48 Hours With Carolina Herrera Before Her Show

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48 Hours With Carolina Herrera Before Her Show

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It is Friday afternoon inside the sunlit, plush showroom of Carolina Herrera’s headquarters, a space she’s occupied in New York’s garment district for over two decades. A sweep of colorful gowns in taffeta and sequined tulle hangs in a back room, and an assortment of belts and pumps in pastels are spread out nearby. A cluster of models linger outside, waiting to be fitted in the looks they’ll wear down the runway this season. The space, however, is devoid of any of the palpable stress that might hang in the air just a few days before a show.

Nearby, Herrera, the stylist Elin Svahn and a coterie of helpers make adjustments to a violet check-print dress on the model Birgit Kos. The discussion is relaxed and punctuated by thoughtful pauses. “As long as I can remember, she’s kept it very calm here,” says Patricia Herrera Lansing, the company’s special projects director (and Herrera’s daughter), as she looks on.

The following Monday evening, Herrera would be presenting her spring/summer 2018 collection at the Museum of Modern Art in the museum’s outdoor sculpture garden — the first time a show has ever been hosted there. Despite her Venezuelan heritage, Herrera very much considers herself a New Yorker. Her brand, whose full name is Carolina Herrera New York, celebrated its 35th anniversary last year. Since her debut show at the Metropolitan Club in 1981, Herrera has always presented her collections here in New York, in landmark settings like the Pierre, Bryant Park and the Frick. MoMA, where she will also show in February, took some persistence. “I spent a lot of time knocking on their door,” she says. Finally, the museum’s administration caved.

Herrera, wearing a denim kick-pleat skirt and a white button-down shirt — a piece that has become synonymous with her label — steps back to watch Kos walk. “Color is powerful,” she says. This is the underlying theme of the polychromatic collection, she tells me. “Color makes you think in a different way — like when you see paintings. That’s why I say fashion and art are similar,” she adds. Her statements often have a passionate, declarative quality, and she’s quick to administer affectionate swats to one’s hip when she’s being especially emphatic.

On Monday evening, as guests trickle into the open-air space, Herrera stands near the garden’s entrance where she has just watched a final walk-through to an upbeat soundtrack that includes the Rolling Stones’s “She’s a Rainbow.” Many of the models are wearing T-shirts bearing the phrase, “I Love New York More Than Ever,” which Herrera’s team ordered for the occasion, which falls on the anniversary of 9/11. “I’ve lived here for nearly 40 years. I’m a New Yorker,” she says backstage.

“All my materials had to have colors. But there are no flower prints in this collection, because we’re in a garden, and they should be here,” she says, pointing outside. She’s wearing all black herself, but her mood is buoyant. She looks around to take in the scene. “This — this place — this is really something.”

Interactive Feature | The Open Thread Fashion Newsletter A look from across The New York Times at the forces that shape the dress codes we share, with Vanessa Friedman as your personal shopper. Sent weekly.

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