x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Carolina Herrera, a woman of enduring class

Carolina Herrera, the Venezuelan-born designer who has dressed some of the world's most beautiful women for more than 30 years, opens a new shop in Abu Dhabi Mall.

Designer Carolina Herrera.
Designer Carolina Herrera.

Dressed in a skirt and her trademark white shirt, a bright-eyed and perfectly coiffed Carolina Herrera did not look like a lady who'd endured a week of intense business travel from the US via Saudi Arabia when she touched down in the UAE last week.

"I never get jet-lagged," she said. "I spend a lot of time travelling but I love the quietness of aeroplanes as I can just sit and read and no one bothers me. My way of avoiding jet lag is to never sleep during day flights. I am the one with the window [blind] open, drinking lots of water."

Based in New York since the 1980s, the Venezuelan-born designer's client base reads like a who's who of the world's best-dressed women. From the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis to Renée Zellweger and Mad Men's Christina Hendricks, Herrera's classic, feminine style has endured for more than three decades.

With 10 outlets already operating in the region, Herrera flew to the emirates for the official opening of her new boutique in Abu Dhabi Mall and to reveal there is much more to her GCC expansion plan. "On my wish list is to keep opening the CH boutiques and then bring Carolina New York to the Middle East," she said. "I am also opening new stores in Al Ain and Riyadh. I want people in the region to know me for my lifestyle brand - from women's wear, evening wear, men's clothes, children's, accessories, and of course perfume - everything!"

As with every new store, Herrera designed a limited-edition bag to celebrate her debut in the capital, this time with 200 leather handbags inspired by the "golden-bronze cupolas of mosques" available to buy.

Bestsellers for Herrera in the region over the past two years have been bags and jewellery with ready-to-wear collections for women also on the rise. With a keen eye for Arabic fashion trends, Herrera adopted a "when in Rome" attitude upon her latest trip to the Gulf.

"I wore an abaya in Jeddah - a present from the local designer [Rotana Al Hashimi]." she said. "It is grey with white embroidery and when I wore it I'm sure the ladies were looking at me and thinking 'wow, that's a new style'!"

"I also really love the traditional black designs with embellishments. The women in the Arab countries have the most beautiful skin and I find their abayas so elegant - beautifully mysterious."

Fashion aside, Herrera was also on the ground to champion breast cancer awareness. Keen to ally her brand with the disease's charities in every country she has a presence, Herrera linked up with the Safe & Sound campaign and Burjuman Shopping Centre. For the month of October, she will donate Dh20 from the sale of every CH Woman and CH L'Eau fragrance sold in Paris Gallery stores across the UAE to the cause.

"It's a disease that touches every part of the world and it's a charity very close to my heart, as I've lost many friends to it," she said. "As women, we're naturally afraid to go to the doctor, especially if we have a feeling something is not right, but I'm trying to spread the message - go early, go in time. Have mammograms and exams - you can be saved."

With her formal duties taken care of, Herrera also found a little time to combine business with one of her greatest pleasures during her brief trip to the emirates, arranging a private dinner at the Royal Stables in Abu Dhabi Wednesday night.

"It's such a spectacular venue," she said. "I've ridden all my life and really love horses. Arab horses are the best. Really the most sensational in the world."