Fashion
Meet Wes Gordon, the Young Man Leading the Next Chapter of Carolina Herrera
He plans to make the iconic line “a little more Caracas and Cartagena and a little less Carnegie Hill.”
IMAGE ALLIE HOLLOWAY
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Every few weeks, usually on Sunday, a curious foursome get together for lunch at Cipriani at the Sherry-Netherland in New York. On the face of it, they have little in common. Two of them are society royalty, a couple of 50 years who symbolize a sort of bygone elegance, while the other two are relative new­comers to the scene. But they all share an interest.

The patrician woman is Carolina Herrera, 79, and the gregarious 32-year-old, as lanky as a martini glass, is Wes Gordon, who has succeeded Herrera at the label she founded 38 years ago with a show around the corner at the Metropolitan Club.

Gordon, describing the ritual (whose other members are their respective partners, Reinaldo Herrera and Paul Arnhold), beams. For him, it’s the ultimate blessing. Asked what would mark success in his tenure as creative director, he recalls an exchange from earlier this summer, after he had just shown a resort presentation that was a riot of color.


Indre Rockefeller in a Carolina Herrera dress and earrings.

“We have developed a really close relationship with Mr. and Mrs. Herrera,” he says, careful not to be too familiar. “They are tricky people to please, especially Mr. Herrera. But I got a text from him saying he loved the collection. And that… If Carolina, Reinaldo, and her daughters all send me a message that they’re happy with the collection—that’s amazing.”

It’s also a sign that, after some false starts, and a tectonic changing of the guard, civility has returned to the house of Herrera. In Gordon, the grande dame of American fashion has selected a successor on her terms, a polite young man from Atlanta who is shrewdly respectful of her sense of ownership over a label that still bears her name. His appointment hands him the keys to a citadel of heritage and class, one of the last of its kind.

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Grace Gummer in a Carolina Herrera dress and earrings

“I think of it as the most fabulous prewar townhouse,” Gordon says of his keep. “You know, the bones are there. The woodwork is amazing. The fireplaces are amazing. The façade is amazing. It just needed a little redecorating.” In fashion, transitions can be messy. And when tension arises in a shop as orderly as Herrera, it is noted, like a stain on an otherwise impeccable white button-down. 

Two years ago Herrera’s former chief executive officer, François Kress, tried to engineer a coup d’état to expedite the founder’s exit and replace her with Laura Kim, who was then a consultant. The move backfired, a legal skirmish was settled, and Kress was shown the door. (Kim eventually became co–creative director at Oscar de la Renta.)

I’d rather be who you go to for a flamingo-pink gown.

On the day in January 2017 before she became Herrera’s new CEO, Emilie Rubinfeld, a longtime executive at the company, made it her first order of business to call on a young designer who was looking for a next act. Gordon had made a name for himself designing tasteful dresses for young women about town, becoming a fixture in their circle along the way. But he was winding down the business after nine years on his own.

In Herrera he found an aesthetic kindred spirit and the security of a corporate backer. (On the morning we met, Puig, Herrera’s Spanish corporate parent, acquired another beacon of sophisticated eveningwear, Dries Van Noten.) Gordon started consulting at Herrera that March and immediately infused the label’s “timeless silhouettes with a youthful energy,” as his friend Indre Rockefeller put it. Herrera officially passed the baton in February, taking on the role of global brand ambassador.

Unlike other designers who struggle with taking over a brand while its namesake is still alive, Gordon, who presents his first runway show for Herrera this month, seems giddy about the history before him.

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“There’s this perception of [Herrera] as being very starched cotton shirt and Park Avenue, when this was a woman who was having dinner with Andy Warhol, Steve Rubell, and Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s about bringing the brand back to that a little bit,” he says. “A little more Caracas and Cartagena and a little less Carnegie Hill.”


Gummer, left, in a Carolina Herrera dress and Jennifer Fisher earrings. On Rockefeller, right, a Carolina Herrera dress, Cadar earrings, and H. Stern rings.

At the Carlyle recently, that joie de vivre was on display as Gordon posed for T&Cwith two muses, Rockefeller and the actress Grace Gummer, who took time off from rehearsing for Tracy Letts’s Mary Page Marlowe for Gordon, whom she met years ago through his husband, her Vassar classmate. “I always feel as if I make sense to myself in Wes’s dresses,” Gummer says.

On cue, the women played dress-up and danced in his flirty designs. “We’re not the brand you go to for a melange gray suit, nor should we be. I’d rather be who you go to for a flamingo-pink gown,” Gordon says, smirking very much like the “secretly naughty young man” Gummer knows. “That’s so much more fun to me,” he adds, “and I think that’s so much more in line with the spirit of Mrs. Herrera herself.”

This story appears in the September 2018 issue of Town & Country.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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