Having first linked up with Puig in the late Eighties, Carolina Herrera knew from the start that their companies were simpatico.
“When I first met the Puig family, I knew immediately that I was working with gentlemen,” Herrera said. “They think in the same way that I do. They like to do everything in a very elegant way. After all these years, they have been an incredible partner.”
After starting her company in 1981, Venezuelan-born Herrera worked with Puig in 1988 developing a signature fragrance. In 1995, Herrera’s fashion house was acquired by Puig. Asked if she imagined the partnership would become such a long-standing one, the designer said, “I did, because when you work with such gentlemen and such honorable people, you do it for a long time. First I was working with the ‘Old Guard’ from Puig and now it is the New Guard. But nothing has changed.
“One of the things that I like about them is that they really listen, especially Marc [Puig, chief executive officer]. But a lot of listening is needed from both sides. When you have a good thing with people, you always want to make it a great success,” she said. “Puig is like my other family.”
While Puig was instrumental in helping Herrera open her first signature store on Madison Avenue and expand her CH Carolina Herrera label, both parties are always planning for what’s next. Gearing up for her runway show in September, a yet-to-be-disclosed major international project and unveiling new CH Carolina Herrera stores including one in Osaka late next month, Herrera said, “Fashion never ends. We have so many, many, many plans.”
The company declined to give a current volume, but it is estimated at more than $1 billion, including wholesale and retail.
Another initiative that is performing well is what Herrera executives refer to as effortless, luxurious daywear. The designer said, “It is classic and clean with a modern twist. It works well anywhere and that’s the challenge when you have to design clothes for the global women of today. They have to look good everywhere they go.”
During her extensive travels, Herrera said she enjoys seeing her designs worn by globe-trotting women in different cities. “For me, elegance is timeless,” she said. “They have to look effortless and the clothes must look easy to wear and as though they belong to them. I love daytime because it is for our everyday life. Evening is very important, but you wear it once in a while.”
In April, the designer introduced Archive II, a capsule collection of wear-now daytime pieces featuring cheerful prints from her archive. Teaser campaign photos triggered favorable chatter on Instagram before the launch and there was also a microsite with an e-commerce component via Neiman Marcus.
Beyond the social media buzz, Herrera was intent on offering designs that had not been seen for spring.
Caroline Brown, president of Herrera, said, “If you look at Archive as a marketing exercise, it is indicative of some of the projects we are looking at. We really take a full 360-degree approach to make sure it is timed perfectly for the right delivery, for the customer, with the media and the digital component, really touching people in the many ways you can today with one consistent message.
“Customers really want to be part of a brand,” she added. “They don’t want to look at it from afar. They want to see the inside of the house. They want to communicate. They want to hear the direct comments and they want to feel they know a piece of the personality of the house and of the designer.”
True to Herrera’s discreet style, the company is not about to exploit its ties to high-profile brides. The designer recently dressed Jessica Simpson and Olivia Palermo for their respective weddings, but hardly shared any details with the media. Brown declined to pinpoint how those affiliations affected traffic on the company’s Web site. “We’re very active on social media and we have jumps all the time. We really leave that decision up to the bride. There is always interest [in] something beautiful. I wouldn’t say it’s a strategy in our social media to push people’s private moments.”
Herrera praised Brown for her leadership in growing the company’s sales. The designer said, “I have a great team behind me — my design team, my sales team — everyone comes together. It’s not you alone.”
Carolina Herrera New York is available in 123 points of distribution, including three signature boutiques in 40-plus countries. CH Carolina Herrera, which has 122 retail stores and 219 owned shops-in-shop globally, is another growth opportunity. It is building on its distribution in Japan, China, Southeast Asia and Korea, as well as in the U.S. Latin America is also a priority, where CH Carolina Herrera has 34 stores. “So we’re really looking globally at the business and not at one specific business,” Brown said. “We are always challenging the existing product matrix to say, ‘What can be enhanced?’ and ‘How can we do it better?’”
To that end, greater development, for example, of categories like outerwear is being considered. Accessories including eyewear, which is “off to a fantastic start,” and daywear, “a real focus in the last few years,” are growth opportunities. There are plans for the launch of a capsule collection of men’s eyewear at the end of this year. Brown continued, “We are always asking, ‘Are we where we want to be?’ ‘What do we have to keep our eye on next?’ It is really important for companies to keep their eyes on where the next opportunity is.
“If you’re not moving forward in fashion, you’re going backwards, because everything else is moving forward,” she added.
“We have great teams and our teams are really focused on doing this all the time. So our eyes are open to every part of the business,” Brown said. “Every business has complexities. I am convinced that there is no business that you look at from the outside and say, ‘It’s easy.’ They all require a lot of discipline, a lot of focus and great people behind it on all levels who are driven by the same passion and along the same path for the company’s success.”
As for whether the company is concerned about speculation that Europe’s economic recovery may not be imminent, Brown said, “As a global business, there is always volatility in one part of your business or many. Economics are a concern in general throughout the world, Europe isn’t the only one. We look at many other regions. We’re fortunate to have a global business so that when you have challenges somewhere, you hope that other parts are able to compensate for that.”
This spring, Giuseppe Celio joined Carolina Herrera as chief operating officer to bolster its infrastructure and continue to build the business.
“One of the most important things for a company is the culture. For us, one of the top priorities is that we have a positive mood that is encouraging of collaboration, encouraging of integration between all areas of the business and also accepting of risk-taking, whether it’s positive or negative,” Brown said. “We pride ourselves as a company in having a great environment and a culture that is conducive to productivity. It stems from Mrs. Herrera herself, who is not about a lot of drama. It’s a very civilized environment but we’re a very close team.”
Staffers often quote one of Herrera’s favorite sayings — essentially that she didn’t start the company to change the world — she just started it to make women feel more beautiful, Brown said. “It’s something that we refer to a lot. That’s why we’re here to make women look and feel more beautiful and confident and to feel better about themselves.”
That said, the designer remains the quintessential ambassador for her label. “We’re superactive with events. Maybe too much sometimes because it can be exhausting. We have events all the time, whether it’s in our office, in our stores, with our retail partners.…It’s good to get women into the store to expose them to the store, the brand and Mrs. Herrera herself,” Brown said.
And the designer’s alliance with Puig only gets stronger with time. Brown noted, “One of the great things about Puig as a partner is that they support 100 percent when the companies need support and they also know when it’s the right time to let the brand take the lead in projects.”
There are 15 core fragrances under the Carolina Herrera, CH and 212 Carolina Herrera brands, distributed in 105 countries.
Brown said of Puig, “The fragrance business is a huge success for this company. It is an area that is always looking for newness and pushing for newness in that area of the business as well. When you have a partner that has a big business, you have flexibility to take risks that you may have had to wait many years to if you had been without [that support]. Every step you take is risk — opening new stores, expanding internationally, starting a lifestyle collection, investing in the fragrance business. It’s not just money, it’s also expertise, international knowledge, all of those resources, human resources, talent, knowledge — all of those things in the last 30 years have been very critical to this company.”