But she is not, she said, “going to wake up every day worried about where to put the sleeve, or whether the skirt should be long or short” — which is another way of saying she is not going to be designing. Polished discretion has always been part of her signature.
No matter what you call it, the transition is another generational change for New York fashion.
And to Mrs. Herrera’s loyal band of customers, such as Renée Zellweger, who wore Herrera to the Oscars in 2004, 2008 and 2013, and Caroline Kennedy, who wore it to her wedding, that can be an unsettling thing. Especially because fashion, while it loves change, has historically been bad at it when it comes to handing over power.
It’s a complicated, fraught decision, with its intimations of mortality and loss of control — especially for those whose names are above the door. Some have ignored it (see: Azzedine Alaïa, who died unexpectedly last November without a succession plan for his business), while others in Mrs. Herrera’s peer group have tried to solve it, with varying degrees of success.
Before he died, Oscar de la Renta appointed a successor, Peter Copping, who was supposed to work by his side and learn his ways, but Mr. de la Renta passed away before that could happen and Mr. Copping clashed with the remaining family and left after a year. Diane von Furstenberg has named numerous design heirs, planning to concentrate on her work as a women’s advocate, but thus far all have lasted two years or less. (Jonathan Saunders, her most recent chief creative officer, left in December, and she named Nathan Jenden chief design officer in January.)
Mrs. Herrera had an uncomfortable moment in the spotlight in late 2016 — a rare display of dirty laundry from a house known for always appearing perfectly pressed — when she got embroiled in a court case with the Oscar de la Renta company and it was revealed that her former chief executive, François Kress, had plotted to have her replaced by the designer Laura Kim. Who, in an only-in-fashion twist, had reportedly come to work for Herrera on the promise of ascension after leaving de la Renta when Mr. Copping was hired, but who then left Herrera to return to de la Renta when she discovered that Mrs. Herrera had not been consulted on the plan and was none too pleased with it. (In the end the case was settled, and Mr. Kress left.)
Whether it was that experience that set Mrs. Herrera thinking about the future she won’t say — when asked, she made a moue of distaste and talked about the importance of not looking back — but it has been on her mind for about two years. In part because the demands on designers have become evermore extreme.
“There’s a collection every six weeks,” she said. “They would say, ‘Can you go to the store opening in Dubai?’ ‘No, I have a show.’”
Besides, Mrs. Herrera continued, “fashion has changed a lot. What they like now is ugliness. Women dress in a very strange way. Like clowns. There is a lot of pressure to change all the time. But it’s better to wear what suits you. Add something new and you have a great look. Consistency is important.”
It’s an axiom that has carried her to $1.4 billion in annual sales, the company reports, and a spot in the best-dressed hall of fame, so you can understand why she would want her creative director to be someone who bought into it. Someone who wouldn’t want to remake everything in their image. Someone who would understand their place in the Herrera universe and appreciate, for example, the other aphorisms she scribbles on ecru-colored “Carolina Herrera” notepads in her looping script, and then hides away in her desk drawers to read as necessary: “The easiest way to look old is to dress young.” “Elegance is to be remembered.” “Getting old is all the things you have not managed to do”
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