Designer Carolina Herrera invites us into her New York atelier and shares the inspirations and aesthetic that have kept her at fashion’s forefront for 30 years.
With steely passion, Carolina Herrera tells me that the fashion world expected her to be on the scene only a year or two, maybe three at the most, after her debut. More than three decades later, she is fashion royalty, with women everywhere admiring her fashions, accomplishments and inimitable classic style. Underlying her chic countenance is the belief that style is less about what you wear and more about how you wear it. From her atelier in New York, she spoke with me about the attention her brand is getting of late, what it’s like to work with celebrities like Lady Gaga and Renée Zellweger, and the personal style that informs her elegant aesthetic.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I had a show in 1981, my first, in New York. It was at the Metropolitan Club, which was really beautiful. It was very glamorous, with everybody there—all the stores, important people and all the editors. At the beginning, I had mixed reviews. Some press people said that I was going to do it for one year, two years, and then I was going to get tired and not do anything else. But I am still here more than 30 years later.
Did you have a mentor in the early days?
One of the most important ones—Diana Vreeland. Diana was a great friend of my family and of me. And I went to her in the beginning when I decided I wanted to do something in fashion. My idea at first was to design fabrics. She was a very funny lady. She said, “Why would you want to do that? It’s so boring. Why don’t you make a collection and let’s see what happens?”
How would you define the Carolina Herrera aesthetic?
Carolina Herrera is classic but with a very important modern twist. I don’t like to follow trends. You lose your originality, your individuality. I think for a woman—or a man—it’s very important to have your own style. I am a great believer that women should look beautiful and should know exactly what suits them.
What inspires your designs?
It can be a beautiful painting, a walk in the street, looking at the people. It can be a conversation, a book that I’m reading, a little colour in a painting that I see and like. You have to have your imagination going all the time—and you have to be curious in order to discover.
Colour plays an integral role in your designs. Can you tell us about that influence?
Colour is very important in fashion. But black is the most important colour in the world, because it is always there. It’s quite attractive to have different colours, but you must know how to mix them—for example, when you go to a garden and you see many flowers and they all mix well. But it’s not so easy when you take a piece of fabric and you want to include a lot of colours. You have to be careful.
Do you have a favourite colour?
I like yellow because it is the colour of the sun, and I like sunny days and blue, blue skies. But I also love black. And for very important occasions I always find myself wearing white.
Can you tell us a bit about your design process? What goes into the design of a collection?
There is always a theme. The last spring collection was influenced by the Bauhaus movement. I had been in Berlin and saw the Bauhaus Museum. I was impressed by the linear qualities and the colours—the red. From there I was inspired to do all the prints and fabrics for the collection. It was quite wonderful that it all came together. I had another collection that I adored that was inspired by Lartigue when he was in the south of France photographing all those wonderful women. In my last collection, the print was inspired by Gaspar, my little poodle. It has been very successful and now Gaspar is famous.