NEW YORK — When it comes to dishing out advice, Carolina Herrera is as good — and witty — as the best of them.
On Thursday, she invited the 10 finalists of this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund to her showroom for a question-and-answer session moderated by Vogue’s Virginia Smith.
Herrera played a part in the fund’s origins. After the Sept. 11 attacks, a conversation with Anna Wintour led her to provide her showroom to a group of then-emerging talents to show their collections, which ultimately inspired the fashion fund to help young designers.
For this event, each finalist came prepared with one question for the designer.
Asked for the meaning of luxury in the future, Herrera said, “Luxury for me is getting something that you really don’t need. That’s what we women do all the time, and men, too, and that won’t change.”
Having a distinct signature is key. “You have to be strong about your taste and say, ‘This is my line,’ even if the press doesn’t like it and you like it and believe in it,” she said. “It’s very important to think about what you want to project and who your clients are. And it’s about the new. Fashion is about newness.”
Herrera cited Diana Vreeland as a mentor, crediting the former Vogue editor for talking her out of pursuing a career in textile design — “Materials, what a boooore!” Herrera recalled her as saying — in favor of fashion.
Herrera also had a strong opinion about celebrities and other notables wearing your clothes as brand ambassadors.
“It’s nice to dress celebrities but you have to dress them in the right way and they have to wear the clothes in the right way,” she said. “If there is a mistake, it’s not the celebrity, it’s the designer who did the wrong thing.”
Failure and success can go hand in hand.
“Without failure, you cannot be successful,” Herrera said. “You have to have some failure and then you realize that there is challenge in what you do. And if you’re successful, you want to be more successful.”
Balancing career and a big family is something she takes very seriously.
“For a woman, it’s much easier than for a man,” she said, chuckling, “because men only do one thing at a time. I have daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so my family is growing enormously. When I leave here every day, I close the door and don’t talk about work. You have to separate.”
Herrera works with two of her four daughters: Carolina Herrera Jr. and Patricia Lansing. Sometimes, she admitted, there are disagreements. “But usually, at the end, I am right,” she said, matter-of-factly.
This year’s finalists are Wes Gordon; Tanya Taylor; Paul Andrew; Daniel Corrigan and Jake Sargent of Simon Miller; Brett Heyman of Edie Parker; Natalie Levy and Grant Krajecki of Grey Ant; Eva Zuckerman of Eva Fehren; Gigi Burris of Gigi Burris Millinery; Ryan Roche, and Orley’s Matt Orley, Alex Orley and Samantha Florence.
As the group was about to embark on a tour of Herrera’s headquarters, the designer had a popular suggestion. “Why don’t we have a glass of Champagne first?” she said. “I am happy to have you here and wish you the best of everything.”