Wes Gordon, creative director of Carolina Herrera, speaks to Hello Fashion about how is keeping the legacy of the label alive with his love for all things pretty and support from Meghan Markle - read more
Wes Gordon is not afraid to say that he likes pretty. Speaking about his SS23 fashion show, the creative director at Carolina Herrera tells us, “I said backstage that I’m tired of apologising for saying it – and this collection was pretty with an exclamation point”.
The designer displayed his confidence at the helm of the American heritage brand through a boldly romantic collection of oversized balloon sleeves in hand-painted tea roses and peonies, ball skirts, feminine tailoring teamed with floral prints; and matching head-to-toe accessories. “It was an embrace of the things I personally love,” he says.
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Wes Gordon inside the Carolina Herrera store on Madison Avenue
Taking inspiration from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, his favourite childhood book, Wes imagined the four walls of the show venue within The Plaza hotel, New York, as if it was itself a secret garden. “All of these floral prints and colours were intertwining and mixing in the show line-up,” he explains, of the looks sent out to a soundtrack of Barbra Streisand classics.
“Mrs Herrera always talks about how the most rebellious thing you can do is to be elegant,” he says, of the legendary founder who sits front row at each of his shows. “If you look back at the 40-plus year history of the house, there have been times when elegance is in, and times when it has been out of fashion. But she has always stayed very true to herself. I think that’s extraordinarily admirable and the reason the house has survived, because we all know when you try to be all things to all people, that’s when you really lose your heart and soul.
Carrying on this mantra for a new generation, Wes’s collections continue the Carolina Herrera signature elements with an unapologetic flourish. “What I aspire to design is an array of superhero capes that should amplify who you are on the inside. I think in this day and age, it’s about personal self-expression and your uniqueness and identity – it’s about finding garments that broadcast to the world who you are.”
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Wes Gordon and supermodel Karlie Kloss at the Met Gala
Before becoming creative director five years ago, Wes spent two seasons consulting during Carolina’s final year at the brand. “It was an extraordinary experience, we really got to know each other well and I’m so grateful for it because essentially, every introduction to, say, a team member or pattern-maker happened alongside her. So it made the transition so seamless and smooth. And we have a great relationship that continues.”
Venezuelan-American designer Carolina founded her eponymous label in 1981. Known personally for her own upscale style, she mixed with the creative talents of the time, from art, literature and the film industry; as well as first ladies – subsequently dressing them for red carpet and society events. “This was a house founded by a brilliant, very chic woman to dress other brilliant, very chic women,” Wes states.
“What’s extraordinary about her is the belief that fashion is so much bigger than a single garment. And you see it in how she lives – and her love of life and family. What I admire most about the house is the consistent embrace of elegance and beauty, but always with a modern twist and American pragmatism.”
Wes was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 80s. “It’s a really beautiful city, it’s kind of ideal,” he smiles. “I’d say it’s about as far south as you can go in the US and still have four different seasons. The people are really lovely and there’s a kind of southern graciousness that’s very much a part of the culture.”
He describes his mother as very elegant and one of his first fashion memories is helping her decide what to wear to work each morning, “And she would indulge me,” he smiles. This enthusiasm for fashion grew and soon he was scouting secondhand coffee table books profiling designers. One of his most memorable was a Valentino tome. “I still remember the smell of the pages and that kind of became my window to looking into the world of fashion.”
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Wes Gordon featured in Episode 3 of the Harry & Meghan Netflix documentary
He would also search for the limited videos and images available on the internet at the time. “Growing up in Atlanta as a little boy who was interested in fashion, I had very little access to it. This was pre-social media and before you could watch any show in the world streamed as it happened.”
Then Dior began uploading shows onto its website during John Galliano’s reign. “I remember watching them and... just the spectacle and grandeur in the cinematic quality of the shows was so bewitching and hypnotising – it was fashion with a capital F.”
When it came to applying to a fashion college, with Central Saint Martins alumni John Galliano and also Alexander McQueen now on his radar, the infamous London college became an obvious choice. That and the fact he knew he would eventually make New York his home, so the idea of spending four years in another city was appealing. So, he enrolled on the foundation course, followed by an MA in fashion design.
Meghan wore a Carolina Herrera dress designed by Wes Gordon to the Annual Salute To Freedom gala
After graduating, he moved to New York to start his own label. “I put together a small capsule of pieces and showed them in a hotel room [during New York Fashion Week]. I stood there all day talking about them during a horrible blizzard,” he remembers.
“It was extraordinarily lucky because some amazing people stopped by, I don’t know if the blizzard played a role because maybe other things were cancelled and they had some openings.” One of the industry insiders that attended was Marigay McKee, the then buyer for Harrods, who bought his collection for the store. Other stockists, including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, soon followed.
Wes Gordon and eponymous designer Carolina Herrera
“I did my own label for seven years, each season led to the next – it really prepared me to be a creative director of a house like Herrera. I learned so much and met so many amazing people and clients.” Said clients included Katy Perry, January Jones, Lena Dunham, Michelle Obama, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (Wes made a cameo appearance in the Harry & Meghan Netflix documentary). “I’ve been lucky to work with talented PR teams who helped facilitate those introductions and those connections,” he says modestly. “And there are certain celebrities who try to find young designers to support and to wear – and that becomes part of their form of self-expression.”
He admits there have been some real “pinch-myself moments”, however there is nothing more pleasing to him than seeing “client strangers” wear his designs. “If I see someone in the street wearing a coat that I’ve designed, or I see someone at a party in a dress, that’s so fun. The idea that someone went into a store or online, with the billions of options she had to choose from, and is wearing something of mine... it’s the coolest thing.”
Wes, his husband glassblower Paul Arnhold, and their young son Henry (they have another baby due this month) divide their time between an urbane Monday to Friday in New York, where they work and entertain; and weekends at their farm in Connecticut.
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Wes Gordon has been the creative director of Carolina Herrera since 2018
“The house was built in the 18th century, which by American standards is as old as it gets. It feels quite English, it’s rural and unpretentious. It’s about relaxing on the weekend – lighting fires in the winter and being outside in the summer. We are rediscovering it again through Henry. It’s good for him, when kids grow up in the city they don’t have exposure to a rat or a cow.”
Despite describing the farmhouse as “simple” he says he’s obsessed with home and decor. “I’d rather spend money on furniture than clothes for myself,” he laughs. Although he does admit, he spent his savings from a summer job at a corporate law firm in Atlanta buying a wardrobe to wear during his internships at Tom Ford and Oscar de la Renta, whilst at Saint Martins.
It was during his time at the college that he really found his own personal style. “I had conflicted ideas of how to dress myself, because I went to a very traditional private school with a uniform, so had limited options of self-expression, although I did push the envelope with shoes and belts.
“Then I found myself living in London and at Saint Martins, which is a very extreme creative environment, so I had to kind of find my identity,” he says, adding that his daily uniform was mainly black, with a good coat to beat the British weather. “Your best investment becomes outerwear because you wear that coat so much going to fabric shops and running around all day.” But prior to college and school he says he was “an old soul” who, from the age of four, only wanted to wear a suit. A classical ideal turned to advantage for him continuing the Herrera legacy.
The interview with Wes Anderson originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of Hello! Fashion.
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