If there was a model example of a woman doing it all, it would be Erika Brechtel. Mother, successful brand stylist, style icon and online guru, she does it all and makes it look effortless. Behind the scenes, though, this is a woman who works hard and has amassed an enviable following by showing the world her creative hand.
After years spent advising and branding some of the most exciting companies on the corporate stage in her former guise as Small Shop, Brechtel made her online debut in 2002 when she decided to fill a time gap [yes, she does have them occasionally] during the last recession. Turning to the internet as an additional outlet to market her business, she set about remodelling her home, photographing and cataloguing, through online conversation, her efforts to create the perfect place to live. It was an instant success with bloggers and online publications all over the world, lured in by her elegant images and creative writing. Voila, erikabrecthel.com was born. Brechtel’s website now has a global following and covers art, fashion, interiors, architecture, publishing – in fact just about anything that inspires her and by default her followers.
Continuing to style, advise and promote brands in the US, Brechtel has eschewed the homemade look of her fellow bloggers’ sites and instead applies the same stylish brush to her musings, giving potential clients an insight into her world. Hawaii-born, LA-based yet globally travelled, Brechtel is a huge supporter of women in industry and cites the female influences behind some of the world’s biggest brands as an inspiration. Her favourite is Net-a-Porter. “The success of this brand is incredible,” she says. “To have gone from an online shop to a print magazine [Porter] that could rival Harpers & Bazaar or Vogue is extraordinary. The magazine is beautiful yet rich in intelligent content, covering not only fashion but also art, business, tech, travel, female entrepreneurship – all things that get me excited. Few portals pay lip service to print media yet here is a site that has generated its own. It’s a real success story that shows how far you can take things.”
Another favourite is Kelly Wearstler, an American interior designer, retailer, author, stylist, online curator and artist who is followed online across the US. “Kelly has amazing taste. She is a true artist and one-of-a-kind who blazes her own creative path which we all seem to eventually follow.”
Brechtel’s own life isn’t so different. She recently returned from a business trip to Miami, taking in the galleries, shops, restaurants and beaches along with Swim Week, a prestigious global stage for the best in fashion and swimwear design. Her previous trip to the city was to take in Art Basel. “Fashion and art are two loves of mine and there is no better city to enjoy them in than Miami,” she says. “I love Miami as it reminds me a lot of my home, Honolulu, a similar ocean city with a great vibe. Miami is evolving all the time. There is a real creative, free-thinking voice there that started with the early artists and architects at the turn of the last century and now has a renewed energy that’s pulling in artists and architects from all around the world. It has grown into an important new centre for architecture, art and design. The excitement and support for Miami are exhilarating.”
Art is something Brechtel sees in everything. “Art isn’t an exclusive medium. I love the artworks of Tracey Emin, Marilyn Minter and James Nares, and if I were given a budget to go shopping, this is where that money would be spent. To own a piece of somebody else’s extraordinary creativity would be very special. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be ecstatic to own a pair of Isabel Marant boots or an Alexander Wang Rocco bag...”
As one of American’s most followed lifestyle gurus with a global design database at her fingertips, how does Brechtel mix it up in her own home? “I love an eclectic but elegant look and in my own home you’ll find a Saarinen Tulip table next to a vintage mid-century teak buffet [sideboard] adorned with my grandmother’s antique china which was sent to me from Hawaii. It’s all different styles and eras but because it’s curated with love, it works.
“I think that’s the main thing – you have to love what you have in your home. The success of my blog is showing the viewer how to be brave with what they have and make it work with the pieces they want. I actually have a ‘five pieces’ formula, which you can read about on the site.”
Making the right impression is important and on Brechtel’s bedside table, alongside the international fashion and interiors magazines that keep her awake at night, you’ll also find The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhhig, which harks back to her core business advising brands on how to present and market themselves. “It’s fascinating getting under people’s skin and understanding what keeps them in their comfort zone,” she explains. “As a marketer you are always looking for your products to break into this personal zone. It’s a bit like an exclusive club – once you’re in, you’re in.”
Brechtel believes the internet plays a big role in creating the zeitgeist people buy into. “It’s huge; nothing is more influential. That’s why as an online author you have to act responsibly. Blogging should be an organic, subliminal way of creating a following of like-minded people. I don’t blog every day because I’m human and like to take a night off. But when I do see something that inspires me, I want to tell people about it. As in my core work, I want to educate rather than reiterate, and so I use my blog as a vehicle to focus on what I’m working on at that time; a creative visual journal of sorts.”
Brechtel’s blog is regularly cited as one of the best online reads and a great source of inspiration. So what’s next; how will she build on her brand? “I’m focusing on visual imagery which is so important online,” she says. “A picture can say a thousand words and I’m spending more and more time getting it right. I enjoy the creative process of making a picture and the end results are better than I could have expected. I also want to focus on promoting women in business, because there is no glass ceiling online. I work with a volunteer organisation called The Junior League which supports female enterprise and the potential for women to improve their communities. I want women’s achievements to be celebrated. Already we are seeing a change in outlook which can only work to build on the incredibly exciting time women are enjoying right now.”
Erika, thinking back to the start of this millennium, was it exciting being part of something new online?
It was and I don’t think anyone realised just how important bloggers would be as a voice in their own right. Now I love being part of a big online community that sets trends and accrues a worldwide following. Back then I changed the name of my business from Small Studio as it seemed to make more sense to remove the tier of information that would be required to explain who was behind the name. My style had also begun to develop into something more personal and so it made sense to present myself online as me.
So what is changing in the world of blogging right now?
Visual identity is everything. We tend to retain more information through images than the written word, so I’m stepping things up to the next level. All of my photography is professional now and so if it is replicated elsewhere, it still looks good. Visually I’m thinking about how I represent my other work through my blog and I want to show how much I care about the brands I’m blogging about. That way, the spread of content gives potential clients an indication of me and how I work and what matters.
Where do you feel most inspired to write?
First off I would have to say at home. I live in Orange County which is close to LA, yet the lifestyle and the laid-back attitude of the people is in itself inspiring and retreating. It gives me a great foundation for creativity as I’m relaxed and in the right frame of mind. The thing about the suburbs is that you look online more for creativity and so you really appreciate the wider global network that you might not necessarily look for if you were bombarded with the ideas of a single city.
THE BRAND Anything Alexander Wang touches
THE PLACE Miami
THE DESIGNER Kelly Wearstler
THE ECO DESIGNER Debora Aguiar
THE CULTURE Art Basel Miami
THE LIGHT Anything Lindsey Adelman
THE CHAIR A classic white Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe
THE PATTERN Pierre Frey's Kubus
THE LOOK Kate Moss' pretty rocker boho chic look
THE BOUTIQUE The thrift store down the street
THE WEBSITE Vogue Paris
THE DUO Herzog & de Meuron
THE ART Tracey Emin
Photography © Chris Borchetta, Jennifer Daigle, Melissa Vosler, Sabra Lattos
@erikabrechtel / @erikabrechtel