One of New York's most fashionable philanthropists talks to azureazure.com about her commitment to fashion and the arts.
By Elysze Held
A stunning woman with a sophisticated sense of style and impeccable taste, Yaz Hernández is well known as a philanthropist and patron of Latin American arts —yet her uniqueness lies in her passion for philanthropy. Yaz’s heart and soul are in the tireless commitment she exhibits in championing her philanthropic causes in New York, namely El Museo Del Barrio. During her tenure at El Museo, she turned their annual gala into one of the hottest events on the Manhattan fundraising circuit.
She serves as a trustee for the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), of which she is an alumna. In addition, she serves as Chairman of the Board of the Couture Council, a membership group dedicated to supporting The Museum at FIT, a specialized museum of fashion. Ms. Hernández’ passion for fashion launched her career in New York City in 1982. In less than a decade, she rose from an account executive at the German firm Mondi, a luxury global women’s fashion manufacturer and retailer, to become Vice President of the company’s most profitable division, and later going on to serve as President of the company. As President, she directed all U.S. operations, including the oversight of 52 retail stores and the wholesale business, along with all marketing, product development and distribution activities.
Valentín & Yaz Hernández.
Married to Valentín Hernández, a Senior Executive at Citigroup, they live with their son Valentín Jr. on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and together they collect Latin American Art. They often host parties in support of Latino artists, designers and cultural institutions, and are renowned as dynamic and generous hosts. Considered one of the most influential philanthropic women in Manhattan, Yaz has had a hand in organizing some of the most prominent events on the city’s social calendar. But her vibrant personality does not lend itself to social and philanthropic events alone- Currently, she serves on the board of her family business, Wendco of Puerto Rico, Inc., a real estate holding company and operator of various U.S. restaurant chains, which include Applebee’s, Famous Dave’s, and Wendy’s, managing over 85 locations.
I had the pleasure of meeting Yaz last year at the Couture Council’s annual benefit luncheon at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, in New York City. This celebrated luncheon, which presents a chosen designer with the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion, heralds the arrival of New York Fall Fashion Week. I was immediately struck by her warmth and humility-and mentioned my meeting her to the Founder and Publisher of azureazure.com, Ana Remos, only to discover that she and Yaz are friends! I am honored to conduct an intimate interview with the illustrious Yaz Hernández.
ELYSZE HELD [EH] / You are recognized as a leading philanthropist in New York: How long did it take for you to make the significant contributions you have made?
YAZ HERNÁNDEZ [YH] / It took a year to breath some fresh life into El Museo Del Barrio’s annual gala. I was able to get Ruben and Isabel Toledo to collaborate and they opened the door to bring the rest of the fashion industry onboard.
EH / What are your lifelong dreams? Have any of them come to fruition?
YH / When I was growing up it was my dream to work in the fashion industry. I was lucky to have a fruitful career in the fashion industry and today I serve as a trustee of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and the chairman of their Couture Council, a board which supports The Museum at FIT.
EH / Who has impacted you most in your life and how?
YH / My dad has had the greatest impact on my life through both his determination and entrepreneurial spirit and also through instilling me with a strong set of values.
EH / What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?
YH / While I’ve certainly had experiences that have not played out as I would have hoped, I wouldn’t really consider them failures so long as I’ve learned something from the process.
(L) Valentino & Yaz Hernández / (R) Oscar de la Renta & Yaz Hernández.
EH / What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
YH / The biggest risk I have ever taken was leaving a successful career in the fashion industry (President of Moni) to help launch an internet company during the tech boom in the late 1990s. It was called Español.com, and it’s intention was to become the Amazon.com for the Spanish speaking community. In the end it was unsuccessful, but I learned a tremendous amount from the experience and had the privilege of meeting and working with some incredibly interesting and talented people during the course of the project.
EH / What was the last project you headed up, and what was its outcome?
YH / The most recent project I’ve headed up is the annual gala for FIT, which raised over $2,000,000!! That evening we honored Linda Fargo, Senior Vice President of Bergdorf Goodman, Dr. Jay Baker, the chairman of FIT’s foundation, and jewelry designer Joan Hornig.
EH / What irritates you about other people, and how do you deal with it?
YH / I look for excellence in the people I work with and it irritates me when people don’t try their very best. I only settle for exceptional.
Jessica Chastain, Stefano Tonchi, Yaz Hernández, Alber Elbaz.
EH / What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you deal with it?
YH / The most difficult period of my life was when I had breast cancer. I dealt with it by keeping myself busy through planning El Museo’s Gala.
EH / What is the hardest decision you've made in the last few years and how did you come to that decision?
YH / One of the most difficult decisions I have made in the last few years was stepping down as El Museo’s gala chairman after so many years of building the gala to what it is today. While I loved organizing the gala, I thought that it was time for some new blood to come in and bring fresh ideas.
EH / What is your biggest regret and why?
YH / I try to live my life to the fullest and I am not one to dwell on the past, and for that I feel lucky to say that I don’t have any regrets.
EH / How do you feel about taking no for an answer?
YH / I live my life by my dad’s motto: “I never take no for an answer.”
(L) Carolina Herrera & Yaz Hernández / (R) Kate Winslet & Yaz Hernández.
EH / Who are your heroes?
YH / My heroes are people who take a stand against problems in the world and dedicate themselves to improving people’s lives.
EH / What do you like to do for fun?
YH / I’m the happiest when I’m entertaining friends at my home, particularly when something comes together spur of the moment.
EH / What's the last book you read?
YH / Right now I’m reading Good Hunting by Jack Devine, who ran the CIA’s covert operations in Afghanistan during the Cold War. I recently had the pleasure of meeting him and I’m fascinated by his story.
EH / What three character traits would your friends use to describe you?
YH / I think they would say I’m very bubbly, energetic, and passionate.
Yaz Hernández with:
1. Karl Lagerfeld; 2. Donatella Versace; 3. Plácido Domingo; 4. Narciso Rodríguez; 5. Anna Wintour & Mario Testino; 6. Ángel Sánchez.
EH / What are three positive character traits you have? Three you don't have?
YH / I would say that I am very driven, I care deeply about people, and I’m very lively. As for qualities I don’t have, let’s say patience and leave it at that.
EH / What's the biggest misconception about you?
YH / The biggest misconception about me is that I’m superficial.
EH / Do you have a philosophy by which you live?
YH / Make every day count!
The Couture Council of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology honors Carolina Herrera with its 2014 Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion,-Yaz Hernández serves as Chair of the Couture Council. ■
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