Carolina Herrera reveals her rules for ageless style
No jeans, no black, and definitely no bikinis (but Botox is fine!): She’s dressed everyone from Jackie O to Meghan. On the eve of her 80th birthday, Carolina Herrera reveals her rules for ageless style
- Carolina Herrera says nothing ages a woman more than pretending she is young
- Fashion designer praised the Queen and has long-standing friendship with her
- She says that cultivating your own personal style is vital after a certain age
Nothing ages a woman more than pretending she is still young, Carolina Herrera tells me in her lilting Venezuelan accent.
She may be turning 80 in January and still very much the face and personality of the fashion house she created nearly four decades ago, but on the subject of dressing past 50, the designer doesn’t mince her words.
‘A woman must age graciously, and not try to be an age she’s not or she will look ridiculous. I see many women in the street and, from the back, they look very nice with their long hair and their little skirts. But when they turn around — aargh, they’re ancient!’
Her candour is unexpected. After all, this is the woman known as the empress of elegance.
Her most famous client was Jackie Onassis, but she dressed another First Lady, Michelle Obama, in baby blue taffeta and lace at the White House, put Nicole Kidman into puff-sleeved floral prints on the red carpet and outfitted Renee Zellweger in crimson silk for a Bridget Jones premiere.
Venezuelan fashion designer Carolina Herrera, pictured, believes nothing ages a woman more than pretending she is still you
Carolina started her namesake label late in life, in her 40s, when she was already the mother of four young daughters (pictured) and was a well-known socialite, and some of her rivals dismissed the idea as the vanity project of New York’s ‘It girl’
She has also achieved the Double Duch. The Duchess of Sussex caused a stir at Trooping the Colour in June in her pink off-the-shoulder two-piece and looked like a fairytale princess in one of Herrera’s frothy black and white gowns on the cover of Vanity Fair.
The Duchess of Cambridge, meanwhile, favours her beautifully tailored double-breasted wool coats and has them in at least two colours.
The designer is full of praise for the Queen, with whom she has a long-standing friendship.
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‘You cannot compare her to anyone,’ says Carolina. ‘She stands alone, at the very top. She is an amazing woman — we are lucky to have her.’
We are sitting in her tasteful drawing room in Manhattan, a grand space with yellow and blue damask on the walls, antiques, silverware and oil paintings.
We settle ourselves into squashy sofas and the fashion icon jokes: ‘May I offer you tea, coffee — vodka?’ It’s 2pm.
She is wearing one of her signature looks: a crisp white shirt, paired with chic grey trousers, accessorised with earrings and a chunky necklace.
Sitting next to her, it is hard to believe she is 79. She looks sensational, as if she has stopped the clock. Her face looks fresh and unlined; her blonde hair is perfectly coiffed.
Carolina has also achieved the Double Duch. The Duchess of Sussex caused a stir at Trooping the Colour in June in her pink off-the-shoulder two-piece (pictured)
The Duchess of Cambridge, meanwhile, favours her beautifully tailored double-breasted wool coats and has them in at least two colours
‘I can’t lie about my age because everyone knows how old I am — it’s public knowledge,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve had a little bit of Botox, why not? I believe in keeping the skin clean and fresh.’
Carolina started her namesake label late in life, in her 40s, when she was already the mother of four young daughters and was a well-known socialite.
Born into a wealthy aristocratic family in Venezuela, Mrs Herrera (as everyone calls her) was a classic beauty, who grew up surrounded by well-dressed women.
Her grandmother took her to an early catwalk show by Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga when she was 13.
She married her first husband at 18 and had two daughters. They later divorced and she married her second husband, Reinaldo, a TV presenter, and had another two daughters.
The couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
‘I don’t think I could have done it without him,’ she admits. ‘He has been my great supporter. When I was nervous or confused about something, he would always say: “You can do it.” It’s good to have somebody at your back who really believes in you.’
When the family moved to New York, the pair often went to legendary New York nightclub Studio 54, where she partied with Mick and Bianca Jagger.
She met Andy Warhol there and he was so captivated by Herrera’s beauty that he made her the subject of one of his famous silkscreen portraits. ‘Oh, I loved those times at Studio 54,’ she recalls. ‘There was such a mix of interesting people and it was so glamorous and fun. I danced a lot — of course.’
She became friends with Princess Margaret. ‘My husband and I loved her. She was a fantastic woman. We used to go to Mustique [the Princess’s favourite holiday island] every year to stay with her.’ Has she watched the TV series The Crown, in which Princess Margaret’s life is portrayed as being full of scandal?
Cultivating one’s own personal style is crucial after a certain age, she says. ‘I don’t believe in trends because trends make it look like you’re wearing a uniform. Some item of clothing comes out — and suddenly everyone looks the same’
Pictured: Caroilina with her second husband Reinaldo in 2000. The couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary
‘I didn’t like it much,’ the fashion designer replies, wrinkling her nose. ‘I think there were a lot of lies about Princess Margaret, and that’s not right.’
When Herrera announced she was going to launch a fashion collection, some of her rivals dismissed the idea as the vanity project of New York’s ‘It girl’. But her first collection in 1981 — a combination of big shoulders, tiny waists and lots of movement in the skirts — was an instant success.
‘I didn’t know it was going to be so much work, but because I was brought up with discipline, I knew how to handle it,’ she says. ‘I had my business and then my other life, which was my family. If you cannot do what you do from nine to five, you are doing something wrong.’
For nearly four decades, Mrs Herrera has used her sixth sense about what women want to wear, parlaying her ideas into a $1.2 billion empire.
Few women haven’t tried one of her best-selling perfumes, one of which comes in a bottle shaped like a stiletto. And though her ultra-feminine clothes may be beyond the means of many of us, her style often finds an echo on the High Street.
‘All these shops like Zara and H&M that are copying what we do for the masses, I think they’re fabulous because they reach everyone,’ says Mrs Herrera. ‘Even if you’re older you can shop there, but you have to know what suits you.
‘Elegance is a whole combination of things: not only what you are wearing, but how you act. It’s attitude.
‘It doesn’t have anything to do with beauty or money. Some women can spend thousands of pounds and not look elegant at all, and then you see someone else in a nothing-dress and she has it.’
Does she do any High Street shopping? ‘Yes, of course, if I like something in Zara or in H&M or any of those places, I will buy them. I like mixing.’
Cultivating one’s own personal style is crucial after a certain age, she says.
‘I don’t believe in trends because trends make it look like you’re wearing a uniform. Some item of clothing comes out — and suddenly everyone looks the same. Everyone’s wearing the quilted black coat, or they’re wearing a certain type of skirt, even if they don’t have the legs for it.
‘With fashion, you have to have individuality and look different from the crowd. I’ve never wanted to look like everyone else. I’ve always wanted to look like me.’
She said: ‘Elegance is a whole combination of things: not only what you are wearing, but how you act. It’s attitude. ‘It doesn’t have anything to do with beauty or money’
Many women, she says, confuse being ladylike and feminine with weakness: ‘Nowadays, men and women want to be the same. It’s never going to be the same.
‘I agree that women should have the same work and payment as men because we are very capable, but to be feminine is also an important thing — and you don’t have to compete with men in that respect. Femininity is our power.’
On the eve of her 80th, Mrs Herrera may have handed over the creative reins of her company — to her protege, Wes Gordon, who trained at Central Saint Martins in London — but she certainly hasn’t retired.
The septuagenarian is embracing her new role as global ambassador for the company she created.
‘It’s been 37 years that I’ve had this “baby” and I was working on eight collections a year, which became a little bit overpowering.
‘I have my other life — a husband, four children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. I will have more time for them.’
But, she adds defiantly: ‘I’m not retired. I’m moving forward.’
CAROLINA’S SECRETS OF AGELESS STYLE
Know your style
When you get to a certain age, you must be careful about what looks good on you. You must develop your own sense of style.
It’s difficult to define and it is very personal. It’s not only about the clothes you wear, it’s about how you wear them. It reflects your tastes — the way you live, the way you have your house, the art you like. It’s a bit of everything.
When you get older, you cannot keep wearing the things you wore when you were a young girl. You have done that already. Fashion is something magical — it’s changing all the time, so you must change, too.
The best thing a woman can buy for herself is a full-length mirror. It is so important because you can see what is missing or what you must add to your look.
Always . . .
Invest in a classic white blouse. I’ve always loved them. I wear them casually and I wear them as part of an evening outfit. They’re my security blanket.
. . . and never
Wear mini-skirts. A mini-skirt is for young girls. As for bikinis, I left them behind when I was in my late 40s/early 50s. And I don’t wear jeans. I’m not the right age for them. Jeans are for young people, too. Move on to something new.
Carolina says sleeves matter when it comes to ageless style as they frame a woman’s face and add drama to a look. Pictured: Michelle Obama, who Carolina dressed in this baby blue taffeta and lace at the White House
Sleeves frame a woman’s face and give drama to a look. You can have the most beautiful dress with all the details in the skirt — and then you sit down at a dinner table and it all disappears.
Black is boring
As women get older, they play safe by wearing black. But during the day, black is very draining.
It becomes like a uniform. Everyone is wearing black and it’s boring. I don’t mind black in the evening — a chic little black dress is fantastic — but during the day I like to wear some colour. It’s much more flattering.
Find a good tailor
You can buy clothes in High Street shops at any age, as long as you know what suits you. That’s why I say you need to develop your own style. And if you need to invest in a little alteration here and there, then that’s money well spent.
The fit is very important. Shoulders should be in the right place, for example.
Never flash flesh
A little bit of decolletage can be sexy, but showing too much? Being nearly naked? That’s not good. A woman should have a little mystery.
Add some sparkle
Jewellery is wonderful for adding light to your face. I always wear earrings, and I think a necklace of pearls or costume jewellery brightens you up.
Carolina says that many women play it safe by wearing black as they grow older, but she says women should wear colour during the day instead as it’s more flattering
I’m a great believer in taking care of your skin — it must be clear and fresh no matter what age you are.
I go to a very good person who gives me treatments and a little bit of Botox. But I don’t believe in big changes.
I see women friends and I think: ‘What’s happened to her lips?’ She’s had them made bigger. But if you are not born with fuller lips, why do you want them to be big? You will look like a clown.
Go for the chop
At a certain age, I think most women suit shorter hair. I don’t think long hair down to here [she mimes past her shoulders] looks right.
Lately I’ve been admiring women with silver or white hair, women who’ve let the colour grow out. I’m fascinated by it. I’d love to do it, but I don’t like the idea of the in-between stage.
And finally . . .
There’s nothing wrong with growing older. What’s wrong is if you try to stop it.
Have confidence in yourself and in your own style. Wear what you think is beautiful. If you still find it hard, ask someone whose opinion you trust; someone who will tell you the truth about the clothes you are wearing. Not ‘oh, you’re looking fabulous in that outfit!’ and then they turn away and say to their other friends: ‘Do you see the way she looks?’
You do not have to be a fashion victim and you do not have to dress in an old-fashioned way. You have to dress in a way that suits your personality and whatever stage you are at in life.
And at a certain age, you cannot be shy any more.
I used to be shy. Not any more. It would be ridiculous at my age. Let your personality come out.
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