AFTER STINTS AS A LAW STUDENT AND A CONGRESSIONAL INTERN, ERICA BERGE DECIDED HER TRUE PASSION IS FASHION.
Byline: Kelly Donoghue
When former law student Erica Berge set out to launch her own apparel empire, she opted for a store design that was the antithesis of Orange County, cookie-cutter malldom.
“I wanted my store to have the feel of New York City or L.A., but still work for Orange County,” said Berge. “I wanted to create an ambience that was high-end but super retro-cool.
The 27-year-old did just that inside a sun-filled, 1,500-square-foot space in the affluent seaside community of Corona del Mar. Last June, the Erica Dee boutique bowed on Pacific Coast Highway.
Among midcentury furnishings, Berge has stocked a selection of fab fashions, including Marc by Marc Jacobs, Theory, William B, Katayone Adeli, Seven, Juicy Couture, Michael Stars and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Clothes hang from real tree branches and lie folded on tree stumps. Hearts and Cosabella lingerie sits in walnut cubes protruding from the walls. And Me & Ro jewelry shines from artificial grass on a green cement countertop.
The attention to presentation is as much the result of Berge’s natural affinity as her formal training. She interned for four months during the summer of 1995 in the Washington office of Rep. Christopher Cox (R., Calif.) and graduated the following year from Chapman University in Orange, Calif., with a bachelors of law. It was after these milestones that she realized her interests — and happiness — lied somewhere else. So in 1997, she earned a degree in visual merchandising from the Los Angeles campus of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
She chose employers that put a heavy emphasis on visual merchandising. Stints at the Anthropologie stores on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and Fashion Island in nearby Newport Beach lead to management positions at the distinct Corona del Mar boutiques Modern Romance and Holly Sharp.
Four years later, she decided to venture out on her own. Berge enlisted Roger Russell, whom she befriended during an internship at Quiksilver, to co-design the store.
A longtime merchandiser of the surf brand’s Boardrider Club and Roxy stores, Russell delivered a spare, modern design, complete with George Nelson lamps, Eames-style chairs and a custom coffee table made of a green concrete and a tree-stump base topped with glass.
Berge largely shops the New Mart, but also picks up items at CalMart. She also visits New York to peruse showrooms and the Fashion Coterie trade show. Erica Dee also stocks Illume and Votivo candles, greeting cards and Ruby Bleau, a line for infants. In the fall, the store will expand her footwear selection, introducing, among other lines, Marc Jacobs.
And Berge already has her sights set on further growth. “I would really like to open either a larger location, maybe with a cafe, or a second store in nearby Laguna Beach.”