The Divine Mrs. Herrera

by The Daily Front Row

(NEW YORK) A few days before her show, Carolina Herrera gave The Daily a peek at her new collection and a tour of her
remodeled atelier. We talked legends, dancing, and Jackie O.

We did a feature on you and your longtime driver a few years ago. How’s he doing?
Very well! He loved your feature. I gave him a lot of copies of The Daily for his family and friends.

You’ve been showing at Fashion Week since 1981! Have you ever skipped a season?
One year! In 1992, we couldn’t show because I was moving offices. So I had a tiny show in my office, which was on 57th Street. It was the office we started in: small, but very pretty. Do you know who came? Jackie Onassis. The space was so tiny, but I made sure to seat her in a place where nobody would bother her.

Did the front-row photogs go crazy for her?
[Laughs] Are you kidding me? Of course!

If Jackie were alive today, could she even attend a show without getting paparazzi-mauled?
I don’t think so. Every time she went out, people just jumped on her. Now there are more photographers, more media, and more everything!

Thoughts on that aspect of fashion?
It’s part of the business. Even if you don’t like it, you have to accept it, because that’s how you make your name. That’s how people know who you are. If you do [a show] in a very small space with no one there, what’s the point? Fashion is a very public thing; now it’s more public than ever. A show happens, and you can watch it on the Internet. New technology!

Back to your collections: Did any of them almost not make it to the runway?
When I showed a collection at the Library at the Public, on Astor Place, we almost didn’t make it. The clothes coming in the van got lost. They had to bring the collection in through the audience, in front of everybody! Things like that don’t happen anymore. Everything is much more calm. I don’t want people working until the morning of the show and showing up exhausted. Fashion involves deadlines like everything else; that’s part of the business. The more challenges you get, the better you are. If you think everything you do is perfect, that’s just not true! You better retire and not do it anymore.

Do you get anxious pre-show? Any jitters now?
I’m feeling very well! I’m always nervous, because I want everything to come out the way I have it in my mind, even though things change here and there. I have a very good team! It’s not only me.

Who is your right-hand person?
Hervé Pierre. My whole design team is great: I have all the people in my atelier like Miro, François, Celine, and Rita. They’re the ones making the clothes.

Your show is always a favorite on the calendar. It’s that Monday-morning recharge.
You like? It’s not so chaotic. We’re organized. Having my atelier in the building makes things easy to control, because I know exactly how everything is being made. We can change or make the collection right there: I don’t send clothes to be made in Italy and then wait for them.

Your front-row regulars are loyal. Graydon Carter, Fran Lebowitz, Renée Zellweger…
I love it! I have friendships with them, but they are also all important people in fashion. Graydon is the editor of one of the best magazines there is. They’re all friends and I love that they come out to support me. But I never see them until after the show, because I’m always in the back! I watch the show on the monitor to see who’s making mistakes!

You’re always sending the girls out with your casting director, James Scully, by your side.
James is a very important part. He’s been working for me for a long time. He’s the one who brings all the girls. He has a thermometer. He knows exactly who should be there. I usually use 42 or 43 girls. It’s fantastic to have each girl in just one look, so the show comes out perfect. You don’t have to be running to change them backstage in a panic.

Are you nervous backstage?
Of course I am, but I don’t show it. If you start being nervous and you have a group of people working with you, they get nervous, too! I always say to my team: “Why are you so nervous? We’re only making dresses. We’re not inventing anything new. If one doesn’t work, we make another one!”

Are you still having a blast?
Yes! I am, but it’s a great blast to me when [the show] is over. I like the creative side the most. I don’t like the publicity and talking about myself. The interviews backstage make me so nervous. It’s another animal.

You always have Marie Griffin by your side backstage to guide you through the press circus…
I adore Marie! I can’t do any television interviews without her. She has to be there. When I see her face, I smile. She’s in control! If a journalist asks to interview me, I say, “Of course! Come here!” but she’ll say, “No! He has to wait! Look at the line!” She’s my bad cop, but she’s perfect for me. She knows what she’s doing.

Which interview questions do you always get?
They all ask me “What is your inspiration?” [Joyful laughter] It’s always the same, but I suppose it’s the same with everyone. If you’re in the music business, they ask the same questions. What else can they ask? Sometimes I have fun with it.

Do you ever just make stuff up?
All the time! Oh, yes! Fashion has to be fun, right? You have to be fun. My everyday life is about making women more beautiful. Why do you have to be serious to do that? Make it fun.

What’s your standard pre-show meal?
I don’t eat. I normally eat breakfast every day, but not on show day. I wake up very early, get ready, and go to the Tents at 8 a.m. to check on everything. There are so many things to do on that day.

You love music, right? When’s the last time you went out dancing?
I haven’t been dancing in a long time. I do love to dance, though!

What kind of dancing?
Any kind! I love salsa! I’m Latin; we’re very good dancers.

Do you like pop music?
Yes, I do! I love Beyoncé! She’s fabulous! Don’t you think so?

Did you see her Super Bowl performance?
I didn’t. I wish I had, because everyone has been saying it was fabulous.

You have lots of books in your office…
Books have been a constant companion in my life since I was a child. My mother and father used to always tell us that we had to read. At this moment I’m reading all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories. 

Do you have any time to read before your show?
Yes, I do: I read every day, in the night or morning.
It calms me. I read when I’m sad, I read when I’m happy, I read when I’m nervous. I read all the time.

What’s your current state of mind?
It’s wonderful, with a little cloud here and there. It’s like the weather!

Who’s your best friend in fashion?
One of my best friends was Bill Blass. I loved him. Oscar is a great friend, too. I have many [friends]!

Everybody calls you Mrs. Herrera…
I don’t know why. I’ve always been called that, since the beginning. I don’t understand why, but I like it! They call me Mrs. H at my atelier.

Does anybody call you Carolina?
Yes! Masses of people. Of course.

Do you feel like a legend?
I don’t want to be called a legend. To me, legends are 102 years old. I don’t want to be called an icon, either. Icons have become like Coca-Cola: Everybody is one, everybody drinks that!

What would you like to be called?
Carolina Herrera!  

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