It's hard to imagine a job more challenging for a fashion designer than taking over the house of a still-living founder. There's a delicate balancing act of breathing new life into an existing label while working with the established codes — all while trying to neither step on the toes of nor kowtow to your predecessor.
Wes Gordon has been walking that tightrope at Carolina Herrera with such skill, it's like he was born for it. From the moment he took over at the venerated American fashion brand for the Resort 2019 collection, his designs have reflected an obvious respect for Herrera herself, adroitly infused with his own fresh spark of ideas. It's almost as though he and Herrera speak a shared language, which is what makes his plans for the brand at New York Fashion Week all the more clever.
Like many of the tentpole American designers, Carolina Herrera is absent from this September's calendar, opting not to show a Spring 2021 collection in the wake of this year's coronavirus crisis. But Gordon didn't feel it was right to let a fashion week pass by without the presence of the House of Herrera. So instead, he asked Mrs. Herrera — as he respectfully and affectionately calls her — to sit down with him for an all-encompassing conversation, appropriately dubbed "The Conversation," discussing everything from their design philosophies to Andy Warhol portraits.
The two clearly share a very special bond that shines through "The Conversation", all the more charming when you learn that was shot at Mrs. Herrera's home in one day, following tight health and safety protocols. Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland caught the unrehearsed chat on video, which is broken into four episodes: "Fashion Is Magical", "I Love New York", "Life Is in the Details" and "The House of Herrera."
It's a treat to hear these stories directly from an American fashion icon like Mrs. Herrera — even if it means we'll have to wait a bit longer to see what Gordon has in mind for Summer 2021. Watch the full series and hear from Gordon himself about the inspiration behind the series and what he hopes viewers take away from the experience.
Obviously, it's a strange season, so I would love to know how you came up with the idea to have these conversations with Ms. Herrera this season instead of showing.
It is a different season! And to be honest with you, Tyler, it just felt right. For 39 years, Carolina Herrera has been a pillar of New York Fashion Week and we didn't want this season to be an exception. In fact, more than ever, I wanted to do something really honest and special and hopeful, because I think that's what we all need right now. So, quite literally, I wanted to go home: I wanted to bring our customers home, I wanted to bring our audience home and we went to Mrs. Herrera's house, the woman who founded this brand, and the two of us sat in her living room and we just talked. We talked as two friends.
It's interesting because I have a great relationship with her. And I've seen her obviously many times since she retired two years ago, but I never talked to her about fashion. We never sit and have a conversation about our ideas of beauty or what part of the design process we most enjoy. Instead, our conversations are always much more social and relating to the TV show we're watching or a new restaurant or our dogs. That's been our special bond, but this was the first moment where we actually sat down and talked about the biggest thing that we have in common, which is fashion and design.
How did you come up with the questions that you wanted to discuss with her?
It was really organic and really natural. What I love about Mrs. Herrera is that she makes me laugh; she inspires me, she gives me hope. She tells stories that are the most hilarious stories you'll ever hear, and it's a lucky few who are close enough to her to get to hear those. I wanted all of our customers and audience to have a window into that, and so in the conversation and in the questions, it was about mixing in the bigger philosophical questions — Where does good tastes come from? What is beauty? Where do you look for beauty? — while still allowing for her magical stories and memories and, for example, talking about how she came to get her Andy Warhol portrait or anecdotal stories about her first show, that time Steve Rubell wasn't allowed into the Metropolitan Club because he didn't have a tie on and had to run across the street to Bergdorf's. These stories are magic. These stories capture the hope and energy and excitement of New York, and no one tells them better than she does.
What did you learn in these conversations about Mrs. Herrera? Was there anything that surprised you?
Every time I talk to her, I learn a new fabulous story — and Tyler, you have to understand that we had a short window to do this. It was a half day of filming; we were very mindful of Covid and safety measures, so it was a very small crew. This was like a one and done, so it was very honest. There was not a script, there were no rehearsals. And what I think I really took away from her was a message of hope and optimism, and that things will be okay, that there was always a place for beauty, that the world always needs beauty and wants beauty and that everything is going to be all right. To hear it from a woman of her experience and her wisdom, it was impactful to me.
Something that I have particularly found so inspiring about this time — which, obviously, has been so challenging for everyone — is watching how designers have found ways to connect with their clients or their customers in these really creative but really personal ways, and this feels like that to me. I'm curious what you're hoping the Carolina Herrera client will get out of the experience of watching these conversations between the two of you.
I think now is a time for honesty and for pulling away the curtains, just being real and speaking from the heart, being sincere, and that was really my goal with her. That was her goal as well. This is not about special effects or big, grand production. This is just the two of us talking about the thing that we both love most, right? Finding and creating beauty at the house of Herrera. I think that in that honesty and in that hope, our customers can really relate, and I think it feels more authentic.
All the brands that you're talking about, that are finding interesting ways to connect with their clients, the ones that are successful are because they're just real. It's not overly produced. It's not overly stylized. It's just honest and real, people sharing their emotions and sharing what they're thinking — not trying to trick anyone, not trying to be something they're not, and being a little bit vulnerable.
It's something I'm super proud of. She's super proud of it as well. And it's very personal project for us, but I think it's just totally the right moment for this. [It's been] very challenging, but we are eternal optimists at Carolina Herrera. I think there is a lot of beauty still to come.