Noblesse oblige

Designer Carolina Herrera prefers to work – and to work hard – dressing women in her designs and wearing them herself.

Carolina Herrera_370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Carolina Herrera_370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the scion of a wealthy noble dynasty, talented designer Carolina Herrera can enjoy life and be impeccably dressed without having to work. However, Herrera prefers to work – and to work hard – dressing women in her designs and wearing them herself. Her 2012 collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, New York, garnered much praise. However, at the close of the presentation, when she was called up to the runway, she preferred to glance at the audience, wave and return backstage because this designer stays out of the limelight.
Carolina Herrera (born Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño) was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She grew up in a well-to-do home in Caracas, Venezuela, in a family of the nobility. Childhood for her and her three sisters was full of horseback riding, tennis, piano, breeding dogs and being raised by a nanny. Herrera’s family had a very well-developed aesthetic sense, which she internalized, since dressing well was very important. As a teenager, she dreamed of being a movie star. However at 18, upon graduating from high school, she got married and soon became a mother. But she continued to buy designer clothing, which she still has at her ranch near Caracas.
With her striking good looks, Herrera was a muse to many artists, such as Andy Warhol. Her fluent command of languages and confident body language convey her nobility. One might say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as her father was a very handsome man who used to dress extremely elegantly. He learned to fly in the 1930s and was one of the pioneers of aviation in Venezuela as well as having served as a foreign minister of Venezuela.
Carolina’s beautiful mother also wore high-quality elite fashion, although she taught her girls to believe that inner beauty is much more important than externals. The children were raised to be curious, to search for interest in life and follow changes. In press interviews given over the years, Herrera described the observation game that her mother played with her and her sisters to develop their powers of awareness. For example, they had to be able to mention if they noticed any changes she made in arrangements in the house.
In 1980, after Herrera received enthusiastic praise for her fashion collection, she moved to New York, and in 1981 she founded her company. Since her creations are painstakingly made and are of extremely high quality, they quickly became very sought after by the top stores in the US. Within a short time, the Carolina Herrera label became identified with women with refined, sophisticated taste, especially thanks to the finely designed suits and dresses she created. Herrera is a successful career woman who is proud of her aristocratic legacy. Nevertheless, she deserves praise for her own talent, intelligence, common sense, perfectionism and fine taste. In her words, “The dominant traits I am proud of are my self-discipline and ability to spot beautiful things. I conduct my life in an orderly and strict manner, which allows me to take control of the many tasks I love, such as managing my household, family and plant.”
Herrera began her professional career at 40 after raising her four daughters. She felt that it was time to gain a fresh perspective and create something. At first she thought of textile design, but her friend fashion designer Crispi, who brought Italian design secrets to America, and family friend world-renowned Diana Vreeland encouraged her to design clothing, convinced that women would love her designs and identify with her personal style.
Other women with a similar background also entered the field, such as Caroline da Rivas and Carolyne Roehm, but only Herrera’s brand survived. She has been at the top of American fashion for more than 20 years, along with Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene. Herrera’s family supported her becoming a career woman. Her second husband, Reynaldo, “my true friend, my first love,” believed in her and reinforced her decision. Their families had been friends, and his sister was her closest friend. She found out he had admired her since childhood, but one day he went to Europe “and my life changed.” Herrera had been married for eight years to her first husband when Reynaldo returned to Caracas; she divorced and married him. The couple resides in La Vega, in a 16th-century building with 65 rooms. They have two daughters in addition to her daughters from her first marriage.