Beyonce has been wearing accessories since the dawn of day fell over Destiny's Child, but in all that time none of them garnered as much attention as the Obama earrings she wore leading up to the 2012 Presidential Election.
Many assumed that the earrings cropped up from some unknown designer, but it turns out the lady behind the Obama earrings, Erika Peña, is a lot bigger than their buzz.
Aside from being tall, tan and a resident of the entire world, Erika's eye for design is one coveted by some of the biggest stars in our space, including Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and of course, Beyonce.
Erika's story has a familiar start, as an 18-year-old student who moved to New York City to chase her dreams of fashion design, but it's the fate of a pair of earrings made from a shell lamp that catapulted the designer to new heights.
Now, deep into her travels, charities, and designs, Erika Pena's carefully crafted work is finding its way to the top of every fashionista's wish list.
We had the opportunity to catch up with the designer during a trip to NYC, and her infectious charisma aside (that is just a plus) the girl's really got some enviable talent.
How did you fall into designing jewelry?
I studied clothing design in Parsons, but I was always inspired by jewelry…my teacher would say, “Who are you dressing? Who’s going to wear all these ethnic clothes?” I said, “One day you will see ethnic cultures and all that tribal stuff will be in style.” Then, a couple years later, they started opening the Anthropologies and other stores of that nature. I never went with the pack. I always wanted to do something different and I’ve always stayed true to my tribal doings and aesthetics that I like and I’ve always been inspired by jewelry. All of my clothing had something to do with jewelry.
I understand you worked with Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada:
I designed a line for Evelyn and my items used to sell in her Miami boutique. Every time she wore my jewelry, she would get a lot of press and a lot of people would ask her about my designs, so we sat down and I said, “Listen, I do private labels, so if you want me to design you a line, I could design you a line. That’s not a problem.” She said, “Okay, let’s do it!” and that took off.
Actually, she sold out of those butterfly earrings (Erika's collaborative designs with Evelyn can be seen on a multitude of Basketball Wives episodes.) There are copies of that earring all through downtown, Broadway, Chinatown. They obviously sold well.
Another person I’ve worked with is Beyoncé, I designed items for her B-day album. Rihanna, and True Blood used some of my stuff on Lafayette.
How do you feel when you see knockoffs of your work?
I get a little pissed, because they’re making money with my creativity. That’s not cool. If they’re making more money that’s not cool, but if they’re making less, then it’s alright. [Laughs] In a way it’s a compliment, they’re seeing something in my designs that a large number of people might like. In a way I’m flattered, but I don’t need the flattery. It could be in my bank account, I’d be happier.
Did you ever think about the statement you were making by producing Obama Earrings but not Mitt Romney pairs?
No. I do things that I like, and I do things I believe in. I don’t do it for money or to be politically correct. Everyone has an opinion and I got a lot of backlash from a lot of stores, especially in Texas. “We don’t approve. How dare you,” they would say and I answered “What do you not approve of? Me liking blue and you liking red? Or Beyoncé wearing the earrings? What do you not approve of, because I don’t understand” If someone likes turkey and I like ham, I’m not going to dislike them anymore because they don’t like something I like. I’m sorry, but it’s ridiculous.
I’m sure that was overshadowed by all the good press that you got from it.
Yeah, but that was a lot of stores I wouldn’t expect. They don’t want my line anymore because I like something different. But I’m very grateful. I’m very happy. I don’t see anything negative coming out of this and nothing going to break my stride! [Laughs]
Our readers are Beyoncé lovers. What are some of her favorite types of trends to wear?
Well, she loves hoops. She loves big chunky pieces. She likes statement necklaces and mostly statement earrings. You see her usually with a lot of bangles. She likes layering, but she mostly wears my earrings. I sent her a bunch of earrings – geometric shapes – those were mostly her style.
What trends are you seeing…things that you’re seeing that you have your eye on?
The tribal is going to be a hardcore force coming out. More layers and a lot of larger earrings. I think large earrings – door knockers and big earrings - are coming back, and in shapes. I don’t think it’ll just be a hoop. I also see a lot of details in shoes, in the heels, coming back and I think that’s going to be huge.
Be sure to get your hands on some of Erika's amazing designs here.