Wes Gordon says 'unapologetic fabulousness' is his vision for Carolina Herrera

The label's creative director on high-octane glamour, his celebratory resort collection and his formidable predecessor

Wes Gordon, creative director of Carolina Herrera. Photo: Carolina Herrera
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“Everyone has overdosed on stuff,” says Wes Gordon. “You don’t want more stuff; you want good things, things you love, things that are emotional. I try to make sure that everything we do is extra vivacious and exuberant — everything needs to be fabulous.”

As Carolina Herrera’s creative director since 2018, Gordon is used to creating lavish, exuberant collections, and his take on bold patterning and bright colours is widely credited for reinvigorating the house for a new audience.

For his resort 2023 collection, which arrives in stores in November, he has conjured up chic clothing that leans into couture techniques — with a twist. “Something I have really been working on since I have been at Carolina Herrera is taking the very iconic codes of Herrera evening and cocktail — the glamour and the volume — and translating them into a compelling daywear collection that feels very much at one with the house and is just as exciting.”

Scroll through the gallery below to see highlights from Carolina Herrera's resort 2023 collection

This unfurls in oversized floral prints, eye-popping colours, animalia, drapery and skilful tailoring, now rendered largely in cotton. The collection’s opening look, a glamorous off-the-shoulder dress with dramatic sleeves and a full skirt, is, for example, crafted from cherry-print cotton faille.

Meanwhile, classic blue pinstripe cotton shirting, with all its masculine overtones, is reworked into a ruched, fitted, 1950s-style sweetheart dress, with a halterneck and flared skirt. “I like that this is a humble fabric, classic men’s shirting, but done in a beautiful, feminine way.”

While the glamour is vintage Herrera, the joyful patterning is very much Gordon’s own and is, in part, his response to the restrictions of the pandemic and a collective relief that the darkest days seem to be over.

“For this season, there was such a celebratory feel. Birthday parties have become three-day affairs and weddings that were postponed for two years are now happening with double the energy. There is so much pent-up joy, so the resort collection is really about a Riviera getaway, and all the things that entails. The glamour, sensuality, the journey, the sunshine.”

Aged 35, Gordon’s rise has been rapid. Having graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2009, and following brief stints at Tom Ford and Oscar de la Renta, Gordon ran his eponymous label in New York for eight years, before being hand-picked to head Herrera.

Describing it as a “pinch myself moment”, he describes how, when Carolina Herrera, the designer, decided to step down from her eponymous label at the age of 79, he was approached by brand president Emily Rubinfeld as a potential successor. While familiar with the house, he didn’t know its founder, who he respectfully refers to as Mrs Herrera.

Carolina Herrera stepped away from her eponymous brand at the age of 79. Reuters

“I had met her once or twice, like a million people, at a party where you say hi and are kind of star-struck, but nothing beyond that,” he recalls. With a clear overlap between their aesthetics, Gordon was eventually summoned to meet the designer in her office. “I found out on Sunday night, actually, a text asking if I could meet her first thing on Monday morning. It would have been nice to buy a new outfit for it and maybe get a haircut,” he quips.

“She is extraordinary. There are very few people whose presence in real life is as big as how you imagine it to be, but she is one of those.”

Despite being “very nervous”, Gordon says the pair instantly hit it off. “We spent about three minutes talking about work, and the remainder of the hour talking about life, favourite restaurants in New York, books we were reading, our dogs, and I think that told her more about me than any portfolio.

“She is so romantic in her belief that fashion is so much more than a dress. The quest for beauty and the ability to create beauty is such a noble thing. It’s those little details that have always been so important to her, and it’s a belief and a love that I share as well, and that was our common ground.”

Unusually for a handover, Gordon worked alongside Herrera for months, as she introduced him to every aspect of the house she built. “I think what made it such a smooth transition was Mrs Herrera herself and that opportunity to spend that year with her, introducing me to the pattern-makers, and being in fittings together.”

Models on the Carolina Herrera catwalk during New York Fashion Week on February 14. Reuters

Since it was founded in 1981, the label has always taken its cues from couture and has its own in-house atelier, one of the few American brands still able to make such a claim. It is this access and expertise that has shaped the resort 2023 collection. “I am very lucky to work with our factory and, more importantly, our atelier,” says Gordon. “We have a full atelier, which very few American brands continue to do, and that’s why you see pieces like this.

“They’ve been made by pattern cutters and seamstresses who have spent decades draping precious silks and embroideries and are now taking that expertise and applying it to cotton, denim and gabardine, and creating something really magical for a woman in 2022.”

An understated floor-length shirt dress, for example, is elegantly darted into the waist and has bishop sleeves, while a bustier top has a matching cape that can be worn either as a dramatic hood or pushed back off the shoulders as a stole. Elsewhere, a cherry-print fitted dress is cut to spill off one shoulder.

Gordon utilises the atelier to create evening looks, such as a pink floor-length gown entirely covered in embroidered flowers that he wanted to look “as if you are looking down onto the top of a bouquet of pink carnations”. There is a sheath dress covered in sequin payettes, oversewn with chunky crystals, and a strapless jumpsuit covered in metres of gathered taffeta that releases into a train at the back.

Elsewhere, there is a dramatic cropped puffed dress with a back that Gordon calls a “brush stroke of perfect red faille”, while a 1980s drop-waist cocktail dress in pink and red not only captures his favourite colour combination, but also the spirit of the Herrera woman. “She is unforgettable. I always say the Herrera woman is the one on the sidewalk in hot pink, red or yellow, when everyone else is wearing beige.”

One key element of Gordon’s work is that, while steeped in glamour, it is never fussy and, as such, feels effortless. Case in point, a floor-length gold-knit dress that is chic enough for the evening, yet soft enough to be rolled up into a carry-on bag. “It’s that pragmatism, that zip-and-go approach, that almost sportswear sensibility of great American fashion that is so fabulous,” Gordon says.

He has created other resort pieces that are transformable, such as a mini skirt with a removable tulle train, and a delicate chiffon gown in a poppy print, with a detachable cape, that Gordon dubs a “perfect Dubai dress”.

Of course, one of the label’s enduring silhouettes will always be Herrera’s own signature – a crisp shirt worn with a full, ball skirt. Instead of trying to alter it, Gordon embraces it, offering new iterations each season. For resort, it arrives twice: as a midi-length leopard-print skirt, worn with an oversized pinstripe shirt; and as a floor-length skirt with a jersey top in a matching blue poppy print, albeit in a different scale. This is a ritual he has been practising since he first joined the house.

Backstage during the Carolina Herrera autumn / winter 2022 presentation at New York Fashion Week. AP

“When Mrs Herrera had the show that marked the transition from her to me, I surprised her at the end with a parade of all the models wearing ball skirts and white cotton shirts, each a different colour, an homage to her most signature look. Since then, I always make sure to have a new update,” he says.

Even though Herrera is no longer part of the company, the pair remain in regular contact. One topic, however, remains off limits. “We don’t talk about the collection. The first time she will see the collection is at the show. So, that’s a very scary thing, but also it has given me the space to find my own voice at Herrera. Every day I realise how much courage and trust that took on her part.”

Describing it as an “evolution rather than a revolution”, the fact that Gordon’s vision is so aligned with the founder’s is a boon to his tenure. “I feel very lucky to be at a house where my aesthetics, gut instincts, taste and preferences are harmonious with the brand’s DNA,” he says.

Of course, when it comes to knowing his client, Gordon has a little help. “I am actually sitting in a room with the Warhol [painting] of Mrs Herrera, and there she is with the bold jewellery, the technicolour lips, the eye liner. And that’s our woman. That’s who we are as a house, just unapologetic fabulousness and glamour. It’s about being the most empowered and beautiful version of yourself – and owning it.”

Updated: September 10, 2022, 4:52 AM
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