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The queen of chic

In 1981, Carolina Herrera, revered as one of the most elegant women in the world, launched her premiere women's collection in New York City, thus creating Carolina Herrera, the brand. This was the beginning of a path ripe with success, recognition and awards. Carolina Herrera propelled her name into the international arena with the launch of her signature scent in 1987. Most recently she has collaborated with her daughter, Carolina on her newest scents 212 and CHIC. Recently she launched her lifestyle brand CH Carolina Herrera, and Arabian Woman sat with the global style icon to discuss all things fashionably Carolina.

You may think that the Herrera Empire is only all about couture however, you would be wrong. The world of Carolina Herrera includes: luxury ready-to-wear, bridal, eyewear, furs, and fragrances. In 2000, the Carolina Herrera NY flagship store opened on prestigious Madison Avenue, encompassing a world of sophistication, refinement and modernity for her designs. Carolina Herrera's international expansion continued in 2001 with the launch of her new lifestyle label, CH Carolina Herrera. This lifestyle collection consists of: women's, men's, accessories and specialty items. Once again, Carolina Herrera had the opportunity to collaborate with her daughter, Carolina on this venture.

As a part of the long term business plan, CH Carolina Herrera will open stores throughout Europe, followed by locations in the major American and Asian cities. The CH Carolina Herrera brand will appeal to an extended customer, while maintaining the level of quality and sophistication of the Carolina Herrera signature brand. Her intention is to create a fresh line, which reflects a modern, effortless chic lifestyle. Herrera, born in Caracas, Venezuela, descends from a long line of Venezuelan landowners and statesmen.

The designer is animated by her affection for her parents, Guillermo 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 “sophisticated aura.” “She was very strict, but not in a loud way,” Herrera adds. “There was a time and place for everything. I have carried this idea with me all my life.”


Arabian Woman (AW): Your designs have always been considered feminine and classic. Do you agree with this description and who would you say have been your biggest influences?
Carolina Herrera (CH):Our collections that cover the entire range of possibilities, from casual sportswear to impeccably tailored suits and elegant evening separates. It is for feminine, refined and active women.

AW: What about the men's collection?
CH: The CH Carolina Herrera man lives life to the fullest; he is modern, secure and sophisticated. In my designs, nothing is ostentatious, just simple detail that reflects true elegance.

AW: You also have an extensive handbag collection which has been well received by customers, what makes a signature Carolina Herrera bag distinctive?
 There are different lines of handbags for different activities; a young and sporty collection that combines functionality and style. The bags are a fusion of leathers and the canvas printed with CH are both bold and subtle. The elegant structured handbags are worked in natural colored leathers and sophisticated snakeskin and crocodile. A daring and charming new line in which different materials are mixed.

That noble sensitivity, combined with a slightly wicked charm, enabled Herrera 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 an immediate success. Chic, sophisticated women all over the world turned to Herrera's label for the type of impeccable suits, dresses and gowns that 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.

AW: What did you hope to achieve for your customers with your first store in the Middle East?
The CH Carolina Herrera store is based on the creation of a beautiful space that is both evocative and welcoming, with the use of simple, elegant and sophisticated materials.

Upon entering the store, accessories capture the client with its low ceilings. The use of warm woods, alabaster panels, raw linen and wool sisal carpets create an intimate space of luxury. In the men's area, the space is defined by an infinite spectrum of grays, browns and blacks, with accents of dark red and silver. Raffia floors, sliding wood panels and screens complete the space, making a comfortable area for men to reflect and observe.

AW: Who and what would you say have been your biggest design influences?
I find inspiration everywhere and travel always provides endless opportunities to see things with a fresh eye and interpret this exposure into my design.

AW:  You started your company in the early 80s with a 50% ownership and an angel investment, can you tell us about the early days. How you realized the dream of a CH line into a goal and an eventual reality?
  It was 1981 and back then, I never dreamt that the brand would grow at this rate. In hindsight, I realize now it was my determination to make my dream a reality and the support of family and friends, coupled with my passion, that I am who I am today. Early on, I realized that fashion was something which came naturally to me, I had an eye for what worked and didn't. Finding something which you do well and love doing is the key to business and personal success. Also confidence once you identify that thing you do... I knew that it was something, which I could do well. So I put together my idea for my first collection and today, many years later, we have several hundreds of stores worldwide.

AW: Is your Dubai store run under a franchise agreement and how did this come about? How did you decide on the company which you would work with?
CH:  We generally do not go into franchise agreements, so we have full ownership of our Middle East operations. I feel it's important to be involved in the brand development, especially as we expand and we've been very fortunate to maintain our business operations.

AW: You collaborated with your daughter Carolina on the CH Carolina line, what makes this secondary line different from the parent collection?
She worked on the fragrance development, which is her main responsibility. It's so wonderful to work with someone who is both so talented and directional. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to work with her.

AW: Other Carolina Herrera brand extension have included your gorgeous bridal line, will that be on offer in Dubai?
  At the moment we will not have bridal available in Dubai however, this is part of our eventual plan to offer this service here as designing bridal is one of my creative delights. It's wonderful to come up with ideas, which would appeal and meet a brides fantasy.

AW: Fashion has never been more expensive, a dress can cost $33,000 and the average small car is about $30,000. Why does a dress cost more than a car?
CH: If you're asking about cost, I am the wrong person to ask because I really don't focus on what things cost, but rather on whether my customers are happy with the end product Do they like it and if they do, then that is all that is important.

AW:  Will the CH Carolina line be able to offer a cheaper alternative for those customers who want a piece of CH?
No, it's not a cheaper alternative, it's a secondary line which is meant to compliment the Carolina Herrera couture brand, so we've thought of how we can cater for those customers who loved what we were doing and wanted a lifestyle around our brand identity.

AW: If you could give your fragrances personalities, how would you tell them apart?
They are all chic and for those with a contemporary sensibility and that is why we've been successful at catering for the modern woman and man.

AW: How strong is the CH brand when it comes to men's fashion? What are some of your top selling products and why do you think they've been so popular?
CH: The fact that we have a very strong male brand is something which many men may not be aware of in this region; however, our brand presence is quite strong in Europe and America.


AW:  Describe a typical day for you.
CH: I never have a typical day and that is why I love what I do. One day I can be in the office and another, be traveling the world to open up an new store in Dubai. It's the variety which keeps my creativity at a peak and keeps work always exciting.

AW: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
CH: To live your best possible life.

AW: What quality do you deplore in others?
CH: Dishonesty must be the worst thing. If you're true then you avoid a lot of headache and upheaval.

AW: Which historical figure do you most relate to, and why?
CH: Catherine the Great, she broke barriers at time when it wasn't considered possible. She was just an incredible women and role model.

AW: If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
CH:  Nothing, because I am really happy being myself.

AW:  What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
CH:  My marriage and my children.

The new Carolina Herrera Boutique is situated at Dubai's Mall of the Emirates.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 29/06/2008

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