In an era of fast-fashion, bodycon dresses, and midriff tops, Carolina Herrera keeps her sights set firmly on elegant classics. Now, after 35 years of success, Herrera gets her first-ever retrospective, Refined Irreverence, opening today with two complementary exhibitions at SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film Atlanta and at the SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah.
The designer has long been in the public spotlight, from her aristocratic upbringing in 1940s’ Caracas, Venezuela, and her early years in New York (she came to work for friend Emilio Pucci’s boutique), where she flitted around with Andy Warhol’s Studio 54 coterie and befriended Vogue’s then editor-in-chief. In fact, it was Diana Vreeland who convinced Herrera (who had previously professed a passions for textiles) to go full-scale as a fashion designer.
Herrera’s designs have graced the cover of Vogue seven times. She’s dressed first ladies from Jackie Onassis to Michelle Obama and become a go-to for A-list actresses like Renée Zellweger at red-carpet events. Her Midtown Manhattan atelier—one of few ateliers of its kind in the States—continues to churn out ready-to-wear for her two Carolina Herrera New York stores and 125 international CH boutiques—including one at our own Lenox Square.
Visitors are greeted by Herrera’s most iconic look of all: a crisp white shirt with a full silk faille skirt first seen in the pages of Vanity Fair (on Herrera herself). A variety of her famous blouses are also framed on one wall of the exhibition alongside a lineup of glamorous vintage looks documenting House of Herrera’s earliest years of operation in the 1980s.
Loaned by the designer as well as the celebrities and socialites who have worn them, and 134 total garments are divided between the two Georgia museums, serving as a collective visual documentation of the Herrera’s entire career—from the earliest vintage creations, to editorial looks donned by famous faces like Jennifer Lopez and Angelina Jolie. The exhibition was curated by Rafael Gomes, SCAD director of fashion exhibition, in association with Alexandra Sachs, executive director of SCAD FASH and Atlanta galleries.
While the smaller selection in Savannah serves as a more tightly curated survey of Herrera’s work, the 99 looks in Atlanta are divided into in-depth groupings of the designer’s signature style flourishes—think bold florals, bridal creations (including the wedding gown worn by Kristen Stewart in the Twilight Saga’s Breaking Dawn and the glittery gold-and-silver organza gown created for Jessica Simpson’s 2014 walk down the aisle), graphic black-and-white, and red carpet statement-makers worn by the likes of Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Lily Aldridge, and Lupita Nyong’o.
“It is a great privilege to fete 35 years of Carolina Herrera’s timeless elegance, and to engage SCAD students with a designer par excellence,” says SCAD president and founder Paula Wallace. “Her artistry reflects a refined sensibility that is at once classic and modern.”
Today’s exhibition unveiling also coincides with the presentation of SCAD’s Étoile Award to Herrera at 2 p.m. at Savannah’s Arnold Hall theater. This recognition commemorates the designer’s outstanding contributions to fashion, culture and design, a prestigious honor previously bestowed upon the likes of Pierre Cardin, Cornelia Guest, Russell Simmons, and Graydon Carter.
Rounding out a weekend full of high fashion, the annual SCAD Fashion Show will follow on Saturday, May 21, opening at Savannah’s Trustees Theater with shows at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., where Herrera will also be in attendance.
Can’t make it to the Lowcountry for the big event? Watch the live stream starting at 8 p.m. here. And enjoy Refined Irreverence through September 4 in Savannah and September 25 in Atlanta. General admission tickets are $10. Visit scad.edu for more info.