Erica the Designer
excerpted from the Steve Sullivan interview in Glamour Girls #16 (2002)
“It’s just so odd that I was a gay fashion stylist in Dolls, and I became a gay stylist in real life! I always had an attraction to clothing, but I never thought I’d move into it as a career.” She recalls going into the poshest stores in Beverly Hills as a child to look at the clothing, knowing she couldn’t afford to buy.
“I’ve been trying to make a business of styling, but it’s very hard, like everything else. You have to get an agent, because an agent will know what jobs are in the works. And getting an agent is not easy.” Even as freelancer, Erica has worked with top photographers like Greg Gorman, and major publications like Detour, on photo shoots with stars including Johnny Depp, Kate Beckinsale (Pearl Harbor), Dominque Swain (Lolita), and Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley).
A typical shoot was one she did for an ‘L.A. Style’ feature in a Spring 2001 issue of Los Angeles magazine. “The first thing you need is an idea. I work out the story in my head, and that guides me to the clothes I’ll use. Its sort of dream-like images, they come in waves. My theme for this layout was flowers, so everything was floral patterns. I pasted flowers to the model, used tulips for earrings, and even had flowers growing out of her hands. I always try to make a story with the layout.” She notes with a smile that her preference for “bright and bold colors” in clothing and photo design may have been partly shaped by her admiration for the bold colors favored by Russ Meyer.
Next come the clothes. “You have to make sure the clothes in the story are not only on the shelves now, but will be when the article comes out.” For this shoot, “I needed to use a store I had a rapport with. My ex-girlfriend had once been the manager of the woman who now manages Dior. So that's where I got the clothes. When the clothes come from New York, you never really know what you're going to get. You can tell them, these are the colors I want, this is the feeling I'm going for—but it comes down to their interpretation.” Then, she works with the photographer and the models.
As in any line of work, crisis management comes with the territory. “One time I had everything set up with a big store in L.A., then at the last minute they pulled out. I had no clothes, it was Saturday afternoon and the shoot was Sunday morning. So I had to go out and improvise, getting new clothes from a discount store that fit the theme. It worked out pretty well.”
The level of ingenuity that goes into Erica’s designs—and her edgy, left-of-center sense of style and humor—come through in her layouts. One photo shoot with Greg Gorman used a boy-meets-girl theme, and followed it methodically from first date to marriage, with each stage in their relationship intriguingly illustrated. “Then they got married, she has a switchblade knife around her neck on a silver chain. We see him in the trunk of the car with leather chaps on, bare ass, and handcuffed. She’s wearing black in mourning, against a cemetery background. It took the story full circle.” Sounds like the kind of relationship that Vixen—or better still Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat—would have appreciated.