Herrera takes a look at Herrera

Times Staff Writer

Boutiques are opening so fast along Melrose Place that even their owners aren’t able to keep up with them.

Three months after fashion designer Carolina Herrera opened the West Coast flagship for her namesake collection, she and her daughter, Carolina, finally were able to visit it and another in Costa Mesa this week.

On Monday, Mrs. Herrera and Carolina Jr., as they are called by their friends and associates, gathered at the new Carolina Herrera New York boutique at 8441 Melrose Place for a party hosted by Couture Cares to benefit the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center.


The two-room, 3,800-square-foot boutique was packed with the social and the famous, including Angie Harmon (“The Good Mother”), Brittany Murphy (“Happy Feet”), Ginnifer Goodwin (“Big Love”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Girlfriends”), Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls”), Rebecca Gayheart (“Vanished”), Gabrielle Union (“Running With Scissors”), Lauralee Bell (“The Young and the Restless”), Rose McGowan (“Charmed”) and stylists Rachel Zoe and Tod Hallman. The event’s heavily promoted co-host, the just-filed-for-divorce Reese Witherspoon, skipped the chance to be surrounded by paparazzi and reportedly headed back to her family in Tennessee.

On Tuesday, the Herreras headed to South Coast Plaza, where they hosted another fundraising party at the CH Carolina Boutique, which offers a less-expensive lifestyle collection for men and women. The store was slated to donate 10% of sales from Monday through today to the Pacific Symphony.

Though the Carolina Herrera label is a frequent presence on red carpets throughout Los Angeles, the designer has lagged behind competitors who long ago set up free-standing boutiques to help cement relationships with clients. Nearly seven years ago, Herrera opened a flagship boutique on New York’s tony Madison Avenue to showcase her sophisticated eveningwear, bridal wear, daytime separates and accessories. The South Coast Plaza CH Carolina Boutique is now one of six North American stores, including others in Las Vegas, Dallas and Houston.

Unlike other fashion designers, Herrera doesn’t fine-tune the collection to suit each city, she said in a post-party interview at the store. The L.A. customer just happens to toss on a jacket, or add tights, to suit the weather, said her daughter.

“Women are women,” said Carolina Jr. “You can’t make a new collection for L.A.”

“Fashion is seasonless,” her mother added. “Women will take the look and give it her personality.”

The main personality present at the flagship is that of Carolina Herrera, fashion icon. Indeed, upon entering the boutique, shoppers encounter a large black-and-white portrait of Herrera, which hangs above copies of the 2004 Assouline Publishing book, “Carolina Herrera: Portrait of a Fashion Icon,” the 208-page ode to her beauty, glamorous lifestyle and aristocratic past as one of Venezuela’s oldest and most prominent families.

The Melrose Place boutique reflects a certain effortless sophistication for women who don’t bat at eye at $5,000 leather jackets, $4,000 camisoles, $1,200 cotton blouses and $19,000 jewel-encrusted evening gowns. Herrera’s exclusive collection of Manolo Blahnik shoes, Judith Leiber and Faraone Mennella accessories round out the selections, which were evidently quite tempting as shoppers rang up many purchases during the party.

Though the boutique has a charming side entryway and a celebrity-friendly back door and parking lot, it’s a particularly stark rendering of Herrera’s trademark elegance, which is odd coming from a woman who said, “the most boring movement in fashion is minimalism.” The boutique’s walls are plain white, racks are simple chrome, mirrors are no different than department-store issue, and the tightly upholstered furniture is stiff and uninviting.

Except for the layout, the boutique matches her New York flagship, the designer said. “The stars of the place, the decoration of the place, are the clothing,” she said. “It’s not overpowering.”

The designer takes a completely different approach to the CH Carolina Herrera boutiques, which are loaded with retail’s favorite lifestyle props: pool tables, bars, cozy living room furniture, fireplaces and libraries. The CH collection is lower-priced luxury, with full-length evening skirts ranging from $1,000 to $1,200; pants from $350 to $560; and the new top-sellers, handbags from $590 to $1,665.

Having entire collections presented cleanly is a huge benefit to shoppers, as Carolina Jr. can attest. Having been grounded by a new baby and other commitments, she missed her mother’s spring fashion show and had to view the collection on the Internet. She now knows firsthand that fine clothing must be viewed in person to be appreciated.

“I thought the dress I was wearing last night was a silk print when I saw the photo,” said Carolina Jr. Instead, it was richly outlined with pleated rows of thin ribbon. “There was not one thing that was as I had imagined it to be. They were much better in reality.”

“I’m delighted to hear that,” teased her mother.

Herrera’s highly detailed surface decorations that may be pleated, beaded, woven, topstitched and more, are difficult to appreciate in photos. That’s why having the boutiques helps stylists such as Hallman make more informed decisions for clients, particularly when they can shop a number of high-end collections already along the street.

Marc Jacobs has commandeered three locations along the block, while Marni has moved into an ultra-modern space near the under-construction or just-opened Monique Lhuillier, Colette Fine Jewelry, DV women’s wear and Republic restaurant and lounge. Tracy Feith has moved out, and Oscar de la Renta is slated to move in, and there is talk that Balenciaga is hunting for a location. And maybe Bastide will reopen someday and deliver dinner to shoppers.

Of course, in L.A. the ultimate status symbol isn’t leaving a boutique with loads of shopping bags; it’s having clothes delivered to your home. Herrera understands that, so naturally, the Melrose boutique will offer not just delivery, but in-home fittings for alterations.