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Carolina Herrera Takes a Bow

“I always have this nightmare when a show is coming up,” says fashion designer Carolina Herrera, who presented her final collection for her 37-year-old house on Monday, February 12. “We go to the show and everybody’s there. It’s full of people, and suddenly I realize we are not ready. And I have to come out and stand in front of everyone and say, ‘Can you please come back tomorrow?’” But on Sunday night at the MoMA, one of Mrs. Herrera’s favorite museums, she was most definitely prepared, down to the last hemline.

The show came just days after the house announced that Mrs. Herrera would be leaving her role as creative director of the brand she founded in 1981, and ceding the reins to designer Wes Gordon, who has quietly been working at her side for the past 11 months. Mrs. Herrera, meanwhile, will take on the role of global brand ambassador, which means she’ll be “promoting the CH brand and fragrance all over the world.”

The Venezuela-born Mrs. Herrera has long been viewed as the grande dame of American fashion, putting forth a vision of impeccable elegance that was very much in evidence in her final foray. “This collection celebrates opulence, glamour, and beauty. It embraces bold colors, rich fabrics, and feminine silhouettes,” Mrs. Herrera tells the Cut exclusively.

It began with models in sweeping skirts and pants alongside takes on the white blouse, Mrs. Herrera’s signature. Soon, it evolved into a parade of dresses printed with big cats on the prowl, multi-hued tulle gowns, and a snow-leopard print mink coat — all the picture of ladylike sophistication. For the finale, models walked out in matching crisp white blouses paired with belted skirts of myriad colors, before Mrs. Herrera emerged, to thunderous applause and a standing ovation, for her final bow.

It was an emotionally charged moment, with the white coat–wearing members of Mrs. Herrera’s in-house atelier beaming by her side, and it only got sweeter as the designer welcomed Gordon, who presented her with a bouquet of roses, to the runway.

Mrs. Herrera explains, “This collection is also inspired by the house traditions of craftsmanship, which is why it was so important for me to include my atelier when I took my bow.” And Gordon? “I trust him,” Mrs. Herrera says. “Wes is the right person to continue my work.”

Of her own new chapter, “I chose my new title,” Mrs. Herrera affirms. “It felt like the right time. By doing six collections a year [a single collection takes up to six months to complete], I didn’t have time to focus on anything but fashion. This will allow me to spend more time at home with my husband, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,” while supporting the brand on a global scale.

The decision doesn’t come without a bit of nostalgia, however. As Mrs. Herrera looks back on her storied career, which began after she moved to New York in 1980, she says that “One of my proudest moments was the finale of my first show. It was so glamorous, fashionable, and wonderful. However, I am most proud when I see a woman looking sensational and feeling her best in Carolina Herrera.” Here’s to the designer’s next act.