Born in Venezuela, Carolina Herrera, as only a few Latin American women from the first half of the past century did, had the privilege of growing up in contact with Europe and with the magical world of Parisian haute couture. It was, precisely, this contact with the world’s fashion capital, with the art of creative genii such as Cristóbal Balenciaga, what took Carolina Herrera to develop her fascinating sense of aesthetics, and which has managed to bewitch both men and women for the past few decades. In every single one of her creations, her personal history is reflected in the unique mix of elements that blend the Latin American cultural imaginary with the femininity and elegance of European haute couture, creating a uniquely wonderful conversation that continues to charm us throughout the years. These aesthetics, which can only but elevate the beauty of women, are the result of the eyes that, from a very young age, grew accustomed to seeing beautiful things, and of a brilliant mind, which knows how to combine, in a perfectly harmonious way, the beauty of two worlds that seem to be nothing but complete opposites.
Her ability to contemplate beauty, which was not only acquired in her constant visits to haute couture runway shows in Paris, or on her journey in Emilio Pucci, was further nurtured by New York. Cosmopolitan and agitated, this city came to represent, in the Twentieth Century, the cuspid of modernity and of North American power, and managed to bring together the most influential people in the country. There is, certainly, no doubt that the long cocktail nights with friends at the Metropolitan Club, the enchanting conversations with Diana Vreeland, and the constant visits to Studio 54, where she was put magnificently under Andy Warhol’s exquisit eye, were immensely influential in Carolina Herrera’s design process. But New York is also a city of immigrants; a city in which the only constant seems to be the flux of strangers that arrive with their suitcases packed full of dreams, in search of a new life and a new story. This mix between the traditional and the new, which so perfectly represents the modern city, resulted in the perfect atmosphere for Carolina Herrera and her creative genius to emerge and develop.
Walter Benjamin, in his study of the modern city, talks about bricolage and montage as the best techniques to understand everyday life. It is through the combination of the various elements present on a daily basis that society can be understood; the social scientist’s job, therefore, is to merge all these influences together to construct one coherent story. For years, sociologists and anthropologists alike have tried to follow Benjamin’s rulings, searching for the perfect way of bringing together little pieces of individual lives, of different influences, and create a fluid conversation. But none has managed to create an art that is quite similar to the creations of Carolina Herrera.
Far from being a social scientist, and probably without a real intention of understanding everyday life in modernity, Carolina Herrera has managed to create her own visual language, which characterises every single one of her designs, where collage is the soul of her creations, made up of the different referents that have passed through the life of this wonderful designer.
In her adoration for skirts—skirts are gorgeous… they move beautifully and are very feminine. They make women look like real women—and the use of flowers in her creations, it is possible to see the legacy of Latin American folklore, of the Caribbean and tropical patterns that flow with the rhythm of the drums and the movement of the hips in traditional dances. But Carolina Herrera’s skirts, far away from the disorder of the carnivals and festivities, are elegant creations, carefully made in her atélier, and have become some of the garments most intensely desired by fashion lovers from around the world. These skirts, though inspired in Latin American folklore, do not separate themselves from the elegant tradition of European haute couture, which is so immensely valued by the fashion world. The readaptation of the various Latin American cultural references is the pritagonist in the model of femininity that Carolina Herrera promotes, where, distanced from the voluptuous and sexy ideal that the Latina tends to represent today, femininity is defined as simple and demure—a lady is she who is not interested in having a lot of men at her feet but only one at her height—.
Carolina Herrera’s emphasis on details—I love femininity without estridence, with an elegant style that takes into account all the important details—is another main force shaping the magical femininity in her creations. The simplicity in her designs, always heightened by modern details, is what brings an air of atemporality, so adored, into all the creations of Carolina Herrera. Details are what make a woman elegant and feminine, strong and irresistible. The use of colours, of flowers, at the best of tropical styles, in her designs, replaces all needs for extravagances in the creation of a beautiful and powerful feminine image. The use of red, colour of sunset in the Venezuelan plains, which has so perfectly come to symbolise her house, highlights the beauty of the woman, and gives her the opportunity of using sensuality as her strongest weapon. But this sensuality is always subtle, elegant, and graceful. It is a sensuality that leaves a lot to the imagination, and this is, precisely, what makes Herrera’s femininity such a beautiful creation in current times. Thus, simplicity in dress, the use of colours that appeal to the senses, and the exaltation of certain characteristics through the use of red details, are the main lessons that Carolina Herrera teaches the modern woman.
But, beyond issues of style, us women of the Twenty-First Century have a full life lesson to learn from Carolina Herrera. Maybe not that far away from all the immigrants that came from Eastern Europe, so long ago, to New York City in search of fulfilment of the American Dream, Carolina Herrera arrived to this city with a positive and dreaming mind, with the desire of success, and with lots of self-confidence. Always believing in the power of perseverance—the impossible does not exist for a woman, it just takes time to get it—, Carolina Herrera has managed to put her name on top of the fashion world, and has even become a symbol of one of the most important cities in the world. On the way, she has left her own footprint in the construction of modern femininity, which must nourish itself in the liberties that women enjoy today, but is based in concepts as traditional as the sewing techniques of haute couture. Carolina Herrera promotes a style that goes far beyond frivolity and money—elegance and style have nothing to do with money—, and believes in femininity as a result of an intelligent and knowledgeable woman. Carolina Herrera teaches us, like no other Latin American designer, the power of dreams—the only lies that can come true are those we call dreams—and the beauty of being a woman.
*This article was written originally in Spanish for Inédito.co.