The Venezuelan-born designer will continue as house ambassador but will no longer design her uptown girl collections.
With elegance and grace, Carolina Herrera ended her four-decade career by displaying 20 pristine white blouses – one of them her own. As the models ended the show in richly coloured long taffeta skirts and a variety of shirts from mannish to feminine, the designer handed over her namesake brand to her successor Wes Gordon, although she will continue to play a role in the company she founded.
Her successor presented her with a bouquet and, with the atelier’s hand workers at her side, Herrera said farewell to emotional clients, warm-hearted family members and Calvin Klein. The fellow designer, long since retired, sang Herrera’s praises.
“I have so many memories. We are friends for over forty years. We used to go out so often in the 1970s to clubs, to restaurants. Carolina was always the lady. She was always the grandest, most beautiful, and gracious woman in the room. She is great and what a testament, the clothes were gorgeous – the colours, those magical colours – and fabrics.”
Klein also paid tribute to Herrera’s spirit of enterprise, “The business she built, it’s just been great. She was always there for American design.”
The retirement of the grande dame of uptown dressing had been pushed by Puig, the fragrance giant which is behind Herrera’s enormous brand and she is expected to continue as an ambassador, particularly in South America, where she still has ties to her birth country Venezuela.
The Fall 2018 show began, as it ended, with white shirts – one with a black skirt, the other with trousers – and there was a sense that the chosen successor was already loosening up the more formal pieces. The changes came too in vivid colours, with citrus orange and yellow giving a fresh tang to mid-calf coats and dresses.
There was also a print of big cats – black and white tigers and panthers – creating a vibrant pattern.
Like most women designers, Herrera, 79, had designed primarily for herself, her life with husband of 50 years Reinaldo Herrera Guevara whom she married in 1968, and a coterie of followers. Although, they were often less adept than the founder at mixing the sporty pieces with the formal. The brand was founded in 1981, a year after she moved to New York, where she began to design for international ladies, using her own aristocratic connections from her Caracas years. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis become one of her clients, along with First Ladies Laura Bush and then Michele Obama, who wore a vast blue-skirted gown with a black lacy top to greet French president François Hollande at the White House in 2014.
Until last year, Herrera had worked with French designer Hervé Pierre, who was unceremoniously thrown out by Puig after 14 years.
With descendants of the Upper East Side families now living downtown or even moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn, it is difficult to imagine how Herrera’s intrinsic elegance can be adapted to changed circumstances. But, at least her departure was handled with grace – rare in the current fashion world.
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