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Carolina Herrera Traded This Accessory
for Her Warhol Portrait

By Rachel Wolff

One New York night in 1979, the then-budding fashion designer Carolina Herrera was making the scene at Studio 54 when her gold-mesh-and-diamond Van Cleef & Arpels minaudière (a bejeweled clutch) caught a certain artist’s eye. “Andy took it and played with it all night long,” she recalls. “When he returned it he said, ‘If you give it to me, I will give you your portrait in exchange.’ I said, ‘Take it, it’s yours.’ And that was that.”


“Carolina Herrera,” 1979, acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 40 x 40 in., by Andy Warhol.
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 

Herrera sat for Warhol in his Union Square Factory shortly thereafter. “The Factory was an organized insane asylum—quite beautiful in its simplicity,” Herrera says. “You had someone doing petit point at the entrance by the telephone. You had Bob Colacello running Interview magazine and being his usual intelligent self. You had Fred Hughes talking like Diana Vreeland and thinking he was an English Duke. There were all sorts of characters—actors, transvestites, business people. And throughout all of this madness, Andy sat like a contemplative child, yearning for more gossip.”

Warhol snapped dozens of Polaroids of the glammed-up Herrera (including those pictured here) that would result in three screen-printed portraits, the most iconic of which pictures the young designer with lush red lips, an elegant up-do, a swath of era-appropriate blue eye shadow, and stunning chandelier earrings (by Van Cleef, naturally). It still hangs in her New York house today.

“Andy and I were possibly the only sober people in the place,” adds Herrera, whose fashion empire took off shortly after this shrewd exchange—she hosted her first official runway show in 1980. “Studio 54 promised that something extraordinary would happen every night and it did. Impending extravaganza! There was gold dust everywhere. We used to return to the Mayfair and leave a golden trail all over the floor.”

Read Carolina Herrera’s Warholian Questionnaire to find out who alongside Warhol makes a perfect dinner party.