Carolina Herrera was camped out in her temporary office, which sports Lalique crystal and plush furniture, capped off by a giant Warhol portrait of her.
Still, she felt the need to apologize: “I moved the atelier to the 16th floor, so I’m fixing it up to open for a showroom.”
Wearing a trim white shirt, black skirt, sling-back heels and gold jewelry, and sitting on a striped silk chair, Herrera welcomed me into the epicenter of her global fashion empire.
Tarmy: Has your aesthetic changed since you began designing clothes?
Herrera: Everything in fashion has changed, in every way. Sometimes you hear “Oh, that’s a ’70s show!”
It’s not a ’70s show -- it’s an inspiration that you get from the ideas of the ’70s. Fashion has always been a repetition of ideas, but what makes it new is the way you put it together.
Tarmy: How has your customer evolved?
Herrera: I started in the ’80s, and the ’80s was all about opulence. I did big skirts, embroidery, things like that.
Suddenly, a moment came in fashion that was sort of minimalist, and I found it very boring because fashion is about details -- you cannot have something with nothing. You have to give it to a very chic woman to make it happen, no?
Tarmy: So how do women dress now?
Herrera: There is not a respect for a time or a moment: Sometimes you see a woman who arrives for lunch in an evening gown. Short, with embroidery. For lunch! You see that in New York.
You say, “What time is it?” There is no control. Everybody wears whatever they like.
Tarmy: How much does it cost per year for a chic woman to dress well?
Herrera: It all depends. Pricing is something very personal. There are some girls who like to spend a lot of money -- good for me! And some others who are really chic and elegant and go to Zara and H&M.
Tarmy: What do you think of designer collaborations with low-market brands?
Herrera: I think it’s fantastic. I remember when Halston, who was the number one designer in this country, got a deal with J.C. Penney, he was thrown out of Bergdorf Goodman.
Now every designer wants to design for H&M or Zara or whomever.
Tarmy: Have you been approached to do a line?
Herrera: I did something with Target, but they are accessories -- little bags and things like that.
Tarmy: If a woman is going to invest in clothing, what do you think she should buy?
Herrera: Fashion is not an investment. If you wear a dress and don’t get many compliments, you won’t wear it again. It’s not like buying bonds.
Tarmy: Do you wear your dresses more than once?
Herrera: Yes, absolutely. If I like it, I wear it forever. I’ve never understood why you wouldn’t repeat a dress if you like it.
Tarmy: Do you ever wear other designers?
Herrera: Sometimes I do. Most of the time I wear my clothes, because it’s easier.
And I have a feeling that if I’m seen wearing somebody else’s clothing, they’ll say, “Why is she not wearing hers? It must not be very good if she’s not wearing it.”
Tarmy: Do you like any young designers?
Herrera: Prabal Gurung is very talented and he’s adorable. And I like Proenza Schouler -- they’re great.
There’s a whole group of designers who are very good.
Tarmy: It seems like most new, young designers are American.
Herrera: Yes, or Europeans who come here to be successful.
Tarmy: Why is that?
Herrera: Because this is the capital of the world, my dear. For me, fashion begins in New York.
Tarmy: Where does it end?
Herrera: Wherever they sell it.
(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Muse highlights include Elin McCoy on wine and Greg Evans on television.