The success story of Carolina Herrera is the journey of a chic woman who took accolades for her impeccable personal style and turned it into a fashion empire
Carolina Herrera’s rise to fashion fame is no tale of rags to riches, nor is it speckled with moments of struggle to reach one’s most sought-after life goal. It’s the journey of an impossibly well-groomed lady, her inherent love for fashion and the decision to turn the knack to dress well into a successful fashion empire.
Back to the start
Born to wealthy parents Guillermo Pacanins Acevedo, an air force officer who went on to become governor of Caracas, and María Cristina Niño Passios, in 1939 in Caracas, Venezuela, Carolina Herrera had a privileged childhood – one dotted with memories of attending Balenciaga fashion shows with her grandmother and being dressed in Dior and Lanvin.
After an early, though failed marriage to a Venezuelan landowner, she then tied the knot to Reinaldo Herrera Guevara (now a special-projects editor for Vanity Fair magazine), a prominent morning-television news programme host hailing from an illustrious family. When she moved to New York with her husband and children in the early ‘80s, her jet-set lifestyle quickly got her entry into the city’s insider clique – think associations with Bianca and Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol at Studio 54, as well as friendships with influential tastemakers like Princess Margaret of Great Britain and then Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland. So, as a fixture on the best-dressed lists in both Venezuela and New York, Carolina Herrera led a life chronicled in the pages of fashion glossies well before her first dress debuted on a runway.
It was Vreeland who advised Carolina Herrera to channel her innate fashion sense into starting her own label. So, despite having no formal design training, the now fashion legend had designs manufactured in Caracas, and debuted her first-ever collection at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Club to critical acclaim in 1980, thereby shunning any notions that she was just a rich girl dabbling with a fleeting hobby. Thus, what started out as a showcase of her clothing in a Park Avenue boutique soon catapulted into a full-fledged empire.
The Brand Aesthetic
Though iconic without a shred of doubt, the brand isn’t the most mainstream, owing to the designer’s conscious decision to stick to a niche market, catering specifically only to the discerning luxury consumer. The brand’s sensibility is mirrored in its prima donna’s personal style – sophisticated and classic, but with a modern twist. In fact when quizzed about her style sensibility, she was quoted in In Style, “The ultimate wardrobe bestsellers have simplicity in common. Clothes that are so comfortable you feel naked. I hate watching women who adjust themselves all night. Too many ruffles, too much skin, too tight is never sexy or glamorous.”
Known to have popularised padded shoulders and puffed sleeves, she initially started out with formal wear, but slowly and steadily expanded her burgeoning business. She came to be synonymous with luxuriant fabrics, costly trimmings and elegant designs. WWD even noted that her earlier collections boasted of “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.”
Encouraged by rave reviews, she went on to launch CH, a diffusion line, another secondary line Carolina Herrera Collection II, her signature and now lauded fragrance, bridal collection and accessories, among others. Her fragrances deserve a special mention due to the raging success they continue to enjoy. Her first scent, ‘Carolina Herrera’ debuted in 1988 and was based on something she had been mixing up for herself for years – using a bit of jasmine oil that reminded her of a fragrant bush outside her teenage bedroom in Caracas. It instantly became a flyaway hit. Her fragrance line expanded to include ‘Flore’ in 1994 and ‘212’, named after the coveted New York City zip code, in 1997. She is also one of the few female designers whose men’s fragrances enjoy immense popularity as well.
The Celebrity Connection
There’s no denying that Carolina Herrera’s enviable connections with society’s most well-heeled, moneyed ladies, opened many doors for her, and allowed her to find way into wardrobes belonging to society’s upper echelons. Yesteryear’s fashion icon Jackie Kennedy Onassis had a key role to play. Carolina Herrera was still unknown to the general public until 1986, when she designed the wedding dress for Onassis’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy. The bridal gown made a sudden celebrity out of an unsuspecting Carolina Herrera. Princess Diana and American First Lady Nancy Reagan soon began being photographed in her creations too. Today, the likes of Renée Zellweger, Camilla Belle, Giovanna Battaglia, Michelle Obama, Tina Fey, Lupita Nyong’o, Amy Adams, Taylor Swift, Dita Von Teese, Sandra Bullock and many more are often spotted in the designer’s couture and ready-to-wear creations.
Seeing Eye To Eye
Carolina Herrera’s accessories are a go-to for women of elegance, ones who are inspired by old-school dressing and find comfort in the familiarity. In a true extension of the brand’s aesthetic, feminine colours and classic silhouettes are the hallmarks of the label’s eyewear collection too. Carolina Herrera New York’s 2014 sunglass collection is the epitome of ladylike chic, made up of classic shapes enhanced by refined, yet luxurious detailing such as delicate crystals, subtle monogramming and hammered metals. The au courant vintage favourite cat eye frame also makes an appearance in the collection. The optical collection echoes similar sentiments, but with the addition of leather and precious metal detailing. While trendy styles are readily incorporated into the line, modern designs have been given a timeless spin, ensuring you won’t have to toss them once the season is over…just like Carolina, who even at 75 today, continues to reign supreme as one of the most stylish ladies in the land!
1980: Carolina Herrera launched her eponymous brand in New York.
1986: She designed the wedding gown for Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy. CH, a lower-priced, diffusion line was launched in the same year.
1988: Debuted her first scent called ‘Carolina Herrera’.
1989: She launched Carolina Herrera Collection II, another secondary line.
1995: Spanish company Puig acquired the Carolina Herrera fashion business, retaining her as Creative Director.
1997: She was bestowed with the Gold Medal of the Queen Sofía Spanish Institute.
2000: Opened her first store in Manhattan, located at Madison Avenue and 75th Street.
2002: She was presented Spain’s Gold Medal for Merit in the Fine Arts by King Don Juan Carlos.
2008: Carolina Herrera was awarded the Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
2011: Her daughters Carolina Jr. and Patricia Lansing started participating in the creative direction and design.
2014: She was honoured with the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion.