There’s something noble about Carolina Herrera, a sense of elegance that echoes in her queenly grace, the delicate arch of her eyebrows and the soft sheen of her hair. It’s an appearance befitting Herrera’s status as fashion royalty

Carolina Herrera: fashion designer: there’s something noble about Carolina Herrera, a sense of elegance that echoes in her queenly grace, the delicate arch of her eyebrows and the soft sheen of her hair. It’s an appearance befitting Herrera’s status as fashion royalty

Corina Miller

A former socialite from Venezuela that was heralded us one of the world’s most elegant and best-dressed women throughout the 1970s, Herrera rose from simply loving fashion to becoming a fashion icon. Over the past 25 years, Herrera has successfully translated her elegant essence into evening gowns, bridal wear, casual attire, accessories and even fragrance, all adored by such celebrities as Nicole Kidman, Rene Zellweger and former First Lady Jackie Onassis.

“In a word, Carolina Herrera’s work is simply chic,” says Sharon Haver, fashion expert and columnist. “She’s timeless, classic feminine, and elegant in a way that flatters women throughout their life.”

Yet, the recognition that Herrera’s work has achieved comes as a pleasant surprise to the Venezuela native. “I started doing this because I loved fashion,” she says. “But I had no idea what it would become. I can only say that I am very lucky my mother instilled such discipline and structure in my life!”

The Beginning of Something Big

Born in 1939 in Caracas, Venezuela, Herrera’s gift for fashion and society stems from her background as the daughter of the governor of Caracas. A natural dark-eyed beauty, Herrera, who was born to a long line of statesmen and wealthy landowners, was surrounded by glamour from the get-go. Her father. Guillermo, was “dashingly handsome,” and her mother exuded a “cultivated aura.” Love of style was indeed a family affair, is Herrera’s grandmother escorted a 13-year-old Herrera to the Cristobal Balenciaga couture show. Her background, stunning looks and charm paved the way for Herrera to walk in the same cultured circles that included royals and pop figures such as artist Andy Warhol.

Herrera’s career began in 1980, when her love of fashion inspired her to launch her first collection. With its exquisite detail and sharp, yet feminine design, Herrera’s clothes were fresh renditions of timeless styles. And because they were introduced in a period where loose clothes were the rage, they were different and therefore became an instant hit. “When I showed my first collection in 1981, 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. It was very feminine–women Showing their figures–so everybody looked at it,” Herrera is quoted as saying in an interview with the Chicago Sun Times’ John O’Sullivan. “It was really quite glamorous. That first collection had one distinctive feature–big sleeves. Everyone asked me, ‘Why big sleeves?’, and 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.”

The success of her debut line prompted Herrera to move her family to New York in 1981 to form Carolina Herrera, Ltd. With her finger on the pulse of women’s fashion, Herrera’s popularity continued to soar. And even though she became known for classic, feminine designs, her work continued to evolve and mirror various inspirations. For example, her 1997 collection paid homage to 1940s Hollywood starlet Carmen Miranda and featured ruffles, platform shoes and feathers.

To this day, Herrera’s work continues to be lauded by fashion fans. Recently, critics praised her fall line, stating that she created “a rich, textured fall line that will give her chic uptown customer something new and fresh to wear without stepping out of her comfort zone.” The line she presented included such items as a black wool-felt top and skirt that New York Fashion described as “elegant and unfussy, but full of interesting cut-out details,” as well as a gray cashmere sweater worn over an ivory blouse and super wide-leg pants. Herrera topped her fall line with dazzling eveningwear, an organza gown with a ruffled collar and open back.

“Her play with embroidery for evening and the layering were hits. The tunic-shape sheath was so fresh,” says Avril Graham, executive fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar.

Even today, Herrera’s sense for fashion seems remarkably “on the dot”. At her most recent fashion week show, her spring 2007 line garnered similar praise, as the majestic designer incorporated couture fashion to ready-to-wear.

“Slim silhouettes on sharply tailored dresses and gowns featured artistic details that were executed couture-style. Cases in point–gray shift embellished with laser cut minute trellis or the gray & white dress with elongated carbon atoms done in applique,” says fashion critic Nicole Phelps. “And there is the ‘traditional’ couture treatment such as beading. Carolina Herrera put those on very contemporary shapes like a sunburst of multi-shaped, multi-sized, and multi-color semi-precious stones around the flaps of pockets…. And though this question maybe reaching, even way off the mark, one cannot help but wonder if Carolina Herrera is Paris-bound for haute couture.”

The Source of Inspiration

Inspiration comes from many sources, says Herrera.

“I was always a great admirer of Balenciaga. For me, Balenciaga is designing. The simplicity of his line, the way he cuts … he is timeless. But there are many others–Schiaparelli for instance. Among contemporary designers, I like Armani very much, for his simplicity. I used to dress by Armani a lot. And I adore [Ives] Saint Laurent, for his classicism. He will never be out of fashion,” she is quoted as saying.

Herrera expanded her scope to bridal wear in 1987, putting her own signature on wedding gowns much to the delight of critics and celebrities alike, including Caroline Kennedy, who wore a Carolina Herrera dress for her own nuptials. Herrera’s bridal designs also won “Bride” magazine’s “First Prize of Design of Bridal Gowns.” Her work was forever immortalized in the 2005 release of the Carolina Herrera bride Barbie doll, the same year she opened a bridal salon on the third floor of the Madison Avenue boutique.

Carolina’s approach to wedding fashions is similar to her overall design philosophy.

“I like simplicity–clean lines, touches of embroidery or lace. Not a lot of details. Definitely not ruffles and flowers everywhere. I try to be sophisticated and elegant at the same time. I like a bride with a long train and long tulle veil, with a blusher … the tradition of it is so pretty,” she says.

Expanding her already successful reach into the fashion industry, Carolina branched out into fragrance design in 1987, when she introduced her first scent, Carolina Herrera, a sultry, romantic blend of tuberose and jasmine. She added a men’s fragrance, Carolina Herrera for Men, in 1991, then a floral, Fiord, in 1994. She collaborated with her daughter Carolina Adriana to create 212 and 212 Men in 1997 and 1999 respectively. In 2004, she introduced Chic for men. Herrera’s perfumes have caught both consumer and designer interest and have earned several awards in countries worldwide.

Carolina reached iconic designer status in fall 2000, when she opened her flagship store on Madison Avenue. In 2001, she launched a lifestyle collection, CH Carolina Herrera, in Europe and in 2002 expanded it to North America through a network of free-standing stores. Already a favorite in Hollywood, Herrera expanded onto the West Coast by opening a Los Angeles flagship store in famed shopping paradise Melrose Place.

The List of Accolades

If Herrera’s accomplishments weren’t enough to describe her success, the many awards she’s won throughout her career more than suffice. Some of her accolades include the 1990 Pratt Institute’s “First Prize to the Best Fashion Designer,” the 1991 Mary Mount University “Designer of the Year” award, the 1993 American Perfume Association’s First Legends Award, Drexel University’s “Crystal Star Award” for Best Fashion Designer, the 1995 International Fashion Center “Special Distinction for a Career in the World of Design,” the 2004 CFDA ‘Women’s Designer of the Year,” and the 2005 Fashion Group International’s “Star Gazer Award” and the International Achievement Summit’s “Golden Plate Award.”

More than a fashion star, Herrera is also a devoted mother and philanthropist. Those talents have received recognition as well. In 2006, the American Cancer Society named Herrera “Mother of the Year.”

Always demure, Herrera remains humble about her success.

“I love the idea of elegance and intricacy, but whether it is in a piece of clothing or a fragrance, the intricacy must appear as simplicity. I think that standard has served me well; women seem to love my clothes. I am extremely grateful for the success that they have given me.”

COPYRIGHT 2007 Ferraez Publications of America Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group