It's early Monday morning and Wes Gordon is already laughing on Zoom, iced coffee in hand, wearing a cozy blue and purple sweater, and a row of framed fashion sketches on the wall behind him. The creative director is a day away from the launch of Carolina Herrera's Fall/Winter 2021 collection, an ode to the iconic fashion house's hometown. "This collection is a celebration of New York," he explains. "Carolina Herrera was started in 1981, 40 years ago, in New York. This house is a cornerstone of New York Fashion Week, and we’re very proud residents of New York." And while the past format of having 700+ guests attending the latest runway collection wasn't an option, Gordon worked with six models to show off some of the city's most iconic locales as a backdrop for the season, shooting from inside the Empire State Building and standing on the roof of a double-decker bus in the middle of Times Square during a snowstorm.
"It’s such a ridiculous question if New York will come back," he goes on. "New York can be down a little bit, but then it comes roaring right back. It’s a sure thing like spring coming after winter. That optimism and that confidence, that fabulousness and that triumph are all of the things we celebrate at Herrera." This season marks not only the 40 year anniversary of Carolina Herrera, but also Gordon's three-year mark at the helm, and a full year of designing amidst the headaches of a global pandemic. Gordon, who has been heading into the office 5 days a week since June, says that through the difficulties of the pandemic, he has also found a renewed appreciation of his team and a chance to slow down and focus. He explains that collections are smaller due in part to safety precautions and able manpower amidst Covid restrictions, but also, "the ability to really focus 110% on every piece and just make sure that [it] is something special."
Though sweatpants have become the defacto outfit of many over the last year, Gordon explains that not only are the brand's signature gowns still selling, but that women all over the globe are still seeking clothes that allow them to celebrate milestones in their lives — weddings and birthdays included — while perhaps on a smaller scale. "Instead of going to the store to buy a piece of clothing to wear for that celebration, now we’re hoping to make clothes that can turn any moment into a celebration," he notes. "That drama of a big gown or spectacular fun cocktail dress can be applied to a cotton shirt, a great knit top, or we have some amazing big sequin pajama pants that we currently have out from Resort. Now more than ever it's important to have clothes that make you smile and make you happy and make you excited to get dressed." This is surely the feeling that consumers will walk away with after taking in the latest collection (a mix of said shirts and gowns alike), filled with texture, artistic prints, sorbet hues, and, a central motif throughout, hearts.
During his tenure at Carolina Herrera, Gordon has continued to infuse a youthful energy into the storied brand — shortening hemlines and styling full skirts with flats and t-shirts. He cites Mia Farrow and Rosemary's Baby as a recent source of inspiration — "that silhouette and that ease, and the flat shoe and the little dress. Our woman is not passive, she is energized." But, the 34-year-old designer is also ushering in a new Gen-Z-approved commitment to sustainability. He explains, "we’re upcycling materials, and even zooming out from that, there’s a focus on making sure that everything is something special that you’re going to have and cherish and wear for a while. That in and of itself is the embodiment of sustainability ... buying less."
But in a way that can be challenging for many designers, Gordon is able to forge ahead — looking back through the archive for inspiration that fits a new era, without losing sight of a brand's place in history. A tie-neck blouse with a ruffle is a riff on the gingham top Mrs. Herrera (as Gordon reverentially refers to her) wore for her first runway show. Gordon also looked to one of his early memories with the brand for inspiration. One of my first Met [Gala] looks was Lena Waithe [wearing a rainbow-striped cape in 2018] and so this is that same technique, where we French seam together all these panels together to make that rainbow stripe and then put it with a little knit top with a heart." There's a nostalgia for great fashion moments past and for the precious joy of dressing up, but Gordon is charging ahead, unstoppably positive in the midst of a time when he acknowledges that it can seem bleak.
"Anyone who is making anything right now deserves a huge gold star, high five, pat on the back because all odds are stacked against you. Whenever a brand chooses to show, however they choose to show ... whether it's one piece or 100, whether it's beautiful or not beautiful, it's such a triumph that they’re making," he says. "That said, it was really important to all of us at Herrera to do something to mark New York Fashion Week, the New York fashion collections, and the magic of this city and the American fashion industry because it's so much bigger than just New York, it's something that affects the entire country."
In times like these, there are clothing brands whose job it is to make you feel protected, to serve a practical purpose, to make it so you don't have to think about getting dressed anymore. Carolina Herrera isn't that brand. Gordon's approach sets out to change the narrative, to embody excitement, and to remind you of the joys, small and large, that came with putting together a great outfit.