Founder, Ernst Reiko
as told to The Silver Women
Women who inspired you as a young girl?
My Mother, Reiko. She was magnetic, dynamic and brimming with charisma. Loving the center of attention, she exuded a carefree positivity. Other people felt adored and special, in her company, which was a key component of her charm. While I admired this trait, I often did not benefit or witness this side of her, except from afar. Unfortunately, our relationship was strained. While my childhood was a spotty existence and there are many complex feelings, she taught me by example that consistency, positivity, and faith in oneself are invaluable. I might be creative, or maybe a different kind of person with more solid parenting, but I might not have the conviction to dream up my own fashion line and launch it on a shoestring, if not for Reiko, and I can kind of hear her in my head sometimes, what she might say, now oddly working for me in my life in important ways for my creative vision.
Reiko was the eldest of 7 siblings in Japan and lived through WWII. She moved to Paris in the late 1950’s, then on to New York where she met my father, a tall handsome German/Jew who escaped the invasion and came to the US to join the army in hopes to rescue his parents, unsuccessfully.
He was 52 and she was 40 when they met, then married and had me.
My father had his own industrial design company and my mother stayed home with me. Once I was in school full time she started tie-dying fabrics and making tunics and dresses for herself. One day a friend invited her to a Halston fashion show and her outfit caught his eye. After the show he arranged for a meeting and collaborated with my mother to create fabrics for his collections. I have vivid memories going to meetings with my mother at his townhouse atelier on the Upper East Side. I was only 5 or 6 years old and didn’t fully appreciate what I was witnessing, but I believe the experience made a subconscious impression onto me. After some success with Halston, my dad encouraged her to branch out and start her own boutique fashion line and Ernst Reiko was conceived. He gave up his industrial design business and became the businessman behind the scenes and my mom was the face of the brand. However, fashion is always evolving, and before long the beautiful silk chiffon kaftan and long flowy dresses were no longer on trend. My mother had a hard time shifting design gears with the changing times, and eventually, their business failed and they had to close. She continued to work as a fashion consultant and then in sales at Chanel’s first NY store where she stayed until her mid 70’s, she then consulted and worked with artists up until her mid-80’s. My mother had no shame with what we now call “rebranding” or maybe metamorphosing many times, 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 90’s, she delighted in making introductions and alliances. She was a master and I definitely inherited a lot of the same skills.
Audrey Hepburn. To me, she is the definition of simple, effortless, natural beauty inside and out. She exuded warmth and kindness and was a humanitarian, which I admire.
Jill Henry. She was my mentor and my friend. Jill was my executive producer at the production company I worked at in my 20’s. She was one of the hardest working women I knew and taught me how you can have a high powered job and still be a great mother. Sadly she died of lung cancer when she was only 50 and I miss her all the time.
Women who inspire you now?
Friends, new and old.
I feel very privileged to have met so many strong, talented, and truly present women over the years and they all inspire me in different ways. My friends are my rock and support system. Being an only child I always valued my friendships and treated them like the sisters I never had.
Most valuable lesson taught by your Mother growing up?
There are no limits if you believe you can do whatever you imagine and desire.
Do you think older women are valued or celebrated enough?
I think older women are starting to be more celebrated and this is encouraging.
“I have always craved the advice of older women because of their life experiences and wisdom. We live in a very youth-driven society and we need role models that are not just celebrities.”
The real, and down to earth women featured on this site are more interesting to me that that latest star in any galaxy be it fashion, entertainment, business, or art. This platform is a service to our community; telling stories, demonstrating nuts and bolts success at all ages/levels, and sharing inspiring examples. Life doesn’t end or fizzle out on any number, rather evolving and shape-shifting to meet today’s world and who we are living in it.
Have you made career changes over the years?
Haha… my life has been a bubbling brew of career changes, some related and some not. I am very proud of my diverse experiences, a rainbow of passions, gifts and skills I have picked up, and all working with remarkable people making worthwhile work. An HR professional might say it appeared unfocused, but I would probably have chewed through my ankle to escape from a more normal and steady career trajectory.
(Shopgirl, Photo Studio Manager, Advertising Photo Producer, Commercial Producer, Stay Home Mom, Jewelry Designer, Jewelry Design Consultant, Creative Content and Design Consultant, Photo Rep Assistant, E-commerce Producer, VP Account Director at a Digital Agency, Fashion Designer, Creative Content Strategist, and Producer).
Through the decades!
20’s: The decade of beginnings. I started the most amazing job producing advertising shoots that took me all over the world and working with inspiring creative people who were at the top of their careers. I got married at 27 had my first child at 28. Everything was possible and life was extra exciting.
30’s: This was the decade of family. At 31 I had my second child who ended up being diagnosed with epilepsy at 18 months old. I decided to stay home full time so I could focus on caring for my boys. It was always a dream to have a traditional old-fashioned family life. In a way I wanted the opposite of what I grew up with. I wanted to be that mother who baked cookies and did car pool and made delicious meals for the family while my husband went to work. It was this way for the most part and we had a very lovely life. It was safe and comfortable. As much as I wanted to be that mom I had the itch to work or do something for me, and when I found myself with many hours alone while the kids were in school. I started making jewelry as a hobby and it quickly became a business and I started Oscar & Nancy named after my husband’s snakes.
40s: Decade of Provocation My business was growing and I was doing everything by myself and was still a full-time mom. I would fit in working between the hours my kids were either at school or asleep. So when I was at the height of success, I would often be working between 9 am – 3 pm, then again from 9 pm to 4 am, then a few hours of sleep, and repeat… I did this for about 7 years till I finally broke down and got some help with the kids, hired an assistant for my company and moved out of my home office into a small space.This decade my marriage started to fall apart. Looking back there was very little happiness in our home and I feel significant guilt that my kids had to be part of the anger and the tension that gradually accumulated. There really is nothing good about the end of a marriage and the multitude of reasons for its demise. I believed we could save what was broken with more work, but resources of all sorts were slim. There was a recession and business was dwindling. I found myself at a crossroads. In order to sustain and grow my company, I would need to use money out of our savings to invest and this was an either/or choice against buying a country house as a more stable investment, and one that would potentially nourish my family. After some serious consideration and revisiting, memories of my parents own business going belly up, I decided I didn’t want to risk my family savings or have a familiar repetition. I closed my company and put all my energy into my home and family anew. Giving up my independently created jewelry line was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I lost a piece of my soul.
50s: The decade of “it is all about me”. I just turned 50 last April and I don’t think it’s an accident that my divorce concluded when my kids were basically grown and I am entering the second half of my life. I realize I lost myself via excessive sacrifices in the service of perpetuating an idea of a life I dreamed about as a young girl; such as saving my marriage. The biggest change I have made now is that my own needs are THE priority. I like me and enjoy my own company, which has been incredibly empowering.
“I am also against suffering. I used to think if I was exhausted from work I was doing great work, but being older and wiser I work smart now on things that matter the most to me.”
Through the ashes of my failed marriage, I have resurrected my parent’s company Ernst Reiko and started designing a line of dresses. It’s that dress you can throw on and feel great in. It’s easy and effortless yet stylish and unique. The silhouettes are simple in design, but every dress has pockets when you don’t know quite what to do with your hands or have to fold and secure a couple hundred dollar bills. I find unique limited runs of silks and cotton prints that are elegant and timeless. I only make a small reserve with a bespoke feeling. My hope one day is to bring my families connection to art and collaborate with emerging artists to create proprietary limited edition prints. My 50’s started off as a time to discover myself again and enter my next phase as a fashion designer, similar to the way my mother started her fashion career as she entered her mid 40’s.
Thoughts on AGING,
The downside…The hardest part about aging is losing my ability to read without glasses. I am basically blind unless I am wearing 2.50/2.75 readers. Then when you factor in candlelight, I am illiterate even with the specs. I mostly don’t look my age unless I break out my iPhone flashlight and then I am a dead give away.
The upside…Finally feeling confident in my body and my soul. I spent a lifetime being so insecure about everything. It’s taken a lot of work to let go of the distorted image I had about myself and now I feel sexy, desirable and wiser. I’m incredibly lucky to have great genes, thanks to my Japanese mother who blessed me with amazing skin, and a healthy constitution. Now I focus on nurturing my mind, body and spirit. I am not afraid of getting older, I am excited about it.
Your advice to young women of today?
Love and trust yourself first and be confident…If you can’t then do it anyway, fake it until you make it right?
If you do not believe in yourself why would anyone else? It’s easy to say, but I see how being insecure held me back and I believe it forced me to compromise my own needs for the sake of others and that doesn’t help feed you or your relationships.
– Erika Ehrman-Repola
Images courtesy of Erika unless credited otherwise.
FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS!
I was introduced to Bukowski when I was a teenager and one of my favorite books was North of South a collection of short stories. I just read The Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve. This book basically unpacked my childhood in many ways. I also have been getting into more spiritual/self-help books like No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hahn.
I like a lot of different kinds of music and I don’t have one favorite song. It really depends on my mood. But I guess if I had to pick one that I like to blast at full volume and dance to, it would be Battle Flag by Pigeon Head.
City/place in the world: I am a true native New Yorker and I have always loved the hustle and energy of the city and never thought I would want to live anywhere else, but I just went to Big Sur in December and decided this is definitely a place I would like to end up sometime in my near future. As I get older I realize how important nature and water are for my soul and living a simpler life can be incredibly satisfying and fulfilling.
Film: Night on Earth by Jim Jarmusch.
I love the premise, it’s an anthology of 5 different cab drivers in 5 American and European cities and the relationship btw the driver and their customers and what happens all taking place on the same night. Scent/perfume: I used to wear Annick Goutal ‘’Eau D’Hadrien” and Tom Fords “Neroli”, but I don’t anymore.
I met someone who doesn’t care for perfumes and enjoys my natural smell, so I stopped wearing it and it’s heightened my own sensitivity to pheromones. It’s quite primal and delicious to enjoy the authentic bouquet of your lover.
Flower: Lilacs for the scent, Sweet Peas and Peonies
Food or Cuisine: I love a great piece of rare Kobe beef.
Style Icon: Not any one woman, but French women in general. They have this effortless and natural sense of style, coupled with this air of confidence and sex appeal. My favorites are Ines De La Fressange, Audrey Hepburn, and Catherine Deneuve.
Artist: Frida Kahlo for her uniqueness, arrogance and gumption to just be who she was and did not conform to what was expected, in how she dressed, promoted her art and even with her love affair with Rivera. It was tumultuous, yet full of passion, and they understood each other deeply, in love and life. Also she didn’t let her physical limitations stop her from creating her art or having her passions fulfilled.
Skincare product you can’t live without : EXFOLIATORS. There is nothing like a good scrub to slough off the dead skin and give you that fresh glow. I have been using M-61 Vitablast C Scrub for the past 4 years and it’s my absolute favorite.
Lipstick color or makeup product you can’t live without:. As I have gotten older I tend to wear less and less makeup, but what I can’t live without is mascara and Laura Mercier Illuminating tinted moisturizer. It’s sheer enough to let my freckles come through, but it gives me some highlights that make my skin look dewy with a touch of a glow.