Wes Gordon on being a dad, staging a show during a pandemic and making Carolina Herrera fabulously sustainable
Few fashion houses pulled off a show with such aplomb in the tricky current conditions of the current pandemic as Carolina Herrera, where the house’s artistic director has carved out a fresh take on uptown classical since arriving four years ago.
Doubly impressively, the 34-year-old Gordon did so after a particularly busy summer when he became a young father. Despite his acutely busy schedule, Gordon pulled off a great intimate show, staged inside an Upper East Side mansion just off Central Park.
So, we caught up with Wes two days after the Met Gala, where he appeared like a Golden Age of Hollywood leading man, alongside Karlie Kloss in a dramatically sinful red ballgown. Another Herrera creation by Gordon also looked great on Leylah Fernandez – the recent tennis finalist in the US Open - who appeared in a black-and-white striped cocktail.
FashionNetwork.com: How have you been since we last spoke?
Wes Gordon: Well, we became parents. Now we have a baby boy. Henry is three months old, so between designing collections and staging a show and being a dad I’ve been kinda busy.
FNW: How did you organize a show during the pandemic?
WG: We needed to be realistic. As much as we would like to be done with Covid-19 we are still in Covid-19. And at the end of the day, Godfrey, there should not be a public health risk. This should not be something people come to and either get sick or sit there worried and uncomfortable. So, we made a decision from the very beginning that yes, we are excited to be getting closer to normal, but let's not get carried away. We limited our audience to only 100 people where previously we were at like 800. And the beauty of that is that it allowed me to look at venues that we could never otherwise use.
FNW: Like the location on the Upper East Side?
WG: Yes, it opened a whole new world. We could use spaces like this art gallery rather than just a huge space. So, it was a much more intimate show. We chose this venue also because it's broken up into four rooms so everyone didn’t feel bunched together and instead of bench seating everyone got individual chairs. And we required vaccination for all guests and everyone at the house, no exceptions. Every model, every lighting tech', hairdresser, everyone vaccinated or no admission. And, in addition, the audience was required to wear a mask and everyone backstage was required to wear a mask. The only people unmasked in the building unless they were breaking the rules were the models.
FNW: The last time you actually did a live show was 18 months ago in The Shed? Right?
WG: Exactly, and that's 800 people in one big room. It would be very irresponsible of us to try to recreate that this season.
FNW: When one thinks of Carolina Herrera one always thinks about dressing women impeccably for professional life but also for social occasions, balls, parties, openings, weddings. We’ve gone through 18 months where there was very little of that. How did your thinking change about design because of that?
WG: I think during my time at Herrera I've really seen us have a conversation with the customer. Whether it's on the road at trunk shows or over the past year and a half on Zoom. All of these times to better understand exactly what it is she’s looking for, taking design risks, maybe there's a dress that speaks to her, maybe next season try to offer her the jacket. And just evolving with her. So, the common thread always is that the Herrera woman is a thrilling woman who is looking for thrilling clothes and leads a thrilling life and she understands that getting dressed is powerful. So, what we saw in our lockdown was she still wanted to put on a beautiful dress and feel amazing. And maybe that dress is in cotton instead of Duchess satin, but my Herrera woman is never looking for boring, ordinary, basic pieces. During the time of absolute lockdown, I pushed myself to take the drama and the exuberance of some of our formal and evening dresses and render it in cotton and a little more like lifestyle items. But what we’re really seeing now is an excitement about getting dressed again. We are seeing it with current collections in stores. And we are just seeing I think more than anytime I can remember as a designer, a real passion and excitement for getting dressed and just being back.
FNW: What else have you got in the pipeline for the brand or projects coming online?
WG: I think one of our big pushes right now is that we are seeking ways in which we can be as sustainable as possible. So, each season we are making huge strides on that front. And I'm really proud of taking on the entire company and the initiatives we’ve taken there. And we’ve also just launched e-commerce and we’re warming that up locally in addition to launching in beauty, which we started last year. We’re at the very beginning of distribution. We’re introducing that to the United States. I'm really proud to establish clear brand codes of boldness and color and exuberance and fabulousness that we’re now able to translate to the beauty that we’re really ramping up.
FNW: Carolina Herrera is part of the Puig family’s extended empire in beauty and perfume and fashion. That includes brands like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Paco Rabanne and now Dries Van Noten. Four years ago, you took on the role of artistic director at Herrera, one of the most important houses of New York. What did these Puig gentlemen from Barcelona give you as a brief?
WG: I have had nothing but the loveliest working relationship with Marc and Manuel Puig and everyone from Spain. I think that what I've always so admired about them is their incredibly deep reverence for Mrs. Herrera and the house that she built. And I don't think that's always the case with parent companies and brands that they own. And it's really something that’s inspiring and infectious. It makes me very reverential about the house. And you know I think the unspoken brief is to carry the torch forward and ruffle our audience, make the values and principles of Mrs. Herrera and her elegance and her fabulousness speak to a new generation and new audience. Without, however, ever compromising or disrespecting the integrity of the house. And I think that that’s something I really respect about the Puigs.
FNW: Finally, I find, I think like quite a lot of people, that under your direction it's a slightly younger Herrera, a younger gal. Is that a conscious thing or does it just come out instinctively?
WG: You know, I am younger than Mrs. Herrera and as a male designer my reference points are women in my life, my friends, women I associate with and seeing how they dress and what they are looking for. I try not to think of age when I design, I try to rather think of spirit and a type and an energy. The woman who is looking to be unforgettable. At the risk of sounding cocky, it’s a woman who when she goes to a party doesn’t just want to just blend in, right? She’s the one who wants people to talk about what she’s wearing no matter who she is wearing and that to me is not something about geography, it’s not about age, it's not about a size. It's an attitude and a confidence and I think just my personal parameter and personal filter and how beauty speaks more to my peer group. But what I'm very proud of and what I can say factually is from our retail point of view and our customers, we haven't lost our long-time Herrera clients. So, they continue to shop - those who have always shopped Herrera. And now we are also seeing new women come to shop with us as well. And that's a line that I strive to really carefully walk. To make sure there’s something for everyone when she comes to the store.
FNW: You looked very dapper at the Met Gala. Though there was a certain amount of Internet and mainstream media comment that perhaps this whole event had all got a bit too much. What do you think?
WG: Yes, I know there was a certain amount of comment. But I have to confess all I thought was that after all this time it was great to finally be out there at an evening where people cared so much about their appearance! And enjoying themselves doing so. Personally, I had a great time!
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