35 years after couturier Carolina Herrera took the industry by storm, BRIDES editor-in-chief Keija Minor sat down with the fashion doyenne for an in-depth interview on how she went from the girl-about-town to style setter to sought-after designer.
The year was 1981. Reagan was president, Raiders of the Lost Ark owned the box office, and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie were on top with "Endless Love." It was also the year that Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Nino Herrera presented her first prêt-à-porter collection at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan.
With good friends Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol, and Diana Vreeland in the front row and fashion giant Bill Blass (also a friend) weighing in on casting, she sent a series of evening gowns down the runway. While she had no formal training, just an impeccable vision — she learned how to sew by making clothes for her dolls in Caracas, Venezuela, where she grew up — the collection was an instant hit. Career-making department stores like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman placed orders on the spot. "It was so glamorous, with a live band playing Cole Porter songs," she says, now elegantly perched in a side chair in her sun-filled corner office in Manhattan's Garment District.
Photo: With Bianca Jagger at Studio 54, circa 1979; Getty Images
She closed that inaugural show with a wedding dress, as if foreshadowing what was to come. But she wouldn't create a full bridal line for a few more years, in part thanks to another fabulous friend, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. When her daughter, Caroline, got engaged in 1986, the former first lady sent her to see Mrs. Herrera. "As mothers of the brides go, Jackie was the best there ever was," she says. "She let Caroline decide exactly what she wanted and never got involved in any of the design decisions. Jackie didn't see the dress until it was delivered to Hyannis Port for the wedding." The gown seen round the world (it was on the cover of Life), which Mrs. Herrera had embellished with tiny shamrocks in honor of the Kennedys' Irish heritage, catapulted the designer to bridal stardom. A year later, she launched her first full collection of wedding dresses with another glittering New York City runway show.
Photo: Caroline Kennedy's famous drop-waisted gown; Getty Images
Three-plus decades later, Mrs. Herrera's passion for bridal fashion is still apparent. "It's full of romance and hope," she says. "There's a lot of fantasy there, but it's a dream that becomes a reality." Best known for classics with an updated twist, she has a great talent for merging old-world elegance with a modern sensibility, and she advises brides to do the same. "A wedding is a traditional ceremony that has been done for hundreds of years. Don't treat it like you're giving a birthday party," she says. "Just because you follow tradition doesn't mean it's not modern."
Photo: Spring 2017; Courtesy of Carolina Herrera
It's contemporary because it's happening right now, she insists. Then she warns about the overtly-sheer-gown trend: "And nakedness is definitely not going to make it contemporary; it's going to make it ridiculous," she says, laughing. But the designer isn't as buttoned-up as you might expect. I point out the plunging neckline on one of my favorite gowns from her latest collection, and she suggests that when it comes to a wedding gown, a bride shouldn't hide her body. However, she says, opt for "seductive over sexy." With more than 1,000 gowns to her credit, and a perennial spot as one of the world's top designers, we think she knows what she's talking about.
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