THE day I meet Carolina Herrera and her business partner and daughter, also called Carolina Herrera, I am foolishly wearing trainers. It is the wrong choice. Not because they are in any way snooty, but because I forgot when getting dressed this morning that I am meeting two of the most elegant women alive today.
Carolina Herrera (senior), the fashion designer, was known as the best dressed woman in the world in the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, her background is the very definition of style – born Marchioness of Torre Casa in Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to New York in 1980 to set up her fashion company, dressing Jaqueline Onassis for the last 12 years of that lady’s life. Carolina Herrera has select boutiques around the world and its clothes show at New York Fashion Week. Renee Zellweger is a fan.
The designer is in London with her daughter Carolina for the launch of the UK’s first CH Carolina Herrera shop, on Mount Street. It’s a slightly more affordable line than than the Carolina Herrera boutiques, and stocks the best and most deliciously wearable of the designer’s famous dresses, shirts and skirts, as well as accessories, shoes and childrens’ wear.
The CH stores are a collaboration between mother and daughter. Carolina junior was first given an internship in her mother’s company in 1996 and continued not just because she was the boss’s daughter but because, says Herrera Senior: “I like Carolina’s style and the way she did things, so I asked her to stay on.” The young Carolina is based in Madrid, not New York, and was brought on board to develop the brand’s iconic perfume range (212 Carolina Herrera being the jewel in that crown).
They’re a study in mother-daughter synergy. Mother is neatly robed in a grey skirt, white shirt, pearl earrings, grey suede heeled boots and a plush grey snood (all CH) and daughter is wearing a vintage dress designed by her mother that is understated, modest but seriously sexy nevertheless. “This was all I had space for in my bag when I left for the airport this morning,” she claims when I ask her how she chooses her daily wear. “I didn’t think much about it, but I love this dress.” I didn’t think much about my clothing choice today either but the result is far less satisfactory. The shop is also a lesson in the ladies’ combined style, more like an opulent contemporary home than a retail joint – chandeliers, beautiful chairs, lovely tables and lots of colour. Modern but classic. Old and young.
So why London and why now? “I always wanted to have a shop here,” says Mother. “London has a very special fashion look – Bohemian, independent,” says Daughter (they often finish each other’s sentences). “Each city has its own feel and look. London is different from Paris and New York – in New York it’s totally hectic – these are American working women, in the evening they might go to 10 different black tie events. London’s less like that.”
But CH clothes are designed for every smart, individualistic woman, regardless of her city. They are classic with a modern look, in instantly intriguing, attractive designs – crinkly gold fitted dresses, embroidered gowns, everything a different texture and shape, lots of floral prints, always flattering to the female form. And in the CH stores the emphasis is on “separates” so you might take a tight black silk skirt and pair it with a magenta tank top.
What is the key is to true feminine elegance? “Not money,” Carolina the Younger says hastily. “It’s about the way you wear something,” she continues, her mother nodding vigorously. “It’s about the way you hold dinner parties, what books are on your shelves, how gracious you are to guests,” says mother But with clothes, a woman has to know what works on her. That can be a cheap skirt or a ball-gown. The first thing any woman aspiring to elegance should buy is a good full-length mirror.” Herrera Senior says that if she had to choose one wardrobe staple, it would be a white shirt.
For the office, you need three great white shirts, two pairs of pants and two skirts and that’s your capsule done. Then you can mix and match. Achieving half the style of either of these women would be a triumph. 120 Mount Street, W1K 3NN, www.carolinaherrera.com.