Bright and early this morning, Wes Gordon kicked off Vogue’s third annual Forces of Fashion conference at Spring Studios. His chat with Vogue contributing editor Chloe Malle centered on one of the industry’s most relevant and challenging questions: How do you take up the mantle of a heritage brand and move it forward without losing its codes? At a time when creative directors are spending just a few years at a house—or even just a few seasons—the odds of nailing that sweet spot seem slim. (We’ve all heard the cautionary tales of designers turning a brand’s aesthetic upside down only to alienate its most dedicated customers.) But in his first year as the creative director at Carolina Herrera, Gordon has made it look easy—and fun! He shared a few of his secrets today: from redefining what “elegant” means in 2019 to designing culturally-sensitive collections.
On the importance of happy, joyful clothes in dark times:
Gordon has cheekily called his tenure “the happy era of Herrera,” and said one of his goals is simply to design clothes that make you smile. “The first thing I did this morning was I picked up my phone to look at the news and look at social media, and before the day had even started, I didn’t have a chance to appreciate how beautiful life can be,” he said. “Instead, we’re bombarded by darkness and very serious things we need to address, but in my opinion, the antidote to darkness is not more darkness. It might sound frivolous or silly, but things like a flower arrangement or a pink dress can have little impacts on yourself and other people throughout the day. And I’m committed to making Herrera be the brand that when you zip up that dress, it makes you smile, and [makes] you feel happy and confident.”
On maintaining the house codes…
“You don’t want to mess with the codes of a house,” Gordon said. “Our codes are color, beauty, boldness, integrity, and quality, which in isolation might apply to a lot of things. But the cocktail that’s created by combining them together is uniquely Herrera. What I can do is play ‘favorites’ a little, and since I started, my mission has been about color, and to make the house synonymous with beautiful color. I always say a Herrera woman is in a pink coat when everyone else on the street is in a black coat. On your grayest days, you should wear your brightest colors—that to me is the spirit of Herrera.”
…and on modernizing them:
“The world is very different now than it was in 1981 when Carolina showed her first collection in the Metropolitan Club,” Gordon said. “The question I’m most often asked is, ‘How do you make elegance speak to women in 2019?’ My answer is that elegance can be fun; it can be playful; it doesn’t have to be serious. It can be fun, not starched and formal. Formal is not elegant in this day and age. I think formal is quite often irrelevant.”
On making the seamless transition from apprentice to creative director:
Gordon joined Herrera as a design partner in 2017 before taking over complete creative control last year, and he credits the time he spent working alongside the founder as a key to his success. It was particularly important when it came to meeting the people in her atelier, many of whom had spent decades working for Herrera and were fiercely loyal to her. “I did fittings with her, and the first time I met the pattern makers, she was there,” Gordon said. “The Herrera atelier is the best in New York, with employees by people hand-picked by Carolina herself. It is the highlight of working there.” To spotlight their craftsmanship and talent, he brought three Herrera employees to make a dress from start to finish on-site here at Spring Studios. Throughout the day, Forces of Fashion guests can check in on their progress, ask questions, and get a real, tangible sense of how fashion comes to life.
On cultural appropriation—and learning from your mistakes:
This summer, Gordon’s Resort 2020 collection received some negative press when the Mexican government accused him of cultural appropriation. There was concern that he’d interpreted a few indigenous patterns inappropriately, and during today’s question-and-answer segment of the panel, a guest asked Gordon to explain the situation. “The collection was inspired by a trip my husband and I took to Mexico City, and it was designed with the best of intentions. I know sometimes intent doesn’t matter,” Gordon said. “I learned from the process a lot. I think the moral of the story is that we live in a very different world right now, and we have to respect and understand [other cultures]. That old model of taking an inspiration trip and finding things as you go is very difficult to do in 2019.”
Go Behind the Scenes at the 2019 Forces of Fashion Conference:
Go Behind the Scenes at the 2019 Forces of Fashion Conference
Originally Appeared on Vogue