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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, including El Museo Del Barrio, one of the nation’s most renowned Latino arts institution. 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, and is a past 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.
Married to Valentín Hernández, a Senior Executive at Citigroup, they live 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. She also serves on the board of her family business, 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 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 long-time friends! I am honored to conduct an intimate interview with the illustrious Yaz Hernández.
ELYSZE HELD [E.H.] / 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 [Y.H.] / It took a year to breathe 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 on board.
E.H. / What are your lifelong dreams? Have any of them come to fruition?
Y.H. / When I was growing up it was my dream to work in the fashion industry. I was lucky to have a fruitful career in fashion and today I serve as a trustee of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I am also a past chairman of their Couture Council, a board which supports The Museum at FIT.
E.H. / Who has impacted you most in your life and how?
Y.H. / 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.
E.H. / What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?
Y.H. / 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.
E.H. / What is the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Y.H. / The biggest risk I have ever taken was leaving a successful career in the fashion industry (President of Mondi) to help launch an Internet company during the tech boom in the late 1990s. It was called Español.com, and its 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.
E.H. / What irritates you about other people, and how do you deal with it?
Y.H. / 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.
E.H. / What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you deal with it?
Y.H. / 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.
E.H. / What is the hardest decision you’ve made and how did you come to that decision?
Y.H. / One of the most difficult decisions I have made 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.
E.H. / What is your biggest regret and why?
Y.H. / 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.
E.H. / How do you feel about taking no for an answer?
Y.H. / I live my life by my dad’s motto: “I never take no for an answer.”
E.H. / Who are your heroes?
Y.H. / My heroes are people who take a stand against problems in the world and dedicate themselves to improving people’s lives.
E.H. / What do you like to do for fun?
Y.H. / I’m the happiest when I’m entertaining friends at my home, particularly when something comes together spur of the moment.
E.H. / What three character traits would your friends use to describe you?
Y.H. / I think they would say I’m very bubbly, energetic, and passionate.
E.H. / What are three positive character traits you have? Three you don’t have?
Y.H. / 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.
E.H. / What’s the biggest misconception about you?
Y.H. / The biggest misconception about me is that I’m superficial.
E.H. / Do you have a philosophy by which you live?
Y.H. / Make every day count! ■