When Flora Collins, the daughter of style authority Amy Fine Collins, needed a dress for her coming out last November at the legendary Bal des Débutantes de Paris, there was no question as to which designer she would wear. Collins knew assuredly that it would be Carolina Herrera. The Crillon Ball, as it’s known, is a decidedly high-stakes moment not only for the young women who are invited to participate, but also for the designers whose labels make that magical entrance onto the world stage. As such, it’s no surprise that usually only the official couture houses are represented: Chanel, Dior, Givenchy (the ball was once even dubbed “Le Bal de la Haute Couture”). But when a designer reaches that couture-like status, he or she is also invited to the ball. So it’s no surprise that Carolina Herrera—a standard-bearer for ultimate quality and elegance—was a rightful choice for the young Collins, who also happened to grow up knowing Herrera personally.
In the months leading up to the ball, Herrera picked out ten dresses for Collins to choose from. On the day she made her decision, Collins walked into the showroom to find Herrera’s selections on display in their full glory. She immediately gravitated toward one, and that was it: a two-tone strapless blush tulle gown with a consummate ball-gown skirt fit for a fairytale princess. “I knew that would be the one,” Herrera admitted, even though she didn’t direct Flora’s decision. That, according to longtime fan Amy Fine Collins, is one of Herrera’s gifts as a designer: she knows exactly what her clients want, and unfailingly delivers what they need. Her omniscience, in this respect, is one of the many reasons she is so beloved.
Her gift to fashion and to women, as the story of Collins mère and fille illustrates, is that she resonates with every generation—and manages to suit them all. Every girl who wants to feel like a woman looks to Carolina Herrera; so does every woman who wants to feel like a lady. The Venezuelan-born, New York-based designer has always represented the epitome of a certain kind of grace and gracefulness: she is a semi-mythic combination of glamour, beauty, worldliness, and culture, and her clothing has always reflected that. Carolina Herrera New York, the luxury label that she launched in 1980, has consistently summoned an instant sense of sophistication, but without ever being dull.
This spring, her collection showcases Carolina Herrera at its best, with a vibrant palette ranging from spring greens and yellows to sober reds and reassuring silvers and neutrals—all with signature modern takes on classic form. The feminine is always at home with Carolina Herrera, but never overly precious; somehow, sparrow prints in Herrera’s hands manage to stay winningly charming, without any cloying cutesiness.
Herrera consistently honors the female form, and this season is no exception. Interestingly, she introduces geometric shapes to contrast the natural, fluid, and curvy shapes of a woman’s body. For instance, a form-hugging red silk seersucker gown is offset by geometric embroidery running up and down like a print motif; a yellow silk gazar gown fit for the ballroom is broken up by rectangular appliqué bands. And black-and-white shirt dresses show off this blocky geometry as only monochromatic tones can. Her risk-taking always reaches a certain limit and remains knowingly in step. This might be due to the fact that Herrera is a master of both propriety and proportion. As Amy Fine Collins puts it: “Carolina has an eye for proportion like no one else,” which can be something of a “neglected art” in fashion today.
In a nod to the multigenerational appeal that is Carolina Herrera New York, the spring runway featured models carrying the Mini Matryoshka bag, which was designed by her daughter Carolina Herrera Baez. Baez (known affectionately as “Carolina, Jr.”) shares her mother’s intangible style savvy and has been consulting for her on the lifestyle brand CH. Baez’s bags for this season, which are really bucket totes made of color-blocked Goya leather, marked a seamless yet very apparent bridge between not just two labels, but two women and two generations.
Carolina Herrera, like her collections themselves, is an alluring combination of contrasts. With her iconic short-cropped, swooped-to-one-side hairstyle and crisp, constructed white shirts, she is a modern woman with her sleeves rolled up, ready for business. Spotted at the opera or the ballet in evening gowns of her own design, she is a stunning and perpetually reincarnated version of a regal, international lady of another time. Carolina—as both her close friends and anonymous fans alike feel free to call her—speaks endlessly to a certain kind of ideal: the timeless yet modern figure whom every woman aspires to be.