“To be successful, you need to surround yourself with great people. I have had some close to me and I am grateful.”


When she launched her first collection in the early 1980s, many people told her she would only last a year. Since then, she has worked tirelessly and has experienced professional and personal success, all thanks to the people who have supported her on a journey that began when she was 40 years old. Carolina Herrera (Caracas, 1939) is one of the most recognized international designers who has championed beauty and elegance, a word she considers to be in disuse. About to turn 84, she feels satisfied with life and grateful for it, something she demonstrates with her social work, through projects that give people in situations of exclusion the opportunity to have a better life.

Whenever she lands in M adrid she is happy. Here she is welcomed by family and friends and it is, after New York, the city she would most like to live in. She leans , smiling, on the railing of the terrace of Fundación MAPFRE’s headquarters, gazing in amazement at the views down Paseo de Recoletos on this hot September afternoon. This is the only interview she has given before leaving for New York, a city that alw ays fascinates her and where she feels at home.

There have been more than 70 catwalk shows and 40 years of dedication to fashion. And, at 83, she is still more active and positive than ever, with a great sense of humor. How would you sum it all up?
I am really very gratified when I see everything I have done in my life, undoubtedly thanks to an incredible husband [the aristocrat Reinaldo Herrera], who has supported me in everything, in whom I have been able to trust one hundred percent, and who also has exquisite taste. To be successful in life, you need to surround yourself with great people, who support you and defend you. I think your partner plays a key role, because you almost always win over your children. I have had the good fortune to be surrounded by allies and I am grateful for that.

And now, what stage are you at?
I am delighted to have finally retired, especially as I have found the perfect person to continue my legacy, someone who understands the style and values of the brand. I looked for someone who would not completely alter the Carolina Herrera style, something you often see in this industry, and I found him.

“I have always wanted women who wear Herrera to find their own style and feel unique”

You are referring to the American designer, Wes Gordon.
Yes, we both share the idea that fashion is life and joy, that it is much more than an article of clothing. Thanks to him I have not had to set foot in the office again. I see his runways when I go to the shows and I’m proud. He has taken total ownership of the brand, just as I expected, without my help, and I think he is doing a magnificent job, preserving the personality of the brand. It’s wonderful.

You started out on your own when you turned 42. What drove you to become a designer and entrepreneur?
The fact of embarking on that journey in New York City really appealed to me. I was looking for a change, I wanted to leave everything behind and I knew I was going into design, without really knowing how it was going to work, a bit blindly, to be honest, but I was sure I wanted to do it. Luckily, I had all the support I needed, and I had my likes and dislikes, of course.

What was your first collection like?
Fantastic, very glamorous and feminine. In spite of that, the specialist press at the time was quite adamant that I would not last more than a year, that I would get tired, that I would give up. I had to prove to them that I was serious. I sold absolutely everything from the first collection. I believe that in life you should work on something that is good for you. My work has contributed much more to beauty than to fashion. I have always wanted women who wear Herrera to look beautiful and feel unique.

That’s the power of a good suit. Absolutely.
Dressing well and smelling good transforms you, gives you confidence, allows you to start a conversation more easily and even improves your mood, because there is no doubt that looking good makes you feel better, it brightens your day. We should all be able to be well groomed whatever time it is, mainly for our own well-being. I consider it a symbol of self-respect.

Describe the New York you knew when you were young. I got to know New York in the 1970s.
My husband’s family introduced me to all his friends, including Andy Warhol, Estée Lauder and Jackie Kennedy. He was the one who encouraged me to go into fashion. His mother [writer Mimi Herrera] was one of the most famous high society ladies in Caracas and Manhattan, a very beautiful and elegant woman, a close friend of editor Diana Vreeland. They all helped me enormously.

You were painted by Andy Warhol, danced with Bianca Jagger at Studio 54, and dressed Jackie Kennedy.
Yes, they were very enjoyable years, with a great variety of people. I love Bianca very much. We had a great time one New Year’s Eve at Studio 54, when she was still married to Mick Jagger. We had a lot of parties. The owner of the club was a close friend of Reinaldo’s and always invited us. It was a place where the most unusual people in the world gathered, artists, writers, politicians and even royalty. Today there is no place like it. When Andy went into a nightclub, he always took a camera with him, but with no film in it. He would get people to pose and ask me to look at their faces. It was so funny to see everyone’s reaction. I have a portrait he took of me that I treasure.

What do you think was the most popular thing when it came to those first collections? How did you win over the American public?
At the time, the shape of the sleeves of shirts and blouses was quite striking, very large, lantern sleeves. American women were always very elegant and appreciated a job well done. Today, the situation is very different. The fashion world has been revolutionized. The city has changed a lot in recent years. I miss the manners that were there before and the enthusiasm for dressing well, and I think that the ignorance that exists right now is partly to blame. People don’t read anymore, maybe because they can’t find the time, and that definitely exerts an influence. Everyone is glued to their phones.

Have you experienced the inequality between men and women?
I have to admit that being a woman has not disadvantaged me. I have not been aware of facing more difficulties or having fewer opportunities than my other colleagues. I believe that women have always been an example of strength, of perseverance and this is something that we must continue to remind the younger generations of, because history is full of great women who have fought for their projects and their ideas and have achieved their goals. We must continue to fight for equal rights and opportunities, especially for the most vulnerable women.

Does being at the top demand a certain toughness?
I don’t think so. What is required to succeed with a good idea and a good team is to be disciplined and to treat the people around you well, as if they were your family, because at the end of the day you share the entire day with them. If you are a good leader, you will certainly have a good team, and I think I have been, although I have to admit that at the beginning it was a bit nervewracking, because of my lack of experience, of course, and you have to learn quickly.

You have been known to say that this industry is difficult. What have you had to give up so that you could be at the top?
It is undoubtedly a difficult and very intense business, in which there are many opinions, which exposes you to many disappointments, which requires long hours and a great deal of dedication. But difficulties are part of life, they make you stronger. Working is a continuous challenge in which you have to be as positive as possible and never lose your sense of humor. Many designers describe the

Carolina Herrera style as glamorous, sophisticated and elegant. What does elegance mean today?
It is a forbidden word that is no longer used. It’s no longer fashionable to be elegant. Now everything has to be cool and for that you need to be different, avant-garde. This clashes with the concept of elegance that I champion, which of course has to do not only with the clothes you wear, logically, but also with how you behave, how you express yourself and how you relate to people. Elegance is undoubtedly a way of being and implies an attitude, which I think is being lost. At the age of 32 you were already on the list of the best dressed women in the world.

Are you still committed to the rule that less is more?
Completely. Less is always more. Clothes should fit you well, that’s something I always insist on, and it’s something that only you can figure out. Fashion should help you project who you are. I think you have to avoid trends if they are not true to your style, if they don’t reflect your personality, and, above all, if they don’t fit your body. I always recommend relying on the help of a full-length mirror to check yourself before going out. It will let you know what you’re wearing too much of and what you’re missing.

Are there any lines you shouldn’t cross?
The truth is that I don’t like to give advice. A few years ago, some members of the press attributed certain restrictions to me, such as the fact that it was compulsory to cut your hair after 40 and not to wear jeans. It was all a fabrication. Who am I to tell someone what kind of haircut they should have or whether they should not wear a certain garment because they are over 50? I myself wore bikinis until very recently and I still wear jeans without any issues. Social media is very dangerous and full of fake news.

In 2018, you announced your retirement and became a global brand ambassador, allowing you to focus on humanitarian causes. Why does helping the most vulnerable people matter to you? 
My family brought me up to help, and I love doing it. I believe that people who give always receive much more in return. I have always believed this and, on top of that, many people who volunteer and help out people they love and who need it, have conveyed it to me personally. For many years, and always very discreetly, I have been involved in many causes, such as the fight against malnutrition, child welfare, breast cancer prevention and women’s development, among other things. Currently, I have the good fortune and I am proud to collaborate with organizations like ARED and Fundación Quiero Trabajo, which help women in vulnerable situations to fully integrate into society, and with Fundación ALADINA, which works tirelessly so that cancer does not wipe the smile off the face of any child.

Which project are you most involved in at the moment?
There is a project that I love and in which many people collaborate, including Emilio and Gloria Estefan. It is led by two doctors, one is Venezuelan and the other Japanese, who created Fundahígado 15 years ago with the aim of providing liver transplants to children who need them and whose families could not afford the cost of this type of procedure, which is very complex. 90% of the operations are successful, which gives many people from different countries a second chance.

How do you feel about receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from Fundación MAPFRE?
I am very honored, in all sincerity, especially by the fact that they thought of me for this award, which has been received by so many important people, such as Queen Sofía. It is a foundation that works in 30 countries and in fields as diverse as health, accident prevention and culture. It is admirable that there are organizations that help to improve people’s lives, especially at a time when there is increasing inequality and poverty. There are many people who need help.