When it comes to living fashion legends, Carolina Herrera is a name that tops the list. The illustrious designer, who founded her eponymous brand in 1980, introduced a vision of quintessential American elegance that resonates with women across the world, and Carolina herself is the very embodiment of the fashion house’s ultra-refined style ethos.
Possessing an unequivocal knack for glamorous sophistication, the Venezuelan-born designer quickly became the go-to for the elite, dressing everyone from First Ladies Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Michelle Obama to then-British royalty Meghan Markle within her impressive design career that spans 40 years.
In 2018, at the age of 79, the prolific designer took her final bow at the House of Herrera’s A/W18 show, handing over the creative reins of her American heritage brand to rising design star, Wes Gordon.
Models backstage at Carolina Herrera’s S/S20 show
“Carolina is incredible. She’s the chicest woman on earth. She built this house from nothing and did beautiful work for almost 40 years,” says Wes when asked on how it felt taking over from one of America’s most influential designers.
Shouldering a fashion house of such calibre is no small feat, but factor in that Wes was stepping into the very role that, until then, had been filled by Carolina herself and the expectations were tenfold. However, Wes, who seems remarkably adept at handling the pressure, says, “It’s certainly daunting, but I don’t think about it. I take it one day at a time, and while I would never be able to fill Carolina’s shoes, I absolutely respect what she’s done and go into the office every day just so excited!”
It’s this unadulterated passion that has allowed the Chicago-born designer to manage the transition so effortlessly. At 33, Wes radiates energy and effortless charm. Combine this with his exceptional design mastery and we have a remarkable leader for a beloved classic brand.
Colour takes centerstage in Carolina Herrera's S/S20 collection
Some may call Wes’ appointment as Creative Director of Carolina Herrera serendipity. At the time he was winding down his namesake label in New York, Carolina Herrera was on the search for a creative consultant. A casual meeting with the designer forged an immediate friendship which led to Wes working closely with Carolina at her New York atelier. Fast forward a few seasons, and it was evident that she saw Wes’ immense potential, entrusting him with the creative stewardship of her critically acclaimed empire when she took a step back into an ambassadorial role for the house in 2018.
“I grew up in America loving fashion, and if you grow up anywhere loving fashion, you will be aware of Carolina Herrera. But never would the young me have believed that I would be here someday,” Wes says humbly of his appointment.
Wes has ushered the heritage house into a distinct, contemporary direction since his debut Resort 2019 collection. “To me, Herrera is a rainbow in a cloudy sky. It’s a brand that celebrates joy, laughter, love and beauty in the most beautiful dreamy colours and gorgeous prints to create clothes that immediately make you the most fascinating and fabulous woman in the room,” says Wes. “Dressing tastefully doesn’t have to be formal or old-fashioned. The question I ask myself every season is: how can a woman dress elegantly and beautifully – the ultimate ideals of Carolina – in a way that feels 2020?”
California's superbloom phenomenon was the inspiration behind Wes Gordon's S/S20 collection for Carolina Herrera
The answer, it seems, is an inventive use of colour, contemporary prints, sculptural draping and unexpected detailing, which have fast become a hallmark of Wes Gordon’s Carolina Herrera. “I’m not her and I never will be,” says the designer of his decision to pursue a new brand perspective. “If Carolina believed I was going to keep everything as it was and make it a museum, she would have never chosen me. She believes in me being me and trusts that I will evolve the brand accordingly. I’m drawing, designing and creating things that I think are beautiful. I’m 33, so I’m creating things that women I know would want to wear,” he smiles.
His energetic vision shines through in his vibrant S/S20 collection. Inspired by California’s 2019 wildflower super bloom – when the Golden State saw an extraordinary bounty of blooms crop up after a rainy downpour – the designer translated this rare and magical botanical phenomenon into a joyous collection that was showcased at Manhattan’s Battery Gardens during New York Fashion Week. “Super bloom is when an area that is totally desolated by drought unexpectedly experiences a tremendous amount of rain and all dormant plants suddenly explode into life. There are wildflowers and colours as far as you can see!” describes Wes exuberantly. “The super bloom represents everything I love and want Herrera to be, it was so appropriate that this would be inspiration for S/S20.”
Gordon stage the brand's S/S20 show at Manhattan's Battery Gardens
The pivotal collection was met with widespread acclaim for fusing his contemporary vision while staying faithful to the Herrera legacy. The result: an eye-catching collection designed to withstand the test of time. “I like creating pieces that don’t look like anyone else’s right now. There should be something emotional about the pieces we create that appeals to a wide spectrum of women, something that makes their hearts beat a little faster, something that makes them smile. We’re not your basic black turtleneck brand, we carry them, but I want our woman to come to us when they need something hot pink to steal the attention of everyone in the room. That’s when you come to Herrera.
"We can’t help but wonder if Carolina is still involved with the current design process? “Carolina is now the global brand ambassador on a macro level but she’s not involved with the collections of which I am Creative Director,” Wes explains. “That’s by her own choosing. She believed that it was in everyone’s best interest, especially mine, if I have the space and the independence to make my own mistakes and really learn on my own. I see her around twice a month when we talk about everything else but work. I know for sure that if I ever had a problem, she would be there to guide me. She’s always there to support me.”
From Harper's BAZAAR Arabia March 2020 Issue
Images courtesy of Carolina Herrera