If you know Carmen, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that she’s something of a posterchild for fearlessness. This is the woman who carried on working through a military coup-d’état in Caracas, got seriously stern with French luxury fashion bosses in the 90s when she was just in her early 20s so they would allow her to sell in Latin America, invested a whopping amount of that hard-earned money into Natalie Massenet’s then-unheard of idea when no one else would, and then stood up to Richemont bosses in the dealings of the 2015 merger and valuation of Net-a-Porter.
Let alone the fear that tends to plague women most of all - marriage. Carmen has decided not to marry, a feat in today’s society, which never seems to take the pressure off. And particularly for someone who comes from a Latin background, who shielded herself from the machismo mentality that ensues there.
So how does she do it? “I’m not afraid of facing my fears. It’s not that I don’t feel fear, it’s just that you have to recognize that you feel fear, but you say ‘this is what I am afraid of, so I’m going to go towards it’”, Carmen explains. It brings to mind the 1987 cult self-help book Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. Carmen assures me she has a copy.
“But there can be a healthy amount of fear, sometimes it’s good”, she adds. “There is a fearless trait that I believe also comes from our family, from the Cuban side.” (They fought in the Cuban revolution.) “And I mean, my brother died of Russian roulette - you shouldn’t disguise fear with adrenaline. You need to analyse and understand it. Fear gives you a perspective of your limitations, and helps you see whether you want to challenge yourself or not, and your motivations for wanting to.”
Confused as to whether she is pro or anti fear, I ask her how she is able to discern between what a healthy amount of fear is, and when it’s destructive – how do you know where do you draw the line? “Meditation” she answers.
'Fear gives you a perspective of your limitations, and helps you see whether you want to challenge yourself or not, and your motivations for wanting to.'
Carmen’s dedication to meditation and other mindfulness practices, something she is increasingly becoming a big advocate of, have always been her way of countering the fear that comes with having her life. And it pays off – evidenced by the fact that despite having ups and downs in business, her intuition has been so well-honed that she continues to invest in those she believes in, evidenced by her growing portfolio of companies.
Another fear that she’s had to overcome more and more in recent years is public speaking. Being half-deaf and dyslexic, worrying about saying things correctly and hearing well enough to engage with someone while being on stage is anxiety-inducing in the best of us. Carmen says she’s knocked this one out too, knowing she has a lot more value to add by getting up there, sharing expertise and inspiring others.
“What still scares you, then?” I ask, trying to poke holes. “Marriage” she says and laughs, but then pauses to reflect. “It’s actually not marriage that scares me, but more the idea of dependency – having to depend on someone else. I don’t believe in marriage the same way I don’t believe in institutionalized religion, and I think our goal as women is to really learn to not be co-dependent when it comes to men, but healthily interdependent. We do need people – no man is an island, but at the end of the day it’s your own decisions that result in your survival and your success.”