NEW YORK — When word spread in the Hearst Tower that Carolina Herrera would be pulling up a chair to chat with Elle’s Robbie Myers for a Masterclass Q&A, the speed of the RSVPs rivaled those of Barbra Streisand.
In less than an hour, Herrera regaled the crowd with her telling insights and signature élan, detailing some of the highlights of her career and deconstructing the current state of fashion with her wit.
First things first, Herrera: whose own personal style is practically synonymous with elegance, said of that trait, “Elegance is not only what you’re wearing but it is the way you are wearing it. It’s the way you choose what to wear for your style, your personality, the way you live. It doesn’t have anything to do with beauty or money….It’s what you project — your taste in books, houses, paintings, the way you move, the way you talk.”
When Herrera decided to do what she now does, she turned to her “great friend” Halston, whose initial reaction was, “‘What have you been drinking? Are you mad?'” she said. But his trepidation was only due to how demanding the industry is, Herrera added. “You have to be passionate,” she said.
Diana Vreeland, a friend of Herrera’s husband Reinaldo‘s family, was her mentor — “a very, very interesting woman, intelligent, very for-the-moment,” she said. But her initial plan to design fabrics was not well-received by Vreeland. “She said to me, ‘Well that is the most boring thing that you are telling me. Why don’t you do a fashion collection for women.’ She gave me the idea,” Herrera said.
In business for more than three decades, Herrera said her company’s DNA remains rooted in sophistication, elegance and timelessness. “I want women to look like real women, I do not want them to look like clowns because of what’s in fashion. I like fashion to be for now and for the future. You cannot only be for the past…like everybody in life — painters, musicians — you have to evolve. You have to live in the times that we live in.”
With two of her four daughters involved with the business, Herrera said, “Of course, we have little problems — tiny, tiny — but they always end up doing what they have to do and they always end up doing what I say they have to do.”
Herrera is very much all about today’s social media with 500,000 Instagram followers and 1 million Facebook fans. “You have to listen to the likes, dislikes and whatever they say — that’s the excitement of social media. But if you start reading all the messages, you will not have a life. It’s impossible to read all of them.”
Here, a few of Herrera’s other observations:
• “I didn’t live at Studio 54 and I don’t wear the white shirt every day.”
• “It’s very important to possess in your house a full-length mirror.”
• “Bob Mackie did the naked look years ago for Cher. There was one — now there are many.”
• “There should be a little mystery with women. They have confused sexiness with femininity. They think to be sexy you have to wear a dress that is four sizes smaller than you, and also show everything you possess.”
• “You go to the opera and you see a sea of sneakers. It’s not like before when things were in a certain way, and everyone pretty much did the same. There are not anymore rules in fashion. Everything is accepted. You have to be strong. You have to be you.”
• “Mrs. Obama has her own style and she knows exactly what she wants to wear.”
• “Perfume is the invisible accessory that a woman is wearing. It is very strong for your memories.”
• “Stylists are getting more famous than the people they dress.”