Erica Weiner’s Little Pieces of History
She doesn’t create everything from scratch. And that’s a good thing.
Some of the jewelry that fills the cases at Erica Weiner’s Nolita store comes with baggage: The resourceful designer mixes vintage trinkets she digs up at flea markets, antique fairs, and, duh, eBay into many of her creations. And through her years of hunting, Erica has gotten a lot more adept at uncovering the stories behind her ripe-for-revival finds. These are some of the most compelling discoveries in the mix right now.
“This is a decoder pin for kids that you could send away for. It says “ROA,” which stands for Radio Orphan Annie. You’d listen to the show, and they’d say, “Hey, kids, get out your decoder pin because there’s a new message.” It’s from 1937, and every year there was a different, amazing Art Deco design.”
“This is a class ring from 1902—like a high school ring. I am not good enough at dating antiques to just look at something and always know exactly when it’s from, but this one’s easy to pin down. It’s printed on the piece.”
“A lot of the things I find have to do with advertising. I guess the Heinz company gave these away at World’s Fairs. People were into giving stuff away, but this was a really creative form. I think they distributed five million of those—that’s a huge amount of crap to give away.”
“If you look into this, you can see a naked lady. Some of these pieces are really racy. I don’t know their origin exactly, but they’re older than they look—from the 1870s, maybe.”
“The black part of this ring is elephant hair—from the tail of an elephant. People would travel to British Colonial India, go on these safaris, and send back jewelry for their wives. Since elephants have long memories, it’s supposed to be a forget-me-not.”
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A Look at Erica Weiner’s Résumé
The jobs she held before she ran the show.
Between attending Vassar and starting her own jewelry business, Erica Weiner worked damn hard, doing the kind of jobs that required ingenuity—and a knack for dealing with children and very small celebrities. These are the gigs that eventually led her to her namesake line, which she launched from her kitchen table.
Disillusioned camp counselor
“After September 11th—and a year in New York—I was like, ‘I’m going to be a camp counselor. I’m going to forget the dream—the Vassar dream—to be a famous artist or something and be a summer-camp counselor.’ I worked in the theatre department.”
Costume-creator and leotard-repairer for the stage
“At the end of camp, my friend said, ‘Someone just dropped out of the wardrobe spot on a national tour that leaves like tomorrow. Can you go?’ I kind of knew about dance costuming, and I made my own clothes. So I had a phone interview from the camp telephone in the mess hall—with all the kids. I totally lied my way through it. I got the job, and I did it for two years, for shows like Fosse. We went around on this tour bus—60 dancers, 10 crew members, and 4 semis. I got good at fixing things and jerry-rigging stuff. If we were in Reno or Nebraska and a pair of earrings broke, I’d have to figure out how to get the goddamn parts in one day.”
Erica in her New York studio with her dog Bunny.
“I did a couple of years of unpaid fashion internships. I lived in my boyfriend’s apartment for free, and I was on food stamps for a year and a half—I was so poor. Eventually, I broke into the fashion world a little bit because I was good at getting things done without panicking. Somehow people heard that I could do stuff for fashion shows at the very last minute, so I got calls where people would say, ‘We need a whole dress by tomorrow’ or, ‘We need all of these dresses to go from cocktail-length to tea-length.’ I’d somehow do it, and I’d make what felt like a lot of money. It wasn’t very good for me, and I didn’t sleep a lot.”
Do-everything girl for a buzzy fashion line
“At Imitation of Christ, I did the line sheets, communicated with the buyers, made dresses, cast models, designed shoes, talked to factories, sketched, visited the factories in Midtown—a lot of work. I had some glamorous moments there, though. Mary-Kate Olsen was around a lot. I would do fittings and have to tailor dresses to her tiny, tiny body. It’d be her and me in a bathroom—her completely naked, me with a bunch of safety pins. I would think, ‘I’ve got to text my friends because this situation is so funny.’”