August 13, 2009
So to stray away from our typical NY born designer, let’s talk about Venezuelan born Carolina Herrera. Born as Maria Carolina Josefine Pacanins y Nino on January 8, 1939 in Caracas, Venezuela. Her fashion life began at the tender age of 13 when she attended the Cristobal Balenciaga fashion show with her grandmother, her first of many.
Born into the traditional world of Latin American Aristocracy, she was one of four daughters in her family. Her father was the governor of Caracas and served as the country’s foreign affairs minister. Her mother and grandmother gave Carolina her fashion DNA, they traveled regularly to Europe to get their clothing made by prestigious design houses like Balenciaga and Lanvin.
Herrera grew up very privileged with a governess ( like Maria in sound of music 🙂 ) and lavish surroundings. She lived in a disciplined household that she remembers as being very organized. As she grew up she became interested in sewing clothing for dolls, but as she grew older she shifted her interests and became a skilled equestrienne ( horseback rider) and read a lot because her mother believed a woman had to be cultivated. She would become world traveled and socialize with the world’s royalty, but to her that wasn’t enough.
After being married at the tender age of 18 to Guillermo Behrens Tello, a wealthy Venezuelan family she had two daughters. Soon after the marriage because, it ended in divorce, the first in her family. She moved back with her parents and worked in her first fashion gig as a publicist for Emillio Pucci.
In 1968 she fell in love with Reinaldo Herrera( a Vanity Fair editor) and the got married, he too was from a wealthy Venezuelan family. They traveled in the social circles of the world’s elite and lived a romantic, high priced lifestyle. With Reinaldo she had two daughters.
It wasn’t until her 30’s when she began to pop up on the fashion radar. She was on the International Best Dressed lists. Feeling the fashion fever, her, her husband, and her children moved to New York in 1980 from their lavish estate in Carcas.
Almost 40, she decided to dip her toes into a fashion related business venture and began to think about fabric design. With friends in high places she was quickly talked out of designing fabric and talked into making a line. Acquaintance and fashion icon Diana Vreeland was supportive of her decision. However her mother in law and her husband were not so much. Her husband was most notably skeptical. He said “I was supportive because I thought this would last fifteen minutes,” Reinaldo Herrera told Town & Country‘s Tapert. “If she had said it would be fifteen years, I would have asked her, ‘Are you out of your mind?'”
Regardless, Carolina wanted to move forward. In fall of 1980 Herrera brought 20 dresses that she had made in Caracas by dressmakers. For her trunk show, she borrowed a friend’s Park Avenue apartment and invited everyone she knew. In attendance were buyers ready to by her whole line but it would be hard since she didn’t have a company at the time. Luckily she knew a publishing powerhouse, Armando de Armas who backed her business, Carolina Herrera Ltd. She opened a store on Seventh Avenue and her first full collection was shown in NY’s Metropolitan Club in 1981.
Once again her leveraged connections brought her success, her socialite friends got wind of her collection and became her best customers. Jacqueline Kenned Onassis became one of her first renowned clients. Caronline’s success was also because she was one of the first people to use padded shoulders because of the affect that big shoulders have on making a women’s waist look smaller. She used her knowledge of the effects of shapes on a women’s body to further her success.
Herrera’s company got really big after she made the wedding dress for Caroline Kennedy, Jackie O’s daughter, in 1986. This expanded her line from only ready to wear, to bridal and to a lower priced line called CH. In 1988 she launched a fragrance line inspired by the jasmine bush scents from her home in Venezuela, in 1991 she debuted her Men’s fragrance, and in 1994 she released her third scent.
She was then smart enough to get licensing deals for accessories, costume jewelry, and eyewear. In 1990 her wholesale business reached $20 million.
To celebrate, in 2000 she opened her first store, located at Madison Avenue and 75th Street in Manhattan and soon after she opened stores in Europe. Her first store outside of New York was in Madrid’s Salamanca district.
After dressing Jackie O for the last twelve years of her life she was inspired by her impeccable taste and her knowledge of what looked good on her. She also had the honor of dressing Nancy Reagan, Mrs. Bush, and every ones fav MICHELLE OBAMA.
Though she has built an empire on her own, she still maintains a regular lifestyle. She claims that she never works past 5 pm and makes sure that the line is drawn between work and home. She doesn’t want work to be her entire life, but merely a part of her life.
Another important part of her life is her charity work. She is a Goodwill Ambassador and a Facilitator for the Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. I am not going to explain that to you because it is a little intense, but all you need to know is she does want to save lives and give back to children and she loves it.
Carolina Herrera has been and remained on international best dressed lists since her 30’s and here clothing has been critically acclaimed almost from day one. Her style is timeless and packed with class and elegance that one can not find in any other line. Her clothing is a direct reflection of Carolina as a woman and I have every reason to believe that she would wear EVERYTHING she makes. That is not something one can say for every designer.
What I like about Carolina Herrera is that she continuously works through any adversity. Her husband, mother-in-law and countless critics were not fans of her work( including Cathy Horyn who she banned from her shows for negative feedback), but she kept on going because she knew she was on to something. I also love how she leveraged her connections in order to succeed. There is nothing wrong with getting your friends, who already like you as a person, to support your dreams. True friends will do that for you.
However she does keep her affiliations to a minimum. She never likes to mention her clients names because she believes that “If you have to sell a dress because an important client is wearing it, then that means that the dress was not good,” and I could not agree more.
As a studio 54 regular and a close friend of Andy Warhol, Carolina has seen it all and everything she has seen she translates into her clothing. Compared to the likes of other fashion greats like Oscar de la Renta, she simply started her path to success with passion, hard work, and dedication.
I am definitely starting to believe that those traits, that cant’ be taught, can take you much further than a degree can take you. Think about it !
The International Center in New York’s Award of Excellence
2004 Women’s Designer of the Year
2008 lifetime achiever award by the Cosmetic Executive Women UK.
“Today, people want to be free to wear what they like, in any combination they like, to be confined by no rules, and to set their own standards – yet they all end up looking exactly the same.” – C.Herrera
As one of my favorite designers, Oscar de la Renta knows how to make a woman look and feel sexy in her clothing.
He was born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic on July 22, 1932 to his parents Maria Fiallo and Oscar de la Renta. Oscar studied at some of the most intricate and well respected fashion houses on earth. Before he found his love for fashion he left home at the age of 18 to study painting at the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. While in Spain he became interested in fashion and started sketching for different fashion houses. He then landed an opportunity to work as an apprentice to Spain’s most renowned couturier, Cristobal Balenciaga. Once Oscar left Spain he went to work as a couture assistant to Antonio Castillo at Lavin in Paris. He was the first Dominican to design for a French couture house.
The well-trained Oscar de la Renta at the age of 31 had major decisions to make. He had to choose between designing custom clothing for Elizabeth Arden and designing ready to wear for Christian Dior. Normal people have to decide between cooking and eating take out for dinner. Oscar was far from normal. His mentor, Diana Vreeland, gave him the advice to get into the ready to wear because that was where the money was. She then said follow up by working for Arden because she will promote him because while working at Dior, you will always be overshadowed by the brand name. And that was the path Oscar followed. After working for Arden for 2 years, he launched his own label.
By 1965 he had a Pink Label and a ready to wear label. It wasn’t until 2001 did he introduce his accessories.
Oscar de la Renta has a high-end sportswear collection OSCAR by Oscar de la Renta, cosmetic cases, eyewear, furs, lingerie, scarves, sleepwear, and swimwear. Additionally he has a men’s collection that includes sports coats, suits, and trousers. He included a home wear addition to his lines as well. As if he did not already have enough products baring his name, he came out with fragrances in 1977 for women and 1980 for men. Oscar reminisced with NY mag saying that at the age of 7 he experimented with making perfume in his back yard. He was fascinated how dewdrops came from flowers, who knew that would be the beginning of his path to success.
In 2004 he introduced an eyewear line, a lower priced clothing line call O Oscar, and a free standing store on Madison Avenue. During this year he handed over his chief executive title to son in law Alex Bolen but her remains chairman.
At the age of 35 Oscar de la Renta married Francoise de Langlade, the editor-in-chief of French Vogue. She worked as a consultant to Elizabeth Arden and was very prominent in fashion and society. She attracted many rich and famous people to his shows with helped his business incredibly.
He remarried to Annette Reed in 1989 who was the former wife of the American Heritage magazine published Samuel Pryor Reed. Her 3 children from that marriage would receive over 50 million in shared and buildings around the world upon their 21st birthday. She was also a socialite who brought a lot of attention to her husband’s brand. However, strangely enough when he first asked her to be married she didn’t jump at the opportunity saying that she thought there was no need. But since he is Latino and he believes in the institution they were married.
Protégé of Baron de Gunzburg, Oscar de la Renta not only contributed significantly to fashion, but he has contributed to the world as well. He was honored by the Dominican Republic with the order al Merito de Juan Pablo Duarte and the Order of Cristobal Color. He also contributed heavily to the construction of a school in Punta Cana. He is a member of The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, and Channel Thirteen/WNET. He is also on the boards of New Yorkers for children, The Americas Society, ad the Spanish Institute. Another huge extension of himself is that he adopted a child, Moises de la Renta, from the Dominican Republic. He did this well before it became a fad and for all the right reasons.
Today his son is in his twenties and has taken up an interest in fashion. He spends his time like many of his other socialite peers in clubs and hanging out. Moises attended Marymount Manhattan College before dropping out to become a designer. Today he is studying at FIT. HE mad a hipster looking T-shirt as his first try at designing and it sold for $150 with critical acclaim from the top fashion mags. In January he debuted a denim collection in Damon Dashes club called NA. It was successful and his father believes he has a lot of talent, but he has a ways to go and that is why he is in school. Oscar emphasizes to his son that it is nice to have your clothes in Vogue, but the way to make money is to sell to stores that people can buy from. His line today, MDLR is a polar opposite of his father’s clothing but the edge combined to delicate tailoring can only spell success for the young de la Renta.
Mr. de la Renta is a very accomplished designer that has attracted women both young and old to his collections. As a masterful tailor and a skillful designer he is sought after by some of the top people in the world such as Anna Wintour, Laura Bush, Beyonce Knowles and the late Jackie Onassis. Today his business is booming because professional women are buying clothes that she likes and not the boring clothes to fit into a man’s world, as was the case in the seventies.
Today Oscar also has a lot of suggestions from politicians and their spouses. Working with Nancy Reagan and Jackie O, Oscar is no stranger to the white house. For Hillary Clinton he advises that she doesn’t wear black because it makes her look tough. (He reveals to NYmag that he even voted for her husband in addition to Reagan and Bush.) Mr. de la Renta has also been tough on the First lady Mrs. Obama. He wasn’t to pleased that she wore a sweater to Buckingham Palace. This came after her decision against wearing an Isabel Toledo original dress to the meeting with the Queen. He also believes that she should give more support to the fashion industry that is tanking now. While some hard working and deserving designers are practically starving, J.Crew is selling out of the 300$ cardigans worn by the first lady. I understand where he is coming from, but whatever the first lady wears someone is going to be unhappy.
CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2000 and 2007
CFDA Lifetime Achievement Award 1973-1976
President of CFDA 1986-1988
Won American Fashion Critic’s Award twice
Winner of Fragrance Foundation Perennial Success Award in 1991
Living Legend Award from American Society of Perfumes in 1995
Coty Hall of Fame 1973
French legion d’Honneur
Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hispanic Heritage Society
Gold Medal of Bellas Artes form the King of Spain in 2000
I am very impressed with his accomplishments as a designer, but I am even more impressed with his contributions outside of just making quality clothing. This year he was noted for having more diversity on the runway, which is a huge think to me and I appreciate him for that. That is only one thing to add to his list of many selfless and generous acts. The adoption of Moises is something that has really turned me onto Oscar de la Renta. He treats his son as if he was his own blood. He care about him like a father should, he gets upset with unfair media coverage and criticisms of his child. He is supportive, loving, and he is not absent in his son’s life. A lot of fathers and parents in general today need to take note from Mr. de la Renta.
Designers around the world should take notes from his designing skills. None of his pieces look cheap or poorly crafted, that would be simply impossible. The skills he acquired while he was young have been continued to this day in his clothing. No one woman on earth can resist his feminine dresses, beautiful prints, and flattering fit. I definitely can’t.
Oscar, having a sample sale anytime soon?
P.s. don’t forget to follow his pr team on twitter.com/OscarPRGirl