"Being a house that stands for pretty is a wonderful thing," exclaims Wes Gordon, the 32-year-old creative director of Carolina Herrera, when we talk to him at Milk Studios in Manhattan. Gordon assumed the helm from the founder in February 2018 after spending a year working by her side as a consultant. "She is our Coco Chanel," he says, admiringly. "I'm lucky to go to a great American house that I love and respect. We have the most incredible soul."
Gordon's three collections so far for Herrera have won critical acclaim and, more importantly perhaps, can be seen on women walking red carpets and city streets. He's hewed close to Herrera's exuberant elegance, while shortening some hemlines and lightening a few materials. "Cotton fabrications take the fabulousness of Herrera and apply it to day," he explains of a few more relaxed dresses for spring. As with every season, there are the house's signature polka dots and shirtdress, which Gordon characteristically instructs that you can "either dress up or dress down—well, you would never really dress down," he self-corrects. "I'm not really into subtlety."
Spring explodes with enlarged chiné floral patterns, a reference to the "super bloom" of wildflowers that occurred in California following the drought last year. "The responsibility of all of us in fashion is to provide happiness where we can in this dark world," says Gordon. For him, fashion extends well beyond clothes. "It's a world, it's the way we live, it's the way you set your table, it's the vacations you take, it's the jokes you tell, it's the food you eat, the flowers you get on 28th Street (in Manhattan), it's these moments that paint the three-dimensional picture. I think it's really hard and so boring when a company neglects all of those things and just focuses on a yard of fabric and what that makes."
This outlook was shared by Herrera. "We would be in fittings talking about a TV show we had watched the other night or sharing a laugh about a funny joke we had heard the other day or talking about our dogs. It all blends together," says Gordon. "It's that same love of joy and seeking to find joy and beauty, not just in your closet but in all aspects of life."
Gordon and his husband, the glass artist Paul Arnhold, have found their slice of joy on a farm in Ridgefield County, Connecticut, near Arnhold's parents' home. "We have 14 horses, a couple dozen cows, a hundred chickens, sheep, goats, bunnies. We have two new barn kittens right now that have been very fun and then our dog, Birdie [a Cockapoo], who comes back and forth [to New York City] with us," he says. "I'll come into the office on Mondays with eggs for all of the seamstresses. I curate our chickens based on the color eggs they lay. So, I have green, blue, dark brown and white eggs."
Gordon works closely with the atelier located a floor below the design studio. "There's a constant dialog and conversation between the design team and the pattern makers and seamstresses and cutters; that's what really leads to the beautiful pieces that you see today—and that's incredibly rare now, almost unheard of, for an American fashion house to still have an atelier of our size and quality."
These ties to the past, both in technique and taste, have made Gordon's transition smoother than that of other creative directors. He understands the current Herrera customer, feels loyal to her, and yet knows that he must reach out to younger shoppers, too. "I want to bring in a new audience without losing the appeal to customers who have been with us forever," he says. "I really try for Herrera to help women to be elegant in a way that still feels cool and modern and relevant. We do that with color and we do that with relaxed fits. We do that with playful details. We have cardigans that have little crystal bugs sewn on them, things that make you smile, things that start conversations, kind of shattering this myth that elegance is formal." He's also made the trademark Herrera bows detachable. "No one ties bows how we like them so we just added hooks."
"There's a reason why the world's most fabulous women have worn Carolina Herrera since '81," he says. "It's fabric on a hanger until a woman puts it on."