Wes Gordon, the adopted Native New Yorker, on designing for Carolina Herrera
It’s hard to think of a designer more in synch with the ethos of a great fashion house than Wes Gordon, the creative director of Carolina Herrera.
This week, Gordon unveiled his sixth main collection for Herrera since joining in 2018, staging a memorable ode to New York City, as his cast swirled around the upper reaches of the Empire State Building and danced in the upstairs of an open-top bus, wrapped in the Herrera red logo – during a snowstorm.
Herrera remains one of the few true couture houses in America, in many way the ultimate patrician label, and the uniform of choice for the world’s wealthiest customers of the past half century, the upper East Side grand dames and their daughters of New York. Though Gordon actually lives downtown, in Chelsea near the High Line.
Pre-lockdown, Gordon had ranged about Manhattan to stage shows, from the Historical Society on the Upper West Side to Battery Park to the bizarre expanding Shed in Hudson Yards.
Though born in Chicago, Gordon’s Fall/ Winter 2021 collection was very much a tribute to his adopted city, backed up by the great disco anthem, 'Native New Yorker.' And an ode to the Carolina Herrera aesthetic – with maxi polka-dot cocktails, hyper-sized red giraffe-print pants suits; or hyper elegant crepe pantsuits with jet heart embroidery. Gals in sophisticated knits strolling in front of the façade of Grand Central Station, before they all end up on Time Square with micro sequin ball gowns and rainbow skirts, either finished with puff sleeves or trimmed with pink chiffon; led by Alec Wek in clouds of blood orange organza. All wearing masks as they pose under giant Broadway musical ads in the Crossroads of the World.
The house of Carolina Herrera is part of the fashion empire controlled by the Catalan family of Puig, which includes Jean Paul Gaultier, Paco Rabanne and Dries Van Noten, though it has always very much been the toniest brand in the stable. That remains the case under Wes’ direction.
So, we caught up with Gordon in a Zoom from his Seventh Avenue studio for a discussion on creating for an iconic American house and designing during the pandemic.
Fashion Network: Why did you want to create a love letter to your adopted city?
Wes Gordon: I am a huge New York fan. And right now, New York seems like it needs love and optimism. It’s been a very tough 12 months; we are in winter and outside it's dark at 4.30 p.m. I think we need an uplifting moment for the whole industry. The shows are the dessert for all the hard work we do, so it’s tough when you take away the infectious enthusiasm for fashion. This was our attempt to bring back a little of that. Plus, I love those disco years. The song 'Native New Yorker' is so catchy, and the lyrics are quite beautiful: “No one opens the door for a Native New Yorker.” I love that.
FNW: What’s your definition of the DNA of Carolina Herrera?
WG: An especially fearless and fabulous woman. Someone who celebrates getting dressed up and wearing clothes. The iconic image of Mrs. Herrera by Andy Warhol, when you walk in the door. Red lips, earrings, saturated colors, vivacious joy and vitality and an exclamation point in an utterly chic way! The very antithesis of boring gray. The Herrera woman is head to toe in pink when everyone else is in oatmeal of black. And I feel so honored to have the opportunity to making my own mark on my house.
FNW: How has your own sense of aesthetics changed since joining Carolina Herrera?
WG: I joined three years ago, after Mrs Herrera’s final show inside the Museum of Modern Art in February 2018. I have such an honour to join a unique and wonderful house. My role is a balancing act between the flamboyant and the sophisticated.
FNW: How have you worked during the lockdown?
WG: I come in five days a week to our office on 37th street and 7th Avenue. And have done since June. You can only do so many Zooms, or look at so many excel sheets with target fabric prices. Fashion is an old school craft that needs your presence.
FNW: How do you create for an American brand, which is practically a couture house, when so few events are taking place for women to wear your creations?
WG: Yes, Carolina Herrera is a couture house. One of the last American couture houses, since there is no more Bill Blass, Halston or Geoffrey Beene. Internationally this has been the brand that Americans and international women came to when they had an event. What happens when those occasions stop? Well, first of all we still sell a lot of bridal as women are still getting married. However, now, they are purchasing when there is an emotional connection and not because there is something in six weeks and they need a gown. Maybe they see online a sweater or print that speaks emotionally to them and they want that. A lot more knits; and we have been posing ourselves the question, 'how do the needs of the lockdown translate into a great white shirt or great oversized pants?' People are still in love and Covid has not stopped that. But they no longer have a 600-person wedding in a great church. Instead five people in City Hall or in a back yard. But her idea of a dream dress is not being altered.
FNW: What did you want to suggest in this new collection?
WG: To emphasize lightening construction – gone are the days when women were willing to sacrifice their comfort to look good. That is one thing that will stay after Covid. And I want to show that while travelling around New York, as we shot one third of the film on top of the Empire State Building. I wanted to play with colour, perspective and angles.
While for our lookbook, we worked again with Roe Etheridge, who is more an art photographer than a fashion photographer, which brought a different approach, which I love. Besides being a really nice guy, Roe has great energy, and you need that when shooting six models and 40 looks in one day!
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