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Carolina Herrera: 1939—: Fashion Designer

Married Twice Into Venezuelan Elite

Herrera did learn to sew at an early age, making clothes for her dolls, but her mother encouraged her and her sisters to develop a wide range of interests, from horses to literature to music. They did, however, urge her into an early marriage at the age of 18 to a similarly well-connected scion of Venezuela's elite. Even in the mid-1950s, the modern world came to Caracas slowly. South American women of Herrera's class and generation, she told Koski, "had a sense of elegance, a different way of living…. It was not so businesslike, but more calm. Women were different. Nobody wanted to work. They were all in the houses, and not very active."

At a Glance . . .

Born Maria Carolina Josefina Pacanins y Niño on January 8, 1939, in Caracas, Venezuela; daughter of Guillermo (an officer in the Venezuelan air force, aviation pioneer, and governor of Caracas) and Maria Cristina Pacanins; married Guillermo Behrens Tello (a landowner), c. 1955 (divorced, 1965); married Rein-aldo Herrera (a magazine editor), 1968; children: (with Behrens) Mercedes, Ana Luisa Calicchio, (with Rein-aldo Herrera) Carolina, Patricia.

Career: Worked as a publicist for the fashion house Emilio Pucci in Caracas, Venezuela, mid-1960s; founder, 1981, and head designer, 1981–, of Carolina Herrera Ltd., New York, NY; designed furs for Revil-lion, 1984-89; launched "CH," a diffusion line, 1986, Couture Bridal collection, 1987, Carolina Herrera Collection II sportswear line, 1989, Herrera for Men, "Herrera Studio" bridge line and "W by Carolina Herrera," 1992; introduced fragrance line, 1988, and jewelry collections, 1990.

Awards: Appeared on the International Best-Dressed List annually from 1971 to 1980; named to its Hall of Fame, 1980; MODA award, Top Hispanic Designer, 1987, from Hispanic Designers Ltd.; Presidential Medal, Pratt Institute, 1990.

Addresses: Home—Caracas, Venezuela, and New York, NY. Office—Carolina Herrera Ltd., 501 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10018.

Herrera had two daughters with her first husband, but the marriage disintegrated before the decade was over. She moved back in with her parents, the first person in her family ever to divorce. For a time she worked as a publicist for Emilio Pucci, the Italian designer whose name became synonymous with mod, swirly multi-colored fabric patterns popular in the 1960s. Soon she renewed an old childhood acquaintance with Reinaldo Herrera, who also hailed from an esteemed Venezuelan family. He had lived in Europe for several years, but by that time was back in Caracas and hosting his own television talk show. "I think I was madly in love with Reinaldo when I was 15 or 16, but then he went to Europe," Herrera recalled in an interview with Koski for WWD. "But he has always been my great love."

After their marriage Herrera moved into the Caracas home belonging to the Herrera family, called "La Vega" and thought to be the oldest continually inhabited house in the Western Hemisphere. She had two more daughters, and she and her husband soon began moving in increasingly international circles. Their frequent jaunts to Europe made them part of the early so-called "jet set," and they socialized in a swath that included Britain's Princess Margaret and the American artist Andy Warhol. A reveler at the famed New York discotheque Studio 54, Herrera began to make annual appearances on the International Best Dressed lists. When her fortieth birthday neared, she determined to begin a new phase in her life. Interested in launching some sort of venture, Herrera considered starting a fabric design business, since she loved choosing the materials when she visited her dressmaker, but her friend Count Rudi Crespi, a well-known publicist who had worked for Valentino and knew the international haute-couture scene well, loved her sense of style and emphatically suggested that she design a line of clothing instead.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: James Heneghan (1930-) Biography - Personal to Rick Jacobson Biography - PersonalCarolina Herrera: 1939—: Fashion Designer Biography - Married Twice Into Venezuelan Elite, Built Successful Fashion Line, Expanded Business In New Directions