Reading the weekend FT of 17th August, I came across an article with the heading ‘Lunch with the FT: Carolina Herrera’.
Over pasta in New York’s West Village the seventy-three-year-old, Venezuelan-born designer talked to Vanessa Friedman about success, defending Victoria Beckham and how women can have it all – but not at the same time. Carolina says she stands for glamour, and I quite believe her.
Dressing the likes of Caroline Kennedy, the new US Ambassador to Japan, and a coterie of wealthy women known as Martha’s Vineyard’s Summerers she has built a billion-dollar business empire and remains at the top of her profession.
She has made the Best-Dressed List multiple times, was elected to its Hall of Fame in 1980 and, in 2011, named by Vanity Fair as one of the best-dressed women of all time.
Reading the interview, I was presently surprised to note that she had become more eloquent since the time I interviewed her in New York, in 1987, for my book, Women.
She had insisted then that her husband be present during our encounter for assistance purposes, should the English language prove a barrier in expressing herself more lucidly. I had no objection whatsoever for her husband, as it turned out, proved a most engaging fellow who only butted in to emphasise a specific point without being intrusive. Nevertheless, she opted for brevity and I found her responses in general to be lacking in the analytical flow of thought which I expected.
To one of my questions about the advantages and disadvantages of gender, she replied: ‘I don’t think I would like to be a man.’ And she added, ‘I don’t want the boredom of all the responsibilities men have to take. Regardless of what Women Liberationists say, men still have more responsibility than women.’
On the subject of feminism she emphasised the fact that she was not a feminist, but believed that for equal work women should have equal pay and rejected the notion that women are self-sufficient. ‘Women need men around. That’s why you don’t find many women wanting to live alone. Some pretend, but they always end up looking around for a man. And they always end up getting married. The ideal of a woman is to be married. It is also flattering to have a man around, next to you when you go out, when you go to a restaurant, get into a car; they open the door and all that. I am very feminine – I love it.’
On sexuality she said: ‘Men have more responsibility in the sex act than women, therefore a woman can fantasise, but a man has to be thinking about what he is doing. He doesn’t have time to fantasise. If he fantasises, his performance is over.’
But the strangest, yet perhaps the most liberal response I got on relationships was the following: ‘If you see that your husband was having an affair with a very good friend of yours, you don’t behave the way women used to behave. You don’t stop her coming to the house because she’s having an affair, she just becomes very good friends with you, and the man gets tired of seeing the woman every day in the house, being very friendly with the wife.’
I thought to myself at the time that Herrera must have been ahead of her generation in wisdom and practicability, or a woman of noble aspiration towards the friend who in theory betrayed her.
However, her view on differences is spot on: ‘Men are the most irrational people in the world. It’s absolutely out of this world how they react, and how they can be manipulated by women.’
She carries on: ‘I’m not afraid of getting older and I never lie about my age. I’m not afraid of being alone either. That is another difference between men and women. Men are not accustomed to being alone. They do not know how to be alone. They have to have someone in the house or they have to be out.’
For the benefit of the FT readers, my interview with Herrera will complement the more substantial article written by Vanessa Friedman, in as much as it gives it an added measure and a deeper insight into a woman whose talent is without doubt a beacon of light that shines so brightly in the fashion hemisphere.