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‘We want to encourage a woman to dream. We’re playful, fun and unexpected’

The typical super-busy, fashion-savvy woman from New York, what does she do when it comes to buying clothes?” asks Lauren Santo Domingo. “Is she going to walk around Bergdorf Goodman and throw things over her arm, then drag them to a fitting room? This woman doesn’t go to the supermarket, so why would she be expected to do the same thing at a department store?” Why indeed? If anyone knows about shopping, it’s Santo Domingo. The perfectly polished brains behind the luxury shopping e-tailer Moda Operandi is very good at it, too. So good, in fact, she has perfected the experience to a fine art. Her latest boutique opened on Madison Avenue and 64th Street in 2016, an appointment-only, luxury-shopping experience that is entirely tailored around each individual woman who shops there. And trust her, there will be no carrying clothes over your arm as you peruse the rails. Your every wish will be taken care of, before you’ve even made the wish.

 

Santo Domingo calls it “hi-tech, high touch”. Before a client even walks through the door, her personal shopping advisor will know her shopping habits: what she likes, what she’s returned, her size, her wish list, what she’s put in her shopping cart and taken out. “We cater the experience around her,” says Santo Domingo. “So when she comes in and says, ‘I’m looking for an evening gown for my son’s bar mitzvah,’ we say OK. Then we put in a pair of earrings or a jacket in the changing room when she arrives, so although she’s there for the dress, the coat she’s been looking at for two weeks is there too.”

 

Although around 80 per cent of Moda Operandi’s business is done online (the average transaction is $1,200, with customers ordering an average of seven to eight times a year), the experience of actually touching the clothes, trying them on, and interacting with a salesperson is still important. Santo Domingo set up her new model of shopping in 2010 to allow members of the public to shop the runways as soon as the fashion show was over (a privilege open only to the elite fashion insiders who were allowed to pre-order items at showroom appointments the day after the show). “When we shop online, clothes are laid out as still life images; you are seeing it from the front, and when you’re in a shop, all you are seeing is the arm. Shops haven’t evolved or changed the way women buy.” The experience at Moda Operandi is much more intimate. The clothes all hang face-out like they do when you view them online. “If we can figure out a way to get all the most perfect things you can get online – and you can touch and feel it – that’s the perfect shopping experience. That’s our goal.”

 

The first MO boutique opened in London, tucked away in a mews at the back of Hyde Park Corner. But in New York, Santo Domingo says, there is a lot more snobbery about location. “We opened in London first because it just felt right, but in New York it can’t just feel right, it has to be right. You can’t expect a woman who lives in the perfect building on 5th avenue to come to 73rd between 2nd and 3rd. It’s just not going to work. So we are East 64th right off Madison, between Madison and 5th. It took us a little longer to find the perfect spot.”

 

And while the London mews attracts a lot of foreigners, VIPs and Middle Eastern royalty, New York is much more local. As well as the women who live and shop the city, Santo Domingo is keen to attract women traveling through – other Americans, as well as foreign visitors. “When a woman comes to New York, what’s she doing? She’s shopping, looking in museums, and going out to dinners.” What the private Madison Avenue salon can offer is hand-picked eveningwear, a real insider’s edit of high-end fashion (and not just the usual suspects; Santo Domingo has a keen eye for the up-and-coming designers), exquisite jewelry, together with an entrée into the often impenetrable world of fashion that she so loves.

 

Clients are invited to meet the designers at trunk shows (Santo Domingo’s star trunk-show host is Giambattista Valli, who she says can read a woman immediately and knows exactly what she wants out of life and her clothes – and, she adds, he’s always right). “There are a lot of women who are creative and want a creative outlet and are drawn to fashion.” With Moda Operandi it’s possible for them to gain access to that world, to sit front row at a show, to be immersed as well as to shop.

 

Santo Domingo, 40, grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut, in the 1980s. Her father, Ronald V Davis, was CEO of Perrier in America, so he traveled to France a lot. “As I got older, my father started to take me and I’d see glimpses of what life could be. Then we’d go back to Greenwich. It was such a small, conservative, don’t-raise-any-eyebrows place. Everything had to be perfect. I’d do all my back-to-school shopping in Paris with my father. You’d get the little French notebooks and pens and that would be as crazy as you could be.” Her mother, Judy Davis, is a mosaic artist and visually very creative. Her father was, she says, the complete opposite: “Very business oriented. I got a bit of both of them, which is quite lucky.”

 

While she says she wasn’t interested in clothes as a child, Santo Domingo started her career as a fashion assistant at Vogue in New York. “I learned to have this confidence. You have all these importantly connected women in the office and we were expected to come up with ideas and pitch things and I was shy and embarrassed to speak up. Someone told me once, ‘Don’t overthink things so much. You’re out and about; if you’re interested in it and think it’s cool, then maybe everyone else will too.’ ” Now she doesn’t question her instincts. New finds like the Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz (a family friend of her Colombian husband, Andrés Santo Domingo) have been a runaway success. “It’s about confidence to go, ‘This is how women want to shop. If they don’t today, they will tomorrow.’ ”

 

Moda Operandi has ambitious plans. While building the exclusivity and choice of the online experience, the salons will continue to open around the world. As well as San Francisco, LA and Miami, there will be openings in the Middle East and Asia. “If you stay in one place, your mindset and business will stay local. The more you move, the more you spread it,” she says. Her belief that fashion and the right accessory can change your outlook is infectious. “Sometimes I’ll go to a party and see someone buttoned up in the perfect dress and barely holding it together. You just want to go up to them and mess up their hair and trade bags and say, ‘I know if you were carrying this crazy Inés Figaredo clutch, you’d have so much more fun tonight.’ We’d have a dance. Come on! It can be life-changing if you just let it.’ ”

 

Fashion should be fun, she says. “We want to encourage a woman to dream. We try to take a conservative approach to the most far-fetched fashion and that strikes the right balance. Our point of view is playful and fun and unexpected. But it’s considered.”

 

Santo Domingo understands well the life of her wealthy clients. She lives with her husband and their children, Nicholas, 5, and Beatrice, 4, in Gramercy Park, her favorite New York neighborhood. She has great teams supporting her both at work and at home, where she loves to entertain – usually with an informal buffet. But she also loves being out and about in her city. She and her husband are regulars on Citi Bikes. If it’s a day out with the kids, she’ll go to the High Line, the Whitney, the park in Tribeca, and for lunch at Balthazar or Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. “The Children’s Museum of New York on the Upper West Side is probably the greatest place for children in the world – more of a playhouse.”

 

If she had a day without kids, she says, it would begin with coffee at Via Quadronno on the Upper East Side. Then the bookshop at the Met. She would then go to Moda to look at the jewelry. Lunch would be at Sant Ambroeus in SoHo, followed by a visit to the new Whitney. Then a beauty treatment (“I have a whole list of facials; it depends on my mood, but maybe a Georgia Louise facial”). Then a snack of grilled corn at Café Habana and a browse around De Vera gallery and Opening Ceremony. Cocktails would be on the back terrace of the Bowery Hotel, with dinner at Momofuku Ko. A late night with friends would involve the new Socialista at Cipriani. “I’d go home at 4am and sleep until 3!” she says, with a mischievous laugh.

 

It really does sound perfect (and perhaps not so far from her own life). “I always wanted my own business, to travel, to make my place in the world,” she says. “I wanted a family, so this is the life I always dreamed of. It would be ridiculous to complain for a second, for even a moment.”

 

 

Lauren Santo Domingo is co-founder and creative director of Moda Operandi: modaoperandi.com.
Your address: The St. Regis New York

 

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Your wish list is her command

Lauren Santo Domingo: “I learned to have this confidence. Someone once told me, ‘If you’re interested in something, and think it’s cool, then maybe everyone else will too."

 

 

 

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Heeling power

A display at Lauren’s new Madison Avenue boutique –
where an appointment-only luxury-shopping experience awaits 

(photo: Matthew Williams)

 

 

jewels

Jewels in the Crown

From the slums of Mumbai to the palaces of Rajasthan; from the technology hubs of Bangalore to the spiritual mecca of Varanasi, one common thread weaves its way through India: an enduring love of jewelry. No one sub-continent’s cultural, geological and historical makeup is so entwined in the sourcing, manufacturing and self-adorning as this great land mass – from the excesses of Mughal royalty to the traditional nose-rings, hand jewelry and stacked gold bracelets worn by millions. Characterized by yellow gold, strings of beads, carved emeralds and bold color-combinations, its influence in varying degrees has crept into Western jewelry design, a process that can be traced back to the early 20th century.

 

As the great jewelry houses of Paris – Cartier, Van Cleef and Boucheron – made stone-buying trips to India in the early 1900s, their paths inevitably crossed with the maharajas of the time who, seeking a more Western, refined aesthetic, commissioned the maisons to re-make their jewels, replacing the traditional yellow gold with finer, less visible, platinum settings. One of Cartier’s biggest ever commissions occurred in 1925, when the Maharaja of Patiala handed over his crown jewels for total re-modeling, a job that took several years to complete and proved key to an East/West cross-pollination of styles. The Indian tradition of long, beaded necklaces that covered the chest morphed into the fashionable sautoirs of the 1920s, while engraved emeralds (carved in Jaipur and often the centerpiece of ceremonial jewels) became a staple of the art-deco style running concurrent at the time.

 

Cartier incorporated these stones into a genre that’s still firmly part of their house style: Tutti-Frutti has carved, unfaceted emeralds, rubies and sapphires in leaf and fruit motifs set against the sparkle of white diamonds – a combination considered daring and avant-garde at the time. (Cartier has never stopped making Tutti-Frutti pieces; last year the house showed the largest piece in this style it had ever made: the aptly named Rajasthan, featuring a central carved emerald of 136.97 carats.)

 

Boucheron’s love affair with the Subcontinent started in much the same way. Its recent Bleu de Jodhpur high jewelry collection is a riff on the “Blue city”, mixing Indian motifs and materials (such as marble from the same quarry used for the Taj Mahal) with Indian jewelry styles, underlined with the ever-present sharp execution of a Place Vendôme jeweler. East meets West in a mix of ancient custom and contemporary savvy.

 

While Surat in Gujarat is famed for diamond cutting and the mines of Golkonda have produced some of the world’s most legendary diamonds, it is Jaipur in Rajasthan where the cutting of colored stones and the centuries-old techniques of enameling are still practiced.

 

Western jewelers such as Bulgari source many of their signature candy-bright gems from the ancient city, with creative director Lucia Silvestri making frequent trips to oversee the process. She concedes that these visits have informed the house’s rainbow palette. “I love the colors of the saris the women wear in Jaipur,” she says, “and how they clash orange and pink, blue and red, in unexpected combinations. It gives me fresh ideas for designs.”

 

Less mainstream jewelers are also harnessing the centuries-old expertise of Indian workmen. Alice Cicolini, for instance, uses their enamel workshops to create exquisite hand-painted rings, and cult jeweler Noor Fares created her Navratna collection after a trip to Varanasi. Hanut Singh, great-grandson of the Maharaja of Kapurthala, who was a famous patron of Cartier, has spent ten years honing his signature fusion of old and new. Singh shows at private trunk shows and attracts a cult following from the likes of Madonna, Beyoncé and Diane Von Furstenberg.

 

Although India’s influence has always been present in the West, one development from a particular jeweler marks a significant change. Nirav Modi is the first Indian jeweler to combine Eastern motifs and themes in a thoroughly Western way. Unlike Indian brands like Amrapali, whose core designs are dominated by yellow gold and large colored stones that resonate with its Indian clientele, Modi has expanded his modern designs, attracting high-profile fans like Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts. Although his designs are Western, his Indian inspiration is still there. His Mughal range features diamonds cut to mimic petals, the shape inspired by 18th-century paintings of Mughal gardens. And his Maharani necklace with strings of emerald beads owes everything to its ancestral roots yet looks entirely at home in the window of his New York store.

 

Progression is everything; from an aesthetic that originated in the coffers of the maharajas to a style now gently disseminated throughout Western jewelry, India’s influence continues to dazzle, a century on.

 

Your address: The St. Regis Mumbai

 

Romancing the stone
Haut diamantaire Nirav Modi (niravmodi.com) blends Indian and Western influences to create exquisite pieces like his “Emerald Maharani” necklace (above) and his “Flamingo Embrace” bangle (below)

 

 

Fit for a Maharaja
Below, left and middle: “Gothikas” earrings and “Ebony Triangles”, both by Hanut Singh (hanutsingh.com). Below, right: Indian-made enameled pieces from Alice Cicolini (alicecicolini.com)

 

 

 

hero

King of the Red Carpet

Seated at the rustic boardroom table of his studio in the heart of New York’s Garment District, Jason Wu appears calm and relaxed, not at all like someone who has just shown two collections at New York fashion week: a ready-to-wear line for Hugo Boss and his eponymous line, Jason Wu. But don’t let the calm exterior deceive you. This is a man whose drive and ambition saw him designing dresses for dolls as a child in his native Taiwan, a hobby that led to the creation of the Fashion Royalty doll collection, right through to designing the dress that Michelle Obama wore to the 2009 Inauguration Ball, and to his current heady heights as one of the world’s leading designers. That inauguration dress is now in the Smithsonian Museum, which to Wu sums up the scale of his achievement. “When I moved to America to be a fashion designer, I never imagined I’d become part of American history,” he said last year.

 

Making clothes for dolls gave Wu a grounding not only in the creative side of fashion but also in manufacturing, marketing, intellectual property, business – the many pieces of the jigsaw that make up a successful brand. It was only a matter of time before he would graduate to full-scale frocks. In 2007, at the age of 25, the designer – who had moved to New York seven years previously to attend Parsons School of Fashion – launched his first ready-to-wear collection, instantly catching the eye of the most powerful woman in the fashion industry, U.S. Vogue editor Anna Wintour. “At the time I was starting out there was a lot of streetwear around,” he recalls. “It was a lot edgier than what I do, which is uptown and polished. But Anna and the team were very supportive. It helped me embrace my aesthetic and gain the self-confidence to be different.”

 

Wu’s description of his signature style as “uptown and polished” certainly hits the mark – no wonder Michelle Obama became a fan. “Having anyone in the public eye support you is instrumental to a brand,” he says, “but when it’s someone like the First Lady, it’s an incredible honor.” 

 

Wu credits his mother, a bestselling author in Taiwan, with teaching him about style and the profound empathy he feels towards women. “I really care about the way a woman feels in my clothes,” he says. “I think that’s very important, because if a dress isn’t about the woman wearing it, what is it about?” Women, in turn, respond to the wearability and femininity of his clothes. Actresses Lupita Nyong’o, Jessica Chastain, Michelle Williams and longtime muse Diane Kruger all wear Jason Wu on the red carpet, and these relationships mean a lot to him. “The idea of red carpet dressing has become so commercialized but we are an independent brand, so for us the relationship is meaningful, not just an endorsement.” 

 

Part of the appeal is that Wu’s clothes are not too aggressively trend-led, which gives them a more lasting appeal. He’s also a firm believer in the value of luxury, talking at length about this much-debated concept. “Luxury isn’t something that only lasts for one season,” he says. “It’s timeless and it takes time to create. I believe we should move away from trying to be the fastest or first – it should be things of substance we invest in.” 

Since 2013, while creating his own line, Wu has been a creative director at Hugo Boss, overseeing the entire womenswear range. The appointment was greeted with a certain amount of surprise: after all, Wu’s gowns are all old-school glamour and femininity whereas Hugo Boss has a reputation for streamlined womenswear with a masculine edge. Yet it was that contrast that drew Wu to the project in the first place. “I like the fact that it’s not somewhere people would have placed me,” he declares. 

 

Luxury and elegance, always interpreted with a contemporary sensibility, run through both collections, which is why Wu is drawn to show in spaces that embody these qualities. In the past, he has chosen to show his collections at The St. Regis New York, which reminds him of the 1950s: the era he would most like to return to. “I love it,” he says. “The shape, the clothes: it was a really glamorous time. Not just the fashion, but refrigerators, cars, furniture; the whole thing to me is irresistible.” In fact, after showing at the hotel in 2010 (“It’s so refined – I loved showing my collection in such a landmark”), Wu became an ambassador for the brand – a St. Regis Connoisseur – and has, to date, designed a bag and scarf for St. Regis. 

 

His creative ambitions don’t end there: in addition to designing four collections a year for his own line and four for Hugo Boss, he wants to expand the Jason Wu line, “to really establish a lifestyle brand”. Despite his hectic schedule, Wu did recently manage to squeeze in a family reunion holiday at The St. Regis Bali Resort. “It was great,” he sighs. “The first time we’d all been together in a decade; everyone is just so busy.” Sadly, it may be some time before the next get-together. When asked about his work-life balance, he lets out a rueful laugh. “I don’t have one! But then, I’m not sure any designer would say they do. I’m not too upset about it. My work is my life, it’s my passion. So for now the work-life balance will have to wait.”

 

Images: Getty Images, Dan Lecca

 

Old-school glamour 

Jason Wu (above) says that wearability is key to his collections – women love the femininity and glamour of his designs

 

Issue7_Interview-Vodianova

Natalia Vodianova

Natalia Vodianova looks incredible in red. Don’t get me wrong, she also looks incredible in white, black, pink, or even sludgy brown. But it’s in red that she really shines. Perhaps that’s because she wears it whenever she’s hosting one of her Naked Heart fundraising events, which she did in February of this year during London Fashion Week – a red sequined dress made specially by Francisco Costa of Calvin Klein to accommodate the model’s five-and-a-half-month pregnancy bump.

 

Vodianova, the 34-year-old Russian supermodel who is based in Paris, but regularly jets between New York, London, and Moscow, does not do things by halves. As well as being one of fashion’s most successful and instantly recognizable stars, she’s a leading figure in the charity world. Her first Love Ball in Moscow’s Tsaritsino Estate, held on Valentine’s Day in 2008, featured a 220-ton ice palace specially constructed for the event, the auction of a Damien Hirst work that fetched $1.2 million, and a performance by the Bolshoi Ballet. She set her sights high – and the rewards matched. The ball raised $6 million.

 

When I first met Vodianova, at her house in the English countryside, it was a few weeks before her now legendary London Love Ball, which included a sit-down dinner for 420 people and an auction conducted by Christie’s that raised $1.7 million. In typical Natalia fashion, she juggled the interview between a snowball fight with her children in the garden, a photo shoot where she slipped straight into cover girl mode, all dreamy eyes and soft lips, and negotiating logistics for the event. She had the air of someone who is very capable, used to taking control of situations – and getting things done.

 

“Looking back, I realize that growing up in Russia gave me tools that other people don’t necessarily have,” is the explanation she gives for her extraordinary drive, “such as the will to push that bit further, to make things happen, to succeed. I try to use these now to help other people.” Nor has her lavish lifestyle left her suffering celebrity amnesia: she is happy to talk frankly about her impoverished childhood and the difficulties of growing up with a disabled sister.

 

Vodianova set up the Naked Heart Foundation as a response to the 2004 Beslan school siege, when at least 334 hostages were killed, including 186 children. “I guess everyone who does charity has a moment when it strikes them, and it is unfortunately something horrible most of the time,” she told me. Her response to seeing the siege unfold on her TV screen in Moscow at the time was to cry. But through her tears, she had a vision. She decided she wanted to build a playground so that the children who survived would at least have some moments when they were lost in play and could forget the horrors of the siege.

 

She went back to New York, and with the help of her friend Diane von Furstenberg, set up a charity auction and raised $350,000. She had to wait five years before she could open the playground in Beslan, but that didn’t stop her opening her first in her home town of Nizhny Novgorod, and then opening playgrounds in more than 30 cities across Russia – many in the remotest, most forgotten towns.

Since starting the foundation, she has built 158 playgrounds across 103 Russian cities.

Born in 1982, Vodianova had a childhood that could not be further from the lives of her own four children (three from her previous marriage to Justin Portman, half-brother of the 10th Viscount Portman, who she met when she was 19, and one with her boyfriend Antoine Arnault, the son of LVMH founder Bernard Arnault). Vodianova’s mother Larisa, who raised her three daughters alone, had a stall selling fruit and vegetables. Natalia looked after her sister Oksana, was born with cerebral palsy, while her mother worked long hours.

In her teens, Vodianova was spotted by a French model scout. She moved to Paris in 1999 and was soon swept up in the glamorous new life as an A-list model. In 2004, Steven Meisel shot her for the cover of American Vogue in 2004 alongside Gisele and Daria – the three models of the moment. Calvin Klein booked her for the most lucrative fashion contract of them all (a seven-figure contract she held for an unheard-of eight seasons) and ten years later, she became the face of the brand’s Euphoria fragrance. In 2012, Forbes named her as the world’s third most profitable model, estimated to be bringing in a very handsome $8.6 million in one year.

What is most striking about Vodianova is her incredible work ethic and her philanthropic drive. Anyone would forgive a mother of four (soon to be five) if she wanted to take a break from professional life. But Vodianova was back on the catwalk two weeks after giving birth to her first son Lucas. And she is utterly committed to the Naked Heart Foundation. As well as opening playgrounds, she has extended her focus to work with orphanages with the campaign Every Child Deserves a Family, which works with children who are abandoned by their families because of unemployment or disabilities.

Small wonder, then, that Vodianova’s nickname is “Supernova” – a tag Diane von Furstenberg would surely endorse: “The more you know Natalia,” she says, “the more you are impressed with her. She’s a remarkable woman – and I don’t say that easily. She’s probably one of the strongest women I’ve ever met. Her beauty is nothing compared with her character.”

 

Natalie Vodinova's Charity: nakedheart.org

Issue7_Interview-Vodianova

 

 

 

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Carlos Huber

What do you recollect of the scents of your childhood?

 

Although I’m absolutely in love with plants, I’ve actually always lived in apartments. But growing up in Mexico City I remember, when the elevator doors would open, always discovering a new flower arrangement that my mom had made. So the scent of flowers would always welcome me home.

 

How does your love of place and history connect to perfume?

 

More than any other sense, smell is linked to memory. As abstract and evanescent as a perfume can be, in our minds it is always tied to a concrete time and place. I’ve always been very connected to the discovery of a new city, a new landscape, through its aromas. With each of our scents, I want to guide you through a journey. That’s why it’s very important for me that the perfumes be “transparent”, that you are able to smell each ingredient so that you recognize them as clues in the story.

 

What was it like to train under Rodrigo Flores-Roux at Givaudan US?

 

When he discussed a specific note, or an historic perfume accord, he would set it up
in its period so I would understand the world around it. It was a cultural history
of perfume.

 

How would you describe your work?

 

I see myself as a fragrance architect: designing the scent so it highlights the significance of a beautiful story. I strive to be meticulous. The more of the picture I can paint for you, the more connection you will find with your life.

 

Your scents allude to historical events such as the meeting of Louis XIV
of France and María Teresa of Spain in 1660. What inspires you about
such moments?

 

History is my favorite subject. I read about the meeting of the French and Spanish courts in 1660 when the Peace Treaty of the Pyrenees was consolidated. For Fleur de Louis I investigated not only what they used as perfume, but also what they used to scent the room. The king’s cousin said that the pavilion where they met was so new that it still smelled of pine and varnishing tar.

 

What are the most exotic locations you have visited in your
perfume adventures?

 

Waiheke Island in New Zealand: it’s full of honeysuckle and jasmine. And Sydney is such a fragrant city – full of star jasmine in late spring, magnolias in the early summer, and frangipani later on. My favorite ingredients are gardenia, magnolia grandiflora, vanilla, lavender and rosemary, from Mexico, Australia, Spain and France.

 

You live in New York. What is the olfactory character of the Big Apple?

 

The waterways are definitely important. I love the Hudson for its sharp, briny scent.

 

And the aroma of home?

 

I like to buy fresh flowers and to change them depending on what’s in season, to experience a new scent. I also love burning candles. In the living room there will be a green floral (the St. Regis scent actually), in my bedroom something warmer, and in the bathroom something mossy and green.

 

What is the story behind the perfume you have created for St. Regis?

 

The ambient scent and candle are inspired by Mrs Astor’s ball, held at her Fifth Avenue home on January 29, 1900. Guests were greeted by the scent of American Beauty roses, the hostess’s favorite flower. They made their way down halls lined with potted palms and pillars of apple, quince and almond blossom. From there, they would enter a ballroom decorated with red roses, white lilies, yellow jonquils,
violets and carnations. Our scent is a custom composition that is historic, modern, truly signature.

 

Does perfume allow us access to something akin to a sixth sense?

 

Absolutely. Perfume can create a reaction almost like a vibration. It can excite, remind or attract you to something that’s beyond rational explanation.

 

I am a Cover Girl in my Dotage

I am a Cover Girl in my Dotage

Iris, you were born and raised in New York, right?
 
I was raised in Astoria, Queens, and lived there until I married. My grandparents were settlers, actually, and caught the boat here from Long Island.
 
What memories do you have of coming to the city as a child?
 
Well, the city was the mecca. You would go there for shopping, or an event such as the Easter Parade – everybody in their spring finery, looking swell. In those days you wouldn’t see a person walking on Fifth Avenue without a hat and gloves. Today you’re lucky if they have shoes.
 
I remember a story you told me about your first experience shopping alone in the city…
 
Yes, I was 11 years old. It was Easter time and I needed a new outfit and bonnet, but my mother had no time to go shopping with me. So she gave me $25 to go into the city by myself. I went to S. Klein and found a dress that I just flipped over. All silk, poet sleeves, with a tie front, for only $12.95. I gave thanks to God and $12.95 to the cashier, and then went to A.S. Beck and got a smashing pair of shoes for $3.98. I had enough left for a nice little lunch and the bus home. My mother approved of my sense of style and my dad approved of my economical choices. My grandfather, who was a master tailor, was the only one who was not impressed.
 
Where were the memorable places that you lived in New York?
 
After I got married I moved into the city. I haven’t moved around that much, but before living here, we had a great townhouse on 79th Street. What we had in charm we lacked in plumbing. Nothing worked, but it was fabulous.
 
In what decade or era would you say New York was at its most elegant?
 
The late 1940s or 1950s, before the youth revolution. It was glamour; glamour doesn’t exist any more. People like glamour – especially men. I think men are more romantic than women, anyway.
 
Did you have any favorite spots in the city during that era?
 
Oh, there was fabulous nightlife, glamorous clubs like the Copacabana – where, if you were lucky, you could sit ringside and touch Frank Sinatra. Great jazz clubs, restaurants… Henri Soulé ran an extraordinary French restaurant called Le Pavillon. They all had dress codes – you couldn’t go in looking like a slob. It was nice to have people looking elegant. They always had a coat and tie rack for men who came in without them, and nothing would fit, so they’d sit there looking like the village idiot or a grade-school dunce. There was also Ben Marden’s Riviera in New Jersey. Everyone used to go. Lucille Ball was in the chorus. People also entertained at their homes beautifully. Guests came dressed to the nines. There was an article of clothing called the “hostess gown,” which you don’t see any more.
 
Did you frequent any of New York’s great jazz clubs?
 
El Morocco and the Stork Club. Fifty-Second Street was very important in the 1940s – the whole street, with one place next to another. I had a boyfriend who was mad for Billie Holiday so we used to go there all the time.
 
Do you have any fond memories of The St. Regis New York?
 
It was always a very beautiful hotel, and we used to go to the King Cole Bar there. It was a place for people to meet.
When you’re in New York these days, where do you like to go? We love to eat at 
La Grenouille – it’s very old-world, very elegant. People come well dressed, the floral arrangements are spectacular and the food is divine… and yet it’s very natural. Some of these new restaurants that are so la-di-da are very pretentious.
 
Where do you like to shop today in the city?
 
I don’t shop very much. I don’t need to shop, I’ve got so much. But New York does have great discount stores, like Loehmann’s, and great sample sales.
 
What’s a highlight of your career?
 
We did major work at the White House, through more than nine administrations. We did many historic restorations: the Renwick Gallery, Blair House, the Senate, the State Department, Theodore Roosevelt’s birthplace and the Decatur House, among others.
 
At 91, you have a whole new career as a spokeswoman, model, teacher and fashion icon…
 
Oh, it’s hysterical – the other night I did a personal appearance at Bloomingdale’s for my new handbag collection, and people were lining up. I’m the same as I ever was but all of a sudden I’m cool. It’s almost embarrassing. My husband and I think it’s very funny, but I also think it’s very sweet. I’m touched that at this stage of my life I’m having so much fun.
 
What projects are you working on?
 
I’ve done a line of sunglasses and readers for Eyebobs. I have a collection of purses called Extinctions, and a new line of shoes for HSN. I did a collection with MAC cosmetics and I’ve also been working on a perfume. I teach visiting students as a professor for the University of Texas, which keeps me very busy.
 
How did you feel when MAC approached you?
 
I thought it would be fun. When I do these things I really put work into it, choosing the colors and textures. I don’t just put my name on it. And a bonus is that I’ve met some very nice people from it.
 
Do you feel that you have helped in some way to alter the perception of ageing in popular culture?
 
I hope so; I think so. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I’ve become so popular, because I’m so old. I’m a cover girl in my dotage, a geriatric starlet. The world’s oldest living teenager.
 
What do you love about being in New York?
 
There’s no place in the world like New York. If you can’t find it in New York, it doesn’t exist. It’s the heartbeat of the world.
 
What advice do you have for someone visiting New York?
 
You have to be like a sponge and soak it all up. It’s a walking city with some of the best museums and shops, with everything you might want to buy, whether you need it or not. Every kind of food you might want to taste is here. And it all exists in all price ranges. What’s the Sinatra song… if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.
 
So, where do you want to retire?
 
I don’t want to retire ever. I think retirement is a fate worse than death.
 
advancedstyle.blogspot.com

Carolina Herrera

Carolina Herrera

You waited until 1981, when you were 42, before launching your fashion house. Why?
 
There comes a time in your life when you need to do something new, and that was the right time for me. I’d never done anything before. I asked my friend Diana Vreeland what she thought about me designing some materials and she said, “That’s so boring. Why don’t you design a fashion collection?” She gave me the idea.
 
What did your husband think of you starting work?
 
He believed that I should do it, and that was very important for me. You have to have the support of your family, because if you do something they don’t agree with then it’s hell.
 
Did you ever feel any self-doubt?
 
Sometimes everything’s fantastic and you think you’re on top of the world; other times it’s more difficult. Fashion, and dealing with the egos in the industry, is a very difficult business.
 
Were you ambitious?
 
You have to be ambitious in fashion, otherwise you won’t get anywhere. You have to persevere and realize that you are designing for many different tastes, not just your own. I design things that I wouldn’t wear, but I know they’re going to sell.
 
You had no formal design training. Did that matter?
 
No, because in design, the most important thing is to have an eye: for proportion, for mixing colors. You can go to fashion school and learn how to cut a pattern and how to sew, but if you don’t have the vision you won’t know how to put it together. I sketch very badly, but I know exactly what I want. I can’t sew on a button, but I know how it should be sewn on.
 
Why did you choose to live in New York?
 
I’ve been in love with New York since I was a child. It’s a very glamorous city, and one of the few cities in the world where there are so many events every night that you always see men looking handsome in black tie and women in evening gowns.
 
What are the best and worst things about the city?
 
The best is the weather: when it’s very cold and the sky is blue. The worst is
the traffic.
 
Apart from New York, which is your favourite city in the world?
 
Rome. It’s so chic, the Italians are so delicious and the Romans are divine. You can be walking in a small street and suddenly you find something grandiose in front of you, something out of this world. And the Italians are always in a happy mood. They ask you things with a smile, so you can’t refuse. I love London, too, but I don’t like the weather too much.
 
Where is your favorite place to go on holiday?
 
Patmos in Greece. We stay with our great friend [interior designer] John Stefanidis, who has a lovely house there. The island is really beautiful, and not so crowded.
 
How often do you visit Caracas, where you were brought up?
 
I haven’t been in a long time. I love my country, and I would love to be there all the time, but we became a left-wing country. It’s difficult. Our family house is still there – it was built in 1590 and has always been in the hands of the same family – but we don’t live there any more.
 
What is the key to looking well-dressed?
 
Your clothes have to fit properly. You can be in the most beautiful dress in the world, but if it doesn’t fit, it’s a mistake. Sometimes women say, “I want to look sexy”, and for them, sexy is three sizes too small. That’s also a mistake.
 
You’re a regular on the best-dressed lists. Do such things matter?
 
It’s very flattering, and it’s very nice of people to say that you are well-dressed, but you cannot think about it all day long.
 
What is the biggest mistake celebrities make when dressing for the
red carpet?

 
They wear clothes that don’t fit or don’t suit them. And their shoes are three sizes too big, because they’re on loan.
 
You have had a long working relationship with Renée Zellweger. How important to a brand is celebrity endorsement?
 
Renée is great because she doesn’t use a stylist. She comes to me and we discuss what she wants. She knows exactly what she likes, and that’s very rare.
 
Who in the public eye would you like to wear your clothes? The Duchess of Cambridge, perhaps?
 
Well, why not? Of course! She has a fantastic figure and she is always properly dressed for her role. I know some people say she’s too serious, but what they don’t realize is that she is representing something.
 
Is it true that you can get ready for a black-tie ball in ten minutes?
 
I can get ready for anything in ten minutes. In my mother’s time it was very different, because none of them worked. These women today who take two hours to get dressed – what are they doing after the first 10 or 15 minutes? If I had to spend two hours getting dressed, I’d be so tired by the time I arrived at the party I’d want to go home.
 
You’re 76. Are you ever tempted to retire?
 
No, I adore my work. Nobody’s forcing me to do this.
 
Two of your four daughters work for your company. Does that ever
cause friction?

 
It’s fun to work with both of them because they have a different approach to what they do and a different eye. They both have a lot of style, but they’re different. Carolina lives in Madrid and is responsible for the perfumes. Patricia lives in New York and is on my design team.
 
Do they find it difficult to combine working with motherhood?
 
No. They are very well-organized. To be a working mother
you have to have a lot of discipline and some help.
 
Did you ever struggle to combine work and home life?
 
No, never, because I stop talking about work the moment
I leave the office.
 
Do you burn the midnight oil at the office?
 
No. If you can’t do what you have to do between 9am and 5pm then there’s either something wrong with you, or something wrong with the organization.
 
Can women have it all?
 
Yes. Women are very lucky because we can do many things at the same time.
Men can’t.
 
You dressed Jackie Onassis in the last decade of her life. Is her style
still current?

 
Look at photographs of her now: she looks so modern. She was an amazing woman, so cultivated and intelligent, and a great inspiration for me. I have dressed Michelle Obama, too, and she has a different style to Jackie. She mixes it up a lot and wears a lot of young designers. She has created her own style: more informal I suppose. But the world is getting less formal.
 
What is the most important thing a woman should have in her closet?
 
A full-length mirror.
 
Do you find yourself looking backwards now, rather than forwards?
 
I like the future much more than the past. If you just sit and think about the past, you’re lost.
 
Have you made any concessions to age in the way you dress?
 
Of course. Sometimes you see a woman with a fantastic figure in a mini-skirt, and when she turns around she’s ancient. That doesn’t look right to me. You need to be soigné – or at least more soigné than you were when you were 20. The key thing is to dress according to your age, your style and your figure. It doesn’t matter if something’s fashionable or not – if it looks good, wear it.
 
Does your husband notice what you’re wearing?
 
Yes and that’s great, because he has a very good eye and he’s not going to lie to me.
 
You’ve been married for 46 years. What is the secret of a happy marriage?
 
Love, respect, friendship and a sense of humor. You have to be able to
laugh together.
 
If you had your time again, what would you change?
 
I wouldn’t change anything. I would do it all exactly the same way. Even
the mistakes.
 
When and where were you happiest?
 
When I had my first child. I loved it. It’s a fantastic experience.
 
What advice would you give to a fashion designer starting out today?
 
Love what you’re doing, believe in it, find your own style and like fashion a lot. Nobody knows what fashion is. It’s a mystery.

 

Images by Conde Nast Archive/Corbis, Christopher Little/Corbis, Alexis Rodrigues-Duarte/Corbis, Bettman/Corbis

 

 
Carolina Herrera in 1974

 
With daughter Carolina Adriana, 1999

 
In her New York office last year