Carolina Herrera took her final bow at New York Fashion Week earlier this year, before stepping down as creative director after 37 years at her eponymous fashion house. The Venezuelan designer is now set to be presented with the Founder’s Award in honor of Eleanor Lambert — who is credited with putting American fashion on the map — at the upcoming CFDA Fashion Awards on June 4. Ahead of accepting the honor, Carolina sat down with Vogue to reflect on her career, which launched in 1981 with the encouragement of Diana Vreeland and thrived with supporters like former First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
Carolina revealed how Jackie Kennedy helped her Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz
“[Besides Diana Vreeland,] the one who really helped me a lot was Jackie Onassis. She believed in me and I did a lot of clothes for her in her last 12 years,” the 79-year-old shared. “She believed in it and she loved it and we got involved doing things for her, then [her daughter] Caroline.”
The fashion designer admitted that President John F. Kennedy’s widow inspired her. Carolina said, “[Jackie] was such an inspiration, the way she was. [She’s usually portrayed] as a fashion icon, but that was not all of her. She was a very cultivated woman with a fantastic mind and I mean she was reading everything—it was fantastic. She was a great inspiration, but she was a great supporter, too, she was always there for me.”
Over the course of her career, the mom-of-four's designs have been worn by several first ladies like Laura Bush, Nancy Reagan, Michelle Obama and now Melania Trump. Discussing fashion stateside, she shared, “The American spirit has always been very glamorous,” while noting, “Nowadays, there is no elegance anymore. I tell you why, because elegance is seen as very old-fashioned.”
Carolina’s success is not limited to her professional life, but also personal. The designer noted that her “discipline” helped her achieve everything she has. “I have four daughters, 12 grandchildren, six great-grands, a husband, dogs, and a house. I’m very optimistic and I think anything can be solved. I always tell young women, ‘You can work, you can have a baby, and you can have a family; you can have a happy marriage, and you can work, too. Try, this is what we do,’” she said.
The CH brand ambassador added, “This is discipline, without it you cannot do anything. I was brought up in discipline. And it’s necessary when you have to do what I do: Take care of a family and husband and a house and another life. I’m a great believer that we women can do it because we are multitaskers.”
Carolina officially handed over the creative reins to American designer Wes Gordon in February. She said, “I’m very proud to have arrived where I am now, because when you start something like this, you don’t know where it’s going to end up. In 37 years I think I did it very well because we are quite wonderfully placed. I’m very glad that I decided to give it [the creative reins] to Wes Gordon. He is very good and he has a very wonderful, elegant mind and he has a good eye. He trained with me for a year and I’m very happy with my decision. He’s going to follow what I did; it will be an evolution, not a revolution.”