Aliza Licht, a DKNY publicist with 380,000 followers, pulls back her veil on YouTube.
By BEE-SHYUAN CHANG
Published: February 15, 2012
“I CAME out on YouTube,” said Aliza Licht, who until recently was known to her legion of Twitter fans only as DKNY PR girl. “Of course, where else would you come out?”
To her nearly 380,000 followers, DKNY PR girl seemed to exemplify the fun-loving, fast-paced life of a fashion public relations gal living in New York City. Hers was a sassy diary written from inside the fashion bubble: “Back at the ranch (office) waiting for CelebX to arrive for her fitting. Only issue is she’s still asleep. Oh @nyfw…the drama never ends,” she wrote last Saturday. Or “It’s so strange to go from runway show craziness to vacuuming in pajamas. What a day,” she wrote a day later.
But last October, Ms. Licht decided it was time to pull back the veil and, surprise, it turns out that she is in fact a DKNY publicist. Or more precisely, the senior vice president for global communications at Donna Karan International.
Seated at the Four Seasons lobby the other day (her pick for the roaring fireplace), Ms. Licht pondered her next steps. “I’ve never thought of myself as a public person,” she said.
Dressed in head-to-toe black with an immaculate blowout and red matte lips, she had the shellac polish of a flinty fashion boss and a chit-chatty way of charm. “What I’ve done, it’s been for the company. Now that I’m out there, I would love to mentor more young people. I think I was a teacher in a past life.”
She is already a role model. At the recent Fashion 2.0 Awards, which honors online fashion initiatives, Ms. Licht was the night’s big winner, with awards for Best Twitter and Best Blog by a Fashion Brand. “Aliza was one of the first people to understand the potential of Twitter for a fashion house,” said Yuli Ziv, founder of Style Coalition, a blogger network that was host of the awards.
Unlike the new breed of baby-faced social media editors, Ms. Licht took a more circuitous path to Twitter stardom. Ms. Licht, a 37-year-old mother of two, grew up in the Five Towns area of Long Island, with dreams of becoming a plastic surgeon. It took a summer internship at a hospital to relieve her of that notion. “I can’t wear scrubs every day,” she said, throwing her head back and laughing. “I love fashion too much.”
After college, she trained her sights on fashion magazines, and got an editorial internship at Harper’s Bazaar, then jumped to Marie Claire, where she specialized in accessories for two years. With few editor positions opening up, even before the dawn of social media, Ms. Licht made the leap to public relations when a job opened up at Donna Karan. She has been with the company since 1998.
Much of her job consists of what she calls “classic P.R.” She cranks the news release machine, arranges fashion show seating and handles celebrity dressing. Then, in 2009, she added social media to her portfolio.
“It was like the wild wild West when we first started,” she said. “Before, the P.R. strategies were so controlled. Now everything you’ve done before is out the window, because whoever is tweeting, whether you like it or not, is speaking on behalf of the company. Good or bad or different.”
In an unusually trusting move, the company gave her free rein. “I kept hearing how some companies had interns doing it, and I can’t imagine somebody going out on a Saturday night with a branded Twitter handle and just going crazy on it,” she said.
Her online voice comes across as girlie and intimate (morning routine, weekend mani-pedis and “Gossip Girl” critiques) but knowledgeable. She’ll discuss inner workings under the hashtag #PR101, as in “Attention to detail is everything. The wrong colored binder clip can destroy your presentation.”
And before each runway season, she’ll explain seating charts and divulge ridiculous requests for tickets.
It’s a style that has since been imitated by other fashion Twitter accounts like OscarPRgirland Bergdorfs. “This year, other brands have stepped up their games by investing more human resources into social media,” Ms. Ziv said.
Twitter has also introduced Ms. Licht to like-minded friends in the industry (other folks “who get it,” she says), including Mickey Boardman of Paper magazine, Ariel Foxman of InStyle and the socialite Marjorie Gubelmann. They get together for dinners every so often.
“We met via Twitter,” Ms. Licht said, who likens it to a book reading club. “I knew some of the editors through my job, but would you speak to them everyday? Maybe not unless you’re working on a story.”
“Twitter breaks down the walls of the normal infrastructure,” she added. “Anyone can speak to anyone, and you’re not butting into a conversation.”
That online party came to life during the televised “People’s Choice Awards” last month. Ensconced in her Upper East Side apartment — sparkling clean with silver and white décor — she pulled out a trusty old Thinkpad and opened up two desktop windows: one to TweetDeck (a Twitter interface), the other to the live stream on PeoplesChoice.com.
She bantered back and forth with fuggirls, a Twitter handle known for hilarious red carpet commentary. Then she sent a message to courtjustice, a longtime Twitter friend who has a knack for identifying Donna Karan attire on celebrities. All the while, she kept an eye on any Twitter mentions of @dkny.
“The friends you make on Twitter are real relationships,” Ms. Licht said, adding that she hired her assistant and an intern through it. “I still remember when I had 230 followers. There are some followers from those numbers that I still speak to on a regular basis. It’s very personal. It’s become part of my stream of consciousness.”
A version of this article appeared in print on February 16, 2012, on page E9 of the New York edition with the headline: P.R. Girl Revealed as P.R. Executive