"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," says Fashion Designer Carolina Herrera of the esthetic sense that has driven her during her 17 years as a fashion designer. "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."
Spoken without a stitch of ego, the statement reveals a great deal about Carolina Herrera. Her entirely straightforward approach toward her business--which Herrera founded 17 years ago after being prompted by fashion legend Diana Vreeland and her great friend, the late Count Rudi Crespi--is perfectly balanced by her entirely impassioned feelings about her late parents; her husband Reinaldo Herrera; her four daughters, Mercedes, Ana Luisa, Carolina Adriana and Patricia; the family house in Venezuela, La Vega, built in 1590, and of course, her dogs, Gaston and Floyd.
Along with the newly launched 212 Men, the counterpart of 212 Carolina Herrera for women and the sixth of her fragrances eleven years, she oversees an international design firm that encompasses her signature fashion collection, a bridal collection, fragrances, color cosmetics and accessories. Sales extend around the world (U.S., South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Far East). "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!"
Herrera, born in Caracas, Venezuela, descends from a long line of Venezuelan landowners and statesman. The designer is animated in her affection for her parents, Guillemmo and Maria Cristina Pacanins, admitting that she is "spoiled as far as men's looks are concerned" because her father was so dashing. She refers with love to her mother's "cultivated aura." "She was very strict, but not in a loud way," Herrera adds. "There was a time and place for everything. I have carried that with me all my life."
That noble sensibility, combined with a slightly wicked charm, enabled Herrrera to make the transition from her halcyon days as a chic and renowned beauty on the international scene--where she spent days with royals and nights with the Warhol crowd--to a designer with such talent and business acumen that she could not be ignored.
After receiving a positive reaction to a fashion collection she created in 1980 as "a test," she moved with her family to New York from Caracas in 1981 and formed Carolina Herrera, Ltd. Her exquisitely detailed, expertly crafted creations were immediately in demand by specialty stores, and chic, sophisticated women the world-over turned to Herrera's label for the type of impeccable suits, dresses and gowns she instinctively knew how to design--the legacy of having grown up in a world where women wore only couture.
Herrera herself had attended her first couture show, that of Cristobal Balenciaga, at the age of 13 with her grandmother.
In 1988 Herrera expanded her business with the launch of her first fragrance, Carolina Herrera, a heady and romantic blend of the tuberose and jasmine essences she had always worn. A men's fragrance, Carolina Herrera for Men, bowed in 1991. In 1994, Herrera debuted her third scent--the floral Flore. Aqua Flore, its lighter counterpart, debuted in 1996.
In a business climate that says "continue to do or die," Herrera thrives. The best specialty stores sell her fashion and fragrances worldwide and her first flagship retail store is scheduled to open in Spring 2000 in New York. A line of signature color cosmetics debuted earlier this year in Spain, the Middle East and most recently in England. Herrera's enormously successful accessories collection, one of the fastest growing divisions in the company, features beautifully detailed, cut-velvet and silk block print scarves, and a line of handbags as chic as a faux croc shoulder bag and as playful as a mini velvet box.
Of her latest endeavor, Herrera credits her daughter, Carolina Adriana, as muse and collaborator. The 212 Men fragrance line is sensual, transparent and woody in nature, contrived of citrus and essence leaves, sandalwood, amber notes and white musks. It is a reflection of the charming cosmopolitan man-about-town, forever savvy and debonair, and every woman's ideal.
"With my clothing and fragrances," says Herrera, "I believe that it is best to be realistic, but to always mix a bit of fantasy with reality. It's the same with life, really."