My first vivid memory of Madrid is, at eight years old, going to the Museo Nacional del Prado. I went with my nanny, who took me to see the famous Hiëronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. This was the first time a work of art had been explained to me. Many people go to look at it with their eyes, but they don’t really see it. All the fantastical details, the animals, the whimsical things—they stayed with me forever. So every time I go back to Madrid, even now, I visit the painting. Because of this childhood memory, it will never lose that magic for me, and the same is true for the city.
My grandmother lived between Madrid and Paris, and we would always go to visit. My roots are Spanish, so I have a lot of family in Madrid. I remember being taken to the Ritz, where I still stay, always in the same room. I feel comfortable there, because, really, it’s my home. The room is on the fourth floor, overlooking the plaza. I like to sleep with the curtains open, so when I wake up and see the color of the sky, I know I’m in Madrid. It’s the bluest sky I have ever seen in my life. I’ve used this color many times in my collections.
Though if the city itself were a color, it would be red. Such a bold color calls to mind the cape of the bullfighter or the flower in a flamenco dancer’s hair. Polka dots are also very Madrid—they catch your eye and make you look again; really, they make everyone happy. Spain has always had an important place in fashion. For me, the best designer the world has ever known was Cristóbal Balenciaga, who was from the Basque region. He has influenced so many designers, and like me, he drew much inspiration from Spanish art and culture.
There’s an elegance about the Spanish way of dressing, and elegance in the way of movement—the people move in a different way. It’s like everything in life: Some people have it and others don’t. The people of Madrid love their city; perhaps this is why I see them in a very proud way. Even something as simple as a Spanish omelet, which you may be surprised to know is one of my favorite things to eat, is impossible to find done well anywhere but Spain!
Madrid for me is made up of a lot of childhood memories: the sweet smell of carnations, the bright sound of the Spanish guitar, quiet days in the park and electric nights that last till dawn. But everything changes. You can never stay in the past. Memories are very important, but they must always move forward.
My daughters, Patricia and Carolina Jr., love Madrid as I do. Carolina Jr. has lived there now for more than a decade with her husband and children. It gives me great joy to discover the city anew through their eyes.
The Herreras’ Top Ten
Hotel: Casa de Madrid is a boutique hotel that feels more like an elegant house. When Carolina Jr. was married in 2004, she reserved the entire place for her wedding. Rooms start at $180; Calle de Arrieta 2; 34-660/342-427; casademadrid.com.
Food: The best tapas is at La Tasquita de Enfrente (Calle de la Ballesta 6; 34-915/325-449). For paella, try Samm (Calle de Carlos Caamaño 3; 34-913/453-074) and enjoy lunch on the terrace. If you crave a hamburger, Carolina Jr.’s favorite is from Murillo Café (Calle de Ruiz de Alarcón 27; 34-913/693-689; murillocafe.com).
Drink: You can’t beat a gin and tonic at Le Cabrera (Calle de Bárbara de Braganza 2; 34-913/199-457). The pool at Room Mate Oscar hotel (Plaza Vázquez de Mella 12; room-matehotels.com) also provides a great opportunity to wet one’s whistle.
Sweets: Magnolia Bakery–style cupcakes can be found at Happy Day Bakery (Calle del Espíritu Santo 11; happydaybakery.es). For ice cream, head to Giangrossi (Calle de Velázquez 44; 34-917/813-073).
Flamenco: On Thursdays, Laray (Calle de los Hermanos Bécquer 6; 34-915/640-175) is the insider dance venue—but the show won't start until after midnight.
Espadrilles: Lobo (Calle de Toledo 30; 34-913/664-017) is the place for the more traditional shoe, in every color. For more fashion-forward styles, try Castañer (Calle de Claudio Coello 51; castaner.com).
Home: Worthy of the Herreras’ praise, Becara (Calle de Juan Bravo 18; becara.com) is where Patricia recently picked up lamps for her apartment.
For Kids: Carolina Jr. is part owner of Baby Deli (Calle de Lagasca 54; babydeli.com), which offers a range of organic products, including food, clothing and bath items.
Market: For food, check out Mercado de San Miguel in the city center. On Sundays there’s the outdoor El Rastro market.
Hidden Treasure: Cinephiles shouldn’t miss Cine Doré (Calle de Santa Isabel 3; 34-913/692-118), housed in a gorgeous 1920s theater.