Herrera, Carolina: 1939—: Fashion Designer
Carolina Herrera: 1939—: Fashion designer
Carolina Herrera's designs offer a certain chic, well-heeled style, with a classic feminine sensibility, for her devoted base of women clients. The Venezuelan-born couturier, who led a life chronicled in the pages of fashion magazines well before her first dress went out on a runway, creates suits, sportswear, formal gowns, and all manner of accoutrements in the mid- to stratospheric price range, and her business is one of the most prosperous in the industry. Her success, remarked Town & Country writer Annette Tapert, could ostensibly be attributed to a sixth sense for knowing how for how women like to dress, but Tapert added that "Herrera has another great asset: her own image. Her manners are flawless. She speaks English with an irresistible Latin clip and accent, in a voice that is soft and lilting. But most of all, there is her beauty, a noble kind that evokes the Renaissance paintings of the Spanish infantas…. In a time when true elegance good manners and intrinsic femininity are hard to come by, Herrera is an inspirational figure."
Yet Herrera, explained Women's Wear Daily (WWD) writer Lorna Koski, was "hardly bred for … business success. She was born, in fact, on another, much more languid planet, the lost world of the traditional Latin-American aristocracy." She was christened Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño not long after her arrival in Venezuela's capital city of Caracas in 1939. One of four daughters, Herrera was raised in relative ease and luxury. Her family's roots in South America stretched back some 400 years, and her father was both a former governor of Caracas as well as an air force officer and aviation pioneer. Herrera's mother was devoted to fashion, as was her grandmother, and as a youngster Herrera traveled regularly with them when they went to Paris to have their clothes made at the ateliers of the great couturiers of the era, such as the House of Lanvin, Cristobal Balenciaga, and Yves Saint Laurent.
Married Twice Into Venezuelan Elite
Herrera did learn to sew at an early age, making clothes for her dolls, but her mother encouraged her and her sisters to develop a wide range of interests, from horses to literature to music. They did, however, urge her into an early marriage at the age of 18 to a similarly well-connected scion of Venezuela's elite. Even in the mid-1950s, the modern world came to Caracas slowly. South American women of Herrera's class and generation, she told Koski, "had a sense of elegance, a different way of living…. It was not so businesslike, but more calm. Women were different. Nobody wanted to work. They were all in the houses, and not very active."
At a Glance . . .
Born Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño on January 8, 1939, in Caracas, Venezuela; daughter of Guillermo (an officer in the Venezuelan air force, aviation pioneer, and governor of Caracas) and Maria Cristina Pacanins; married Guillermo Behrens Tello (a landowner), c. 1955 (divorced, 1965); married Rein-aldo Herrera (a magazine editor), 1968; children: (with Behrens) Mercedes, Ana Luisa Calicchio, (with Rein-aldo Herrera) Carolina, Patricia.
Career: Worked as a publicist for the fashion house Emilio Pucci in Caracas, Venezuela, mid-1960s; founder, 1981, and head designer, 1981–, of Carolina Herrera Ltd., New York, NY; designed furs for Revil-lion, 1984-89; launched "CH," a diffusion line, 1986, Couture Bridal collection, 1987, Carolina Herrera Collection II sportswear line, 1989, Herrera for Men, "Herrera Studio" bridge line and "W by Carolina Herrera," 1992; introduced fragrance line, 1988, and jewelry collections, 1990.
Awards: Appeared on the International Best-Dressed List annually from 1971 to 1980; named to its Hall of Fame, 1980; MODA award, Top Hispanic Designer, 1987, from Hispanic Designers Ltd.; Presidential Medal, Pratt Institute, 1990.
Addresses: Home— Caracas, Venezuela, and New York, NY. Office— Carolina Herrera Ltd., 501 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10018.
Herrera had two daughters with her first husband, but the marriage disintegrated before the decade was over. She moved back in with her parents, the first person in her family ever to divorce. For a time she worked as a publicist for Emilio Pucci, the Italian designer whose name became synonymous with mod, swirly multi-colored fabric patterns popular in the 1960s. Soon she renewed an old childhood acquaintance with Reinaldo Herrera, who also hailed from an esteemed Venezuelan family. He had lived in Europe for several years, but by that time was back in Caracas and hosting his own television talk show. "I think I was madly in love with Reinaldo when I was 15 or 16, but then he went to Europe," Herrera recalled in an interview with Koski for WWD. "But he has always been my great love."
After their marriage Herrera moved into the Caracas home belonging to the Herrera family, called "La Vega" and thought to be the oldest continually inhabited house in the Western Hemisphere. She had two more daughters, and she and her husband soon began moving in increasingly international circles. Their frequent jaunts to Europe made them part of the early so-called "jet set," and they socialized in a swath that included Britain's Princess Margaret and the American artist Andy Warhol. A reveler at the famed New York discotheque Studio 54, Herrera began to make annual appearances on the International Best Dressed lists. When her fortieth birthday neared, she determined to begin a new phase in her life. Interested in launching some sort of venture, Herrera considered starting a fabric design business, since she loved choosing the materials when she visited her dressmaker, but her friend Count Rudi Crespi, a well-known publicist who had worked for Valentino and knew the international haute-couture scene well, loved her sense of style and emphatically suggested that she design a line of clothing instead.
Built Successful Fashion Line
When Herrera announced her intention to become a designer, some friends and even her husband viewed the scheme with skepticism. "I was supportive because I thought this would last fifteen minutes," Reinaldo Herrera told Town & Country 's Tapert. "If she had said it would be fifteen years, I would have asked her, 'Are you out of your mind?'" But in the fall of 1980, Herrera brought some 20 dresses of her own design that she'd had sewn up by her Caracas dressmaker. She borrowed a Park Avenue apartment and invited friends to see them; soon buyers for Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman were interested, but Herrera had just the sample dresses, and not even a plan for production. Back in Caracas, she was introduced to Armando de Armas, owner of a Venezuelan publishing empire, who offered her financial backing. In a few months she opened her design atelier and showroom, Carolina Herrera Ltd, on Seventh Avenue.
Herrera's designs, made from rich, luxuriant fabrics, were a hit with well-to-do New York women in the early 1980s. She was said to have popularized the padded shoulder that became ubiquitous with fashions of that decade, and also showed puffy sleeves on many of her formals, once explaining that shoulder pads always made a woman's waist appear smaller, and elaborate sleeves served to frame a face. In her first few collections, noted Koski in WWD, Herrera displayed "a distinctly Latin sense of drama, with influences ranging from the extravagant ruffles of flamenco dancers to matador's jackets and the pure, sculptural shapes of the legendary Spanish couturier Cristobal Balenciaga."
Though Herrera's line was a bit more expensive than most—because of their superb fabrics and costly trim-mings—they became favorites with a certain high-profile kind of woman, including many of the Manhattan socialites who were also Herrera's friends. One distinctly low-profile early client who became a friend was Jacqueline Onassis, and it was a connection that boosted the fortunes of Herrera's company immensely. Still, the designer was adamant that all of her customers required the respect that a friend would command in matters of privacy. "I never mention my clients," Herrera told WWD writer Irene Daria. "If you have to sell a dress because an important client is wearing it, then that means that the dress was not good. I didn't like when it was done to me so I don't do it to anyone." Elsewhere, she dismissed charges that her business had been built, so to speak, on the backs of her much-photographed socialite friends. "If I only dressed my friends," she scoffed in the interview with Tapert, "my company would have folded years ago."
Herrera's design business remained relatively unknown to the general public until 1986, when she designed the wedding dress for Onassis's daughter, Caroline Kennedy. The bridal gown was ultra-feminine and much copied, and the resulting publicity made Herrera a sudden celebrity. Moreover, both Princess Diana—one of the decade's most photographed women—and American First Lady Nancy Reagan soon began to be photographed in Herrera's creations. Still, these first few years of success unnerved her, as she told Tapert. It was much more work than she'd expected. "When I started, I didn't make the connection between the designing and the business," she recalled in the Town & Country interview. "I had a fantasy vision of this career. It was, 'Oh, a designer! How glamorous! This is divine!' I had no idea I would be at the office the whole day. I thought I would design a collection and then go home."
Expanded Business in New Directions
Encouraged by her newfound success—and with the now-firm support of her husband—Herrera continued to expand her business. Her company launched CH, a lower-priced (known as "diffusion") line in 1986, followed by another secondary line in 1989, Carolina Herrera Collection II. The revenues continued to pour in when she launched her fragrance line; the first scent, "Carolina Herrera," debuted in 1988. This signature scent was based on something Herrera had been mixing up herself for years, using a bit of jasmine oil that reminded her of a fragrant bush outside her bedroom as a teen in Caracas. Her fragrance line expanded to include Flore in 1994 and "212," named after the now-coveted New York City area code, in 1997. She is also one of the few women designers to enjoy strong sales for her men's fragrances.
In 2000, after twenty years in business and with retail sales around $250 million annually, Herrera opened her first store, located at Madison Avenue and 75th Street in Manhattan. Fashion businesses launched by other well-connected women around the same time as Herrera's in the 1980s—such as Carolyne Roehm and Jacqueline de Ribes—had long folded. Herrera's design philosophy, though it no longer included padded shoulders, remained timely and alluring. When asked in an In Style profile by Hal Rubenstein what the ultimate wardrobe bestsellers had in common, Herrera replied, "Simplicity. Clothes that are so comfortable you feel naked. I hate watching women who adjust themselves all night." She also eschewed excess. "Too many ruffles, too much skin, too tight is never sexy or glamorous," she declared.
Herrera was looking forward to expansion into Europe as the first decade of the twenty-first century was underway. Her success was all the more impressive given the fact that Herrera maintains that somewhat languid Latin American tempo in which she was raised. She works only at the office, and keeps normal hours. "We don't work overtime in this company," she declared to Koski in the WWD interview. "If you can't do what you have to do between 9 and 5, something is wrong." Her upbeat attitude also endures. "I love what I'm doing," she enthused in the Town & Country interview. "If I had to stop, I would be very upset. The more I do it, the more I love it. Even with all the complications. Even with all the problems. Those don't matter. If I had to do it again, I would do it from the beginning in the very same way."
Herrera draws much of her inspiration from her quartet of now-grown daughters. She and her husband, a special-projects editor for Vanity Fair magazine, maintain homes in Caracas and New York City. In the latter, Herrera "is considered by many the most beautiful woman in New York society," wrote Koski. In typically gracious fashion, Herrera did admit that "Venezuela is famous for its beautiful women," she said in WWD. "You know, every time I get in a cab and I say I'm from Venezuela, the cab driver says, 'You have three Miss Universes and two Miss Worlds!'"
Contemporary Fashion, St. James Press, 1995.
Newsmakers 1997, Issue 4, Gale, 1997.
In Style, June 1, 2000, p. 94.
National Review, October 28, 1996, p. 40.
People, May 12, 1997, p. 186.
Town & Country, September 1997, p. 142.
W, October 2002, p. 96.
Women's Wear Daily, March 2, 1987, p. B26; March 7, 1989, p. 18; May 29, 1990, p. 10; June 18, 1991, p. 6; October 20, 1992, p. 12; August 19, 1997, p. 18; July 19, 2000, p. 5.
"Herrera, Carolina: 1939—: Fashion Designer." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/herrera-carolina-1939-fashion-designer
"Herrera, Carolina: 1939—: Fashion Designer." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/herrera-carolina-1939-fashion-designer
Venezuelan fashion designer Carolina Herrera (born 1939) ran a thriving fashion empire centered around her designer clothing line that consistently won praise for its elegant, feminine lines after its launch in 1980. The longtime New Yorker was regularly hailed in the media as one of the city's most elegant women and was well-respected inside its fashion industry for her gracious manner. "In a world in which wearing borrowed haute couture on the red carpet signifies great style and erecting an East Hampton faux chateau verifies taste," observed Hal Ruben-stein in a 2003 In Style profile, "Herrera is unassailable proof that class and poise depend less on what you have on—or what you move into—than on how you behave."
Led a Charmed Life
Herrera is the scion of an old South American family. She "was hardly bred for this sort of business success," noted WWD writer Lorna Koski in 1991. "She was born, in fact, on another, much more languid planet, the lost world of the traditional Latin American aristocracy." Born Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Nino in Venezuela's capital city of Caracas on January 8, 1939, she was one of four daughters in a family whose roots on the continent stretched back to the 1500s. Her father, an aviation pioneer, served as governor of Caracas and was twice the country's foreign affairs minister. Herrera's mother and grandmother were chic women who regularly traveled to Paris to have their clothes made at the great design houses of Balenciaga and Lanvin.
Herrera's early life was a charmed one, with a governess on hand and luxurious surroundings. Still, her parents were strict with their children, as she recalled in the interview with Koski: "I had three sisters and I grew up in a very organized house, a very disciplined house. There was a right time for having breakfast, a right way of doing everything." Herrera sewed clothes for her dolls, but as she grew older became less interested in needlework; instead she became a skilled equestrienne and read avidly. "My mother believed you had to be cultivated," Herrera told Town & Country writer Annette Tapert in 1997. "Having an inner life was very important to her. She told her four daughters, 'Beauty is the first thing to go. If you don't have anything inside you, you are going to be so lonely.' "
Endured Failed Marriage
Herrera was married at the age of 18 to a young man from an affluent Venezuelan family. With him she had two daughters, but the marriage ended after less than a decade, as Herrera became the first person in her family ever to divorce. She moved back into her parents' home with her little girls and for a time worked in Caracas as a publicist for Emilio Pucci, the mod Italian designer. Soon she renewed an acquaintance with Reinaldo Herrera, whom she had known since she was a child. He also hailed from a well-to-do Venezuelan family, and after their 1968 marriage the pair embarked upon a romantic, jet-set lifestyle. They traveled in social circles that included Princess Margaret of Great Britain and New York artist Andy Warhol. When in Caracas, they lived with their two daughters and her two daughters from her first marriage at the 65-room Herrera family estate, La Vega, built in 1590 and thought to be the oldest continually inhabited house in the Western Hemisphere.
In her thirties, Herrera began to appear regularly on the International Best Dressed lists, and in 1980 she and her husband moved to New York with the children. Nearing 40, she considered trying some sort of fashion-related business venture and thought about fabric design. A longtime friend, fashion publicist Count Rudi Crespi, suggested that she do an entire line of clothing instead. Former magazine editor and style icon Diana Vreeland enthusiastically agreed. Others, including Herrera's husband and mother-in-law, were more skeptical. Herrera had little business sense and had collected paychecks only during her stint at Pucci.
Launched Company in Borrowed Digs
In the fall of 1980, Herrera brought to New York about 20 dresses her dressmaker had made for her in Caracas. She borrowed the Park Avenue apartment of an acquaintance and invited her friends and acquaintances to see them. Soon, buyers for some of New York's upscale fashion retailers arrived and wanted to take the entire line, but Herrera had no company and no way of putting a production deal together. Back in Caracas, she met publishing tycoon Armando de Armas, who offered to back her, and within a few months a design atelier and showroom, Carolina Herrera Ltd., opened on New York's Seventh Avenue in the fashion industry's heart. Her first full collection was shown at New York's Metropolitan Club in April 1981.
Herrera's business started small, with just a dozen employees, but soon grew rapidly. The socialites who knew her became some of her first devoted customers, and women like cosmetics tycoon Estee Lauder and former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis became clients. The fashion trade journals were not always complimentary, however. "I had bad reviews at the beginning," Herrera recalled in the interview with Tapert for Town & Country. "And when you haven't been involved in this world, they really affect you. But that was good—you read the reviews and see what they found wrong and you think, 'They were right.' "
Kennedy Wedding Dress a Hit
Some of the hallmarks of Herrera's clothing found their way into the more mainstream fashions of the 1980s. She was one of the first to use padded shoulders, believing that broader shoulders made a woman's waist appear smaller, and she loved elaborate sleeves as well. When she began designing in the early 1980s, Herrera told National Review interviewers John O. Sullivan and John Simon, "the whole fashion world was going mad on layer after layer of very loose skirts and free blouses—and no shapes. I came out with a collection that was all fitted." Her big sleeves were novel for the day, and Herrera recalled that "Everyone asked me: 'Why big sleeves?' I replied: 'Well, they are not that new. They have been a fashion feature from Elizabethan times, or even the Middle Ages, up to the Gibson Girls.' All I did was to adapt them to modern times. They were successful because women liked these big sleeves framing their faces."
Herrera's company enjoyed even stronger sales after she designed the wedding dress for Caroline Kennedy in 1986. It made her a household name overnight across North America, and the ultra-feminine gown was quickly copied. Soon Herrera's business expanded to include not just her "pret-a-porte" or designer line and the made-to-order items for women like Onassis, but bridal wear and a lower-priced line named CH. In 1988 she launched a fragrance line with an eponymous, jasmine-heavy scent based on the memory of a jasmine bush that bloomed outside her bedroom in Caracas when she was a teenager. Lucrative licensing agreements for accessories, costume jewelry, and eyewear boosted the fortunes of her company even further. By 1990, after a decade in business, its wholesale figures reached $20 million. She celebrated by opening a new, luxurious showroom on Seventh Avenue.
Maintained Focus on Elegance
As the elaborately overdressed mood of the 1980s gave way to new styles in the next decade, Herrera's designs continued to maintain a devout clientele and attract new wearers. She admitted that the fashion industry was difficult, noting that the modern woman often had more pressing concerns than hemlines. "Fashion in the past meant that you had to have the guts to wear something different from others—to express your individual personality—but within the constraints set by formal standards of elegance and style," she mused in the National Review interview. "Today, people want to be free to wear what they like, in any combination they like, to be confined by no rules, and to set their own standards—yet they all end up looking exactly the same."
Herrera often began a collection by assembling luxurious fabrics and draping them over mannequins. She was frank about her abilities as a seamstress. "I have an eye for proportion, which is always the key to looking great, for mixing fabrics, and for shape," she said in an In Style interview with Rubenstein from 2000. "Don't ask me to cut or sew. I can't do that. But I know exactly how a shoulder should lie." A team of assistants then executed her ideas into sketches that served as the basis for a more formal process of production. "I could tell you that I'm inspired by painters or some wonderful garden or music but that all isn't true… . I get my inspiration from everyday life, from looking at women around me," she told WWD writer Irene Daria in 1989. She said that her own lifestyle and her regular visits to upscale retailers in major American cities to present her new lines helped her creations as well. "By traveling around you get to know your customer and what they need but you have to have your own point of view," she said in the same WWD interview. "The more you listen the more confused you get. You can't design to please the press and to be in fashion."
Expanded Empire into Europe
Herrera contracted with Puig, a Spanish cosmetics company, to produce her fragrance line, which became a tremendous success; she even created a top-selling men's scent, Herrera for Men, in 1991, and regularly added new women's products to the line. Her empire continued to expand, and in 1994 the partnership with Armas ended when he sold his share to Puig. In 2000, Herrera opened her first store, located at Madison Avenue and 75th Street in Manhattan, and looked forward to expanding her business further into Europe. Within two years, she had opened her first collection boutique outside of New York, a boite located in Madrid's upscale Salamanca district.
Herrera's daughters, now grown, began families of her own and made her a grandmother several times over. One of them, Carolina Adriana, worked at her mother's company. Husband Reinaldo served as the special projects editor for Vanity Fair magazine. An apartment on New York's Upper East Side was their home base, but they returned often to La Vega. Herrera was adamant that running a highly successful company such as her own could be done during a normal work week, and she claimed never to work past 5 p.m. "The moment I leave my office I draw a curtain on my work," she told In Style 's Rubenstein. "Because you know what is really boring? When you work and work and then work some more, and you don't realize it, but work is all you talk about all the time. Many designers have that problem. Work should be an important part of your life. But for it to be your life? That is very sad."
Contemporary Fashion, St. James Press, 1995.
Newsmakers 1997, Issue 4, Gale, 1997.
In Style, June 1, 2000; February 1, 2003.
National Review, October 28, 1996.
New York Times, January 4, 1994.
New York Times Magazine, July 10, 1983.
Town & Country, September 1997.
W, October 2002.
WWD, March 2, 1987; March 7, 1989; May 29, 1990; June 18, 1991; October 20, 1992; August 19, 1997; July 19, 2000; May 7, 2002. □
"Carolina Herrera." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carolina-herrera
"Carolina Herrera." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/carolina-herrera
Venezuelan designer working in New York
Born: Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Nino in Caracas, Venezuela, 8 January 1939. Education: El Carmen School, Venezuela. Family: Married Reinaldo Herrera, 1957; children: Mercedes, Ana Luisa, Carolina, Patricia. Career: Showed first couture collection, 1981; introduced fur collection for Revillion, 1984; launched CH diffusion line, 1986, Couture Bridal collection, 1987, Carolina Herrera Collection II sportswear line, 1989, Herrera for Men, Herrera Studio bridge line, and W by Carolina Herrera, 1992; introduced Carolina Herrera fragrances, 1988; introduced jewelry collections, 1990, 1991; moved toward more youthful styles influenced by her daughters, late 1990s; signed deal with STL of Spain for men's and women's gold-range apparel and retail stores in Europe, 2000; opened first free-standing boutique on Madison Avenue in New York, 2000. Awards: Pratt Institute award, 1990; Dallas Fashion Excellence award. Address: 48 West 38th Street, New York, NY 10018, USA.
Diamonstein, Barbaralee, Fashion: The Inside Story, New York,1985.
Steele, Valerie, Women of Fashion: Twentieth-Century Designers, New York, 1991.
Riehecky, Janet, Carolina Hererra: International Fahsion Designer, Chicago, 1991.
Navarette Talavera, Ela, Perfiles latinoamericanos de los 1990s, Panama, 1992.
Stegemeyer, Anne, Who's Who in Fashion, Third Edition, New York,1996.
Telgen, Diane, and Jim Kamp, Latinas! Women of Achievement, Detroit, 1996.
Morey, Janet, and Wendy Dunn, Famous Hispanic Americans, NewYork, 1996.
Shapiro, Harriet, "From Venezuela to Seventh Avenue, Carolina Herrera's Fashions Cast a Long Shadow," in People, 3 May 1982.
Rayner, William, and Chesbrough Rayner, "An Evening with Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera: Strong Opinions, European Style," in Vogue, March 1987.
Daria, Irene, "Carolina Herrera: A Personal Evolution," in WWD, 2March 1987.
——, "Designers on Designing: Carolina Herrera," in WWD, 2March 1987.
Estrada, Mary Batts, "Carolina Herrera Talks About Fashion," inHispanic, March 1989.
Reed, Julia, "Talking Fashion: Carolina Herrera is the Undisputed Queen of Seventh Avenue," in Vogue, June 1990.
Koski, Lorna, "Carolina's Prime Time," in WWD, 18 June 1991.
Struensee, Chuck, "Carolina Herrera's New Horizons," in WWD, 20October 1992.
"New York: Carolina Herrera," in WWD, 1 November 1994.
"New York: Carolina Herrera," in WWD, 4 April 1995.
"Carolina Herrera," in Current Biography Yearbook, 1996.
Schiro, Anne Marie, "Designers Who Know Their Customer," in theNew York Times, 10 April 1997.
Tapert, Annette, "Women of Style: Carolina Herrera," Town & Country, September 1997.
Horyn, Cathy, "And Now, a Gentle Nudge from Herrera and de laRenta," in the New York Times, 15 September 1999.
Wilson, Eric, "Herrera Mines for Spanish Gold," in WWD, 23 March 2000.
Givhan, Robin, "The Lady Flourishes: Herrera's Work Blossoms with Understated Femininity," in the Washington Post, 8 December 2000.
"WWD Luxury" Special Supplement, in WWD, February 2001.***
When Carolina Herrera introduced her first fashion collection in 1981, Women's Wear Daily dubbed her "Our Lady of the Sleeve." Her early interest in the shoulder area has remained constant throughout her many lines and seasons. The Herrera look is characterized by strong fitted shoulders, tight bodices, straight lines, and slightly pushed-up sleeves.
Though she has often been referred to as a socialite turned designer, her contributions to the industry are many. Prior to beginning her career as a designer, Herrera was on the International Best Dressed List for over 10 years and was then nominated to the Best Dressed Hall of Fame. Her personal style influenced how women dressed around the world. Her affluent, South American background exposed her to the work of the best couturiers and dressmakers in the world; she cites Balenciaga as her greatest influence. It was a natural transition from socialite to fashion designer, as Herrera is a member of the world for which she designs. She understands her customers' lifestyles and needs because she is one of them. Her friends, impressed with her design quality, fabric selection, attention to detail, construction and drape, soon became her clients.
Herrera's designs have been described as being for the "quintessential woman of the 1980s who has consummate style and taste as well as an active lifestyle." Her clothes have a couture element, feminine detail, and genuine ease. Herrera herself believes her clothes are feminine, elegant, and most important, comfortable. Though she loves to mix and match expensive Italian and French fabrics, she maintains the importance of the cut of the clothes. Herrera states, "You don't have to buy very expensive materials if the clothes are well cut." In terms of color, Herrera favors the combination of black and white or black and brown.
Becoming a designer seemed a logical evolution in Herrera's life. She was married, had four children, and came to symbolize the upper-class South American lifestyle. When her children were grown she decided, with the financial backing of a wealthy South American publisher, to open a design house in New York.
Like many designers, Herrera expanded her business to include other lines. The CH Collections, introduced in 1986, are less expensive versions of her high-fashion lines, similar silhouettes in cut and finish but made of different fabrics. Herrera also launched a successful bridal line in 1987 after designing Caroline Kennedy's wedding gown. A perfume for both women (1988) and men (1991) also followed.
In the early collections, Herrera's strengths were in her day dresses and luncheon suits. They expressed femininity through their beautifully tailored hourglass design. In more recent collections, she has ventured into the downtown New York scene for inspiration, showing chiffon split skirts topped with satin motorcycle jackets, thus illustrating her ability to interpret and combine the surrounding culture with her own design sense. Most important, her clothes are about style and elegance achieved by her trademark of shoulders, sleeves, line, and construction.
Herrera has continued to design for women like herself who are wealthy and sophisticated. As Anne-Marie Schiro pointed out in the New York Times, Herrera's customers desire tasteful, flattering clothing, fashionable yet not cutting-edge, incorporating a few surprises yet wearable. Her fall/winter 1997 collection offered some challenges in the form of snakeskin print and black glossy leathers, leopard pattern chiffons, and tiger print velvets. All of these, according to Schiro, were fashioned into the sorts of jackets, coats, and shifts that feel comfortable to Herrera's customers.
Cathy Horyn, also writing in the New York Times, compared Herrera's spring/summer 2000 collection to the designer's personality: both practical and lavish. Most ensembles were comprised of basic pants and a top, but the pants were made of materials such as shantung and the tops of fabrics such as peony-pink fitted suede. A new wrinkle were younger, sexier designs than Herrera had shown in the past, including a lemon-colored bikini and a ball gown with a skirt starting two inches below the waist.
Robin Givhan in the Washington Post also noted Herrera's skew toward the youthful at the end of the millennium, pointing out that the transformation earned her new customers, such as young Hollywood actresses, as well as a wider distribution in specialty stores. Her two daughters, a filmmaker and a fashion editor, were cited as influences. They encouraged her, for example, to create more mix-and-match pieces rather than full ensembles. At the same time, Herrera has kept her traditional customers in mind, moving toward more youthful styles but not shocking them or turning them away. Givhan called Herrera's spring 2000 collection an example of well-groomed, genteel femininity.
In 2000 Herrera signed a licensing agreement with the Spanish apparel company STL to develop a women's and men's gold-range line called CH Carolina Herrera. The deal was expected to lead to the establishment of 40 stores throughout Europe—where her signature and 212 perfume lines have a high profile—within a few years. Herrera had experimented with two bridge lines in the mid-1990s, both of which were discontinued quickly. The new CH line is priced about a third lower than her signature apparel and includes women's sportswear for day and evening as well as men's tailored clothing and sportswear. The deal marked Herrera's first foray into men's apparel, although she had previously produced accessories and scents for men.
The deal paved the way for stores in the U.S.; Herrera opened her first freestanding boutique on New York's Madison Avenue in 2000. In the past, her signature line had been available in only about 100 stores worldwide.
updated by Karen Raugust
"Herrera, Carolina." Contemporary Fashion. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/herrera-carolina
"Herrera, Carolina." Contemporary Fashion. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/herrera-carolina