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The Tweet Life in Fashion

Alumna Finds Fame, Followers as DKNY PR GIRL

By Liam Farrell

Fashion

It’s the busiest time of year for Aliza Licht ’96. While hordes of the world’s most stylish wend through the ice and snow of New York Fashion Week, she’s checking RSVPs, putting together press kits and making sure photographers have the right sight lines.

As senior vice president for global communications at Donna Karan International, Licht manages the public face for the big-time label at this most important event of the year, which runs through Thursday.

And then, of course, the Oscars—and all the gowns—are coming up this Sunday.

“Remind me again why everything on earth has to happen in February?” she asked recently on Twitter.

After graduating from Maryland as a Francis Scott Key Scholar with a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology and physiology, Licht decided to trade in the lab for the runway, working at Marie Claire before joining Donna Karan in 1998. Since then, she has become famous for running the aforementioned and once-anonymous Twitter account “DKNY PR GIRL,” which offers her half-million followers an insider’s view of the fashion world.

In this Q&A with Terp, Licht talks about her career and upcoming book, “Leave Your Mark,”which is available for pre-order now and on sale May 5.

TERP: What drew you to the fashion industry even though you had a science degree?

Licht: It actually all started with fashion. For my fourth birthday, I received a toy sewing machine from my Grandma Hilda. She wasn’t a designer by trade, but rather by passion, sewing my mother her own custom-designed frocks. My use of the sewing machine was far less impressive, sewing tissues together to make a very fragile, spot-clean-only look for Barbie.

From there, though, my love for fashion grew, but it lived as a passion in my personal life. I chose to study science because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do. But your heart always leads you down the right path. My science degree notwithstanding, I was always in fashion. I just didn’t know it.

TERP: How did you go about creating the “DKNY PR GIRL” account?

Licht: It was 2009 and I was obsessed with the TV show “Gossip Girl.” During a meeting at work one day, we discussed how we would embark on social media for the brands. At the time, we were one of the only fashion brands in the space, so we knew we had to pave our own way. I instinctively felt that public relations was the perfect lens to socially filter the world of Donna Karan through—between fashion shows, celebrity dressing and everything in between, we had a ton of content to draw from.

I immediately thought, “What if we take the idea of an anonymous blogger like Gossip Girl and make her a publicist?” DKNY PR GIRL was the perfect answer—a seamless combination of PR person and Gossip Girl all rolled into one persona. No one had to know who she was, as she would be represented by a fashion sketch.

TERP: How did you identify Twitter that early as such a strong social network?

Licht: The truth is, I didn’t. Just like anything else, you have to experience something over time to know its real worth. People don’t wake up thinking about a brand. You have to go where they are and insert your brand into conversations in a natural and non-intrusive way. DKNY PR GIRL became their best friend.

People love a fly-on-the-wall view, and that’s what I give them. The platform is only as strong as what you put into it. I started with zero followers just like everybody else, but if you give it the attention and care it deserves, it will grow.

TERP: Was it frightening to be anonymous? Exhilarating?

Licht: The anonymity was never a real intention. Originally, the idea was that DKNY PR GIRL was a “character,” hence the sketch. But as soon as I started tweeting, I became instantly addicted. Naturally, people started to realize DKNY PR GIRL was, in fact, one girl, but yet it never really mattered “whom” the person was—it was the personality and content that mattered. It was really fun to be anonymous for a while, to know such a huge secret and keep it. People were very curious, but of course my inner circle would never tell.

After two years of anonymity, though, it started to feel like the right time to pull back the veil. It was getting harder and harder to keep the secret, and it seemed like the anonymity didn’t serve a real purpose anymore. The @dkny community knew me. They might have not known my name or my face, but they knew my personality backward and forward.

We shot a behind-the-scenes of Fashion Week video that ended up introducing me as “the real DKNY PR GIRL,” and the rest is sort of history. I was very nervous to come out as the person behind the Twitter handle, but after I did, I received a very warm welcome. The community made it easy for me to be known.

TERP: How have your career and social media changed since you were “unmasked”?

Licht: Revealing myself as DKNY PR GIRL has allowed me the honor of speaking on behalf of the company at social media conferences and on TV. It’s truly been the most exciting part of my career. Through Twitter, I have been able to mentor so many people around the world. That mentoring has led to my first book, “Leave Your Mark.”

Leave Your MarkTERP: What are some core lessons you hope readers take away from your book?

Licht: “Leave Your Mark” is a mentorship in 288 pages. Using my own career as the narrative, the book is filled with insider secrets on how to “Land your dream job,” “Kill it in your career,” “Rock social media” and “Create the brand of you.”

It’s chock full of “The Devil Wears Prada”-esque stories with essential advice and inspiration woven throughout. I truly hope that the book becomes a bible to young professionals who are looking to improve the way they communicate their personal brand. It’s a book that I hope people read with a highlighter.

TERP: You have been at DKNY since 1998. What keeps you motivated? What are the new challenges in the fashion industry?

Licht: Fashion is always evolving. With the advent of social media, my job changed dramatically. On one hand, social media has made PR very difficult. Back in the day, we never had issues with hot content getting leaked onto the Internet. Now, sometimes the best-laid PR plans get foiled because it’s hard to control a message.

On the other hand, social media has forced public relations to evolve at a remarkably fast pace. The ability to build a community and service your own news to your own social changes has turned traditional public relations on its head for the better. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to make your own news when you want to. But no matter how many social impressions one might generate, the credibility of real news media is still king. Once a PR girl, always a PR girl.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.