Cool, stately and eternally chic, Carolina Herrera is an iconic Venezuelan American fashion designer. She believes in dressing appropriately—whether it’s for a jaunt in the Hamptons or a museum benefit gala. [Click here for a roundup of the designer's best personal fashion statements.] Never one to succumb to trends, her collections epitomize a well-endowed, leisurely lifestyle featuring the kind of perfectly crafted shift dresses suited and evening gowns that kept Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis elegantly clothed in her golden years. [Click here to view looks from the Carolina Herrera Resort Collection for 2009.]
Angelique Serrano had the unique opportunity to chat with Herrera at her New York showroom and delve deep into her philosophy on life and design.
You have managed to be successful for 25 years. Why do you think that is? What has been the key to the endurance?
I'm not a trendy designer. I like my women to look timeless. They can wear the clothes from ten years ago and look good now. These days, a lot of women want to look exactly the same; they like to wear the bag that they think it's the "It" bag, and they want to wear the same shoes. And when you see them, they all look the same, you know? So there is no individuality anymore. There is no creativity anymore in any of these women that are getting dressed because they want to be like the other one.
We saw your beautiful wedding gown in Sex & The City: The Movie.
Yes, it was fun. I liked the movie. I thought it was funny. Patricia Field created the four ladies' style, and I think she did a fantastic job. The success that she has created is unbelievable. But when you see that many people are copying the look, then it becomes strange.
This year is your 25th anniversary, and you began your fashion career with 20 dresses that you had brought to New York in 1980, correct?
Yes. Well that was the beginning of the collection, yes. I wanted to design fabrics, textiles, so I went to Diana Vreeland [then Editor-in-Chief of Vogue], a very good friend of my husband's family, and told her what I was planning to do. She said, "The fabric idea sounds very boring; why don't you do a collection of dresses?"
And so I went back to to Caracas. I had my French couturier and some of my seamstress and everybody producing a little collection of 15 day and evening coats. I wanted to go to New York and show it privately to the buyers of the best shops—Saks, Neiman's, all of them. When they came to see it, they said, "We want to buy it immediately."
And I didn't have any production or anything so I decided, now we have to have a company, no? And that's when I opened the company and we organized everything. I had my first show in '81. It was fantastic, at the Metropolitan Club. And I remember that we had a band, live music playing Cole Porter songs. It was so glamorous, and all the best models were there—Iman—I mean all of them.
Congratulations on winning the Geoffrey Beane Lifetime Achievement at the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America]!
Oh yes, I loved it.
Did you know in advance that you were going to receive this?
Yes, yes. There two or three CFDA Awards that are known in advance. They had a party to announce it. And Diane Von Furstenberg, who is a very good friend of mine, called me and said, "You have to come because you are going to get the CFDA." So I said, "All right. I'll go."
Were you excited?
Of course I am. Any prize, any award that they give you, you have to be excited because it is recognizing what you have been doing for 26 years. And this is very special because they are my colleagues who recognize it. Those are the ones who vote. It's very funny because they said to me at the entrance, "You look so young to be getting a lifetime achievement award." I said, "You think you have to be ancient to get one? You get it because you've done good work for 26 years."
I read that you said, “Whenever I have something important to do I wear a smoking [a woman’s tuxedo jacket originated by YSL].” Why?
For many, many years I have been doing it. A white one. Because I love it. I feel well in it. It's important that you feel well in it. Maybe the smokings are not very fashionable now but I don't care. That's something that I will wear.
Are you politically interested at all in what's going on in Venezuela?
I am very politically interested but I'm not going to discuss. No way. No way. The only thing I have been saying for a long time is that I hope we Venezuelans find our way again. That's it.