-help books like “No Mud, No Lotus” by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Great home cooking, because it’s often made with love and care.
Place in the world:
Right now it’s my little cottage in Bellport, LI. It’s my sanctuary. There is something healing about the house and the property.
Eva Hesse, Barbara Hepworth, Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler. All women artists who work with paint, mixed media, and sculpture, which is an art form I am drawn to and am working with myself.
That smell of fresh country air when I first arrive after coming from the city. The smell of someone else’s yummy cooking.
Peonies and lilacs for their perfume.
Art Life, a documentary about David Lynch’s early life, from childhood to becoming an artist. That film inspired me to paint and just play without worrying about how my art is seen.
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