With the season’s Guest of Honour, Carolina Herrera, taking the spotlight, Dubai Fashion Week commenced last night in Dubai Design District. The American brand revealed its SS24 presentation, featuring exclusive designs crafted to commemorate this significant occasion. The Kurator had the opportunity to sit down with Wes Gordon, Creative Director of Carolina Herrera, to delve into his creative journey since assuming the helm at the renowned luxury house, and to discuss his vision and the much-anticipated collection presented during Dubai Fashion Week.
Reflecting on 2019, a remarkable year for you, what significant changes do you observe when comparing that time to the present?
I grew in love with fashion, I grew up in awe of fashion, in America too, so particularly close to the American fashion brands and watching them with reverence and admiration. When I grew up, I started my own collection, quite small but very fun, and I worked hard doing that for 8 years, and it’s tough work to do on a brand; I have to do a lot of different things. But in my wildest dreams, I didn’t imagine that I would be the creative director of a grand house, like Herrera. So, after spending a year with Ms. Herrera, during which she was slowly transitioning out and also auditioning me a little bit, she called me into her office to ask if I would be interested in succeeding her when she retired, and then she did her final collection, she came out and took a bow, I came out with red roses for her, and then starting the next day I was creative director, and she took her credit and strength and trust and has not been in the office since that day. There was suddenly a house, a system in place, a foundation, a brand, a legacy of 4 decades that I found myself suddenly in the position to play with and storytell with and steer, and it was such a dream come true as opposed to doing your own collection where every day you’re building something from scratch, so it was a kind of transition from thinking about how to survive as a young designer to how to take Herrera into the future.
Assuming the helm at CH generated much anticipation regarding the new era you would usher in. How do you believe you have met these expectations?
I think I measure my success in every woman who buys a piece and chooses it from the thousands of options that are available, picks the Herrera dress and puts it on and looks beautiful and feels happy, and I think that every season I learn so much more and continue to get better at what I’m doing and to never stop trying to get better at what I’m doing and further articulating our language. I think that when you go into a heritage house as a young creative director and you see it all the time, your first moves have to be kind of bold, you have to do things that say there’s a change and I’m here, and after that, you have the luxury to really finesse and elevate and perfect your message and evolve it, and in our case that was certainly true, but Herrera was a very large business before I started, so I had to very much continue to design pieces for the women who were buying Herrera before while still trying to make my own voice and create pieces for a new audience of women.
Balancing the preservation of brand identity with the infusion of your own style can be intricate. How have you incorporated your personal DNA into your collections?
I think it’s a fun challenge and I feel grateful to be at a house that I happen to love and identify with. I think we all know about instances of creative directors where they were at a brand where maybe they shouldn’t be. I love Herrera, so I feel lucky to be there first of all. I happen to be someone who thinks it’s more fun to renovate and redecorate, rather than starting from scratch, so I love having 40 years of history to play with and evolve and draw inspiration from. I was very inspired by the woman, Ms. Herrera, herself, and her story, this very fabulous, glamorous woman who emigrated to the US from Venezuela and is a society fixture in the 70s and 80s and in uptown and downtown and full of life, fabulous, lived every moment like a celebration. So much I think of my vision for the brand came from her, and I think the brand was very strict in its colour codes, the colours were brown and grey, they were the house colours when I arrived, and I really worked to reinvent the house as a house of colour, a house of joy and optimism and flowers, and our colours are now pink and red, and this kind of joie-de-vie and exuberance, which to me feels, even though it’s different than how the house was, it still feels true to the foundation of the house, I preserved the codes of her, of this fabulous woman who wears heart-pink or yellow if everyone else is wearing black, this woman who is a singular presence who doesn’t dress to be forgotten, she dresses to be remembered and to stand out, and is just all things fabulous and glamorous, and I’m really making Herrera known as that house.
Your debut collection aimed to encourage women to embrace a playful approach to dressing. That was shortly followed by the pandemic, what else do you want to encourage women to embrace in their dressing choices post the pandemic?
We never stopped creating our collections during the pandemic, we just had to come up with new ways to story tell, so we would do zoom events, and we would do photo-shoots. The women were buying clothes for that sense of joy that they couldn’t find other places during the pandemic, we revived beautiful dress where at home for dinner and there was something pure and true and honest about it, about this idea that a beautiful thing brings beauty to your life and I think that so much of what a designer does is aim and hope and strive to make ways that we can live more beautifully. What changed about the pandemic was I really learned, first hand, that the world was a mess, there was lockdown, and making anything was so difficult, so rather than being able to make 250 pieces for every collection, this factory was closed, this fabric mill was closed, we may be only able to make half of that, so I really had to philosophically think that what are the important things that a woman needs right now, and I think that was such a wonderful silver lining to force us and many other designers to think that way because I think we had gotten into the habit of just making and making and making, and the last thing the world needs right now is more stuff, we need more beauty, we more joy, we need more romance and celebration and soulful pieces. So, I think the pandemic shifted our thinking a little bit. Now I’ll look at a collection and say, does this sweater really need to exist? Does our customer really care? I’d rather make less things and everyone is an exclamation point than have boring things, and I think that was a great learning from the pandemic.
As a designer from the millennial era, how do you perceive and navigate the increasingly blurred lines between women's and men's fashion?
She is very woman, and what is interesting is finding a male creative director at a house founded by a woman designing for women. So it’s in terms of who is wearing the clothes at the end of the day, I’m thrilled for anyone to wear the clothes, man, woman, whomever falls for the piece, because I really think of them as pieces of beautiful things that we’re making and sending them out into the world with love and hoping that they land in a good home, and if anyone can find them and put them on and feel beautiful and confident, fantastic. I fit on a female fit model, more usually I’m designing with the women in mind, we did a few menswear pieces for our show in Brazil, but it’s a brand with a female founder and our customers are primarily females, but if someone else chooses to buy our piece, I’m thrilled, why not? As for using masculine elements in designing clothes, sometimes a coat or a jacket just needs that more of a masculine cut just to be right, there are times for that, or a grey trouser, about blurring the lines and my big obsession is, rather blurring the lines between masculine and feminine, but blurring the lines between formal and casual. I think these are distinctions that are so old-fashioned. I like these ideas of playing with the hands and sensibility in a way that works for daytime, and think that’s the world now, we don’t need a winter wardrobe and a summer wardrobe, we don’t need a cocktail attire or a black-tie attire or a daytime attire, that’s not the world right now. What you need is magic and emotion and pieces that you just fall in love with and wear them when you want to wear them.
In your view, how does the Arab woman embody the aesthetics of the House, and what distinguishes her?
I feel like the idea of an Arabic Woman is so broad now, especially in 2023, and I think she’s such a broad spectrum and she’s as dynamic as any other woman, and so you have so many types and aesthetics mixed into that, but I think there’s always been, and continues to be, a real love for fashion, a love for colour, a love for dress, a love for accessorising, almost painting with fabrics and creating different looks and this is something that I cherish so much and am grateful for, and I think you’ve seen these regions in Dubai evolve to be such multicultural epicentres where you have so many different cultures now coming together and these cities are really forming their own unique identities.
Dubai holds a unique allure. What impressions does the city evoke in you, and how does the region inspire your creativity?
To me, as someone from America, the first time I came here, I think the idea I had of Dubai, this magic of Dubai, I think first and foremost about the architecture, I always envisioned Dubai as the city of the future, as this vast desert from which is erupting these magical glass towers like the Burj Khalifa, and that was very much the idea I have of it, and to be honest that is probably the idea that most Americans have of Dubai. But I think what’s so refreshing is that when you come here you see that but you also realise that the soul and the culture of the people too are such a part of Dubai, and that whether it’s amazing dinners with the hospitality or the fun or the laughter, there’s a very human element to this city beyond the glass towers and the sci-fi magic, there is a soul to it too. So, I really love Dubai. I love to come here and more and more I have friends who spend part of the year here or people with one degree of separation from someone who lives here, it’s really becoming such an overlap of so many different worlds right now.
Participating in this event must hold personal significance. What are your objectives for your involvement? Tell us about the exclusive designs you created to commemorate the significant occasion of presenting SS24 during Dubai Fashion week?
Absolutely, I’m so proud to be here; it's really exciting for me as well because historically, Herrera in the Middle East was very much associated with formal evenings, and the collections since I’ve been creative director have really evolved into a lot of different directions. We still have those beautiful gowns and pieces, but the collections become so much more and speak to so many more women, so it’s very fun for me to be here now on behalf of the house that I think speaks to so many more women here in Dubai and across all ages than it did in the past.
We’re bringing here today specially curated collections we showed in New York’s during spring-summer fashion week. In addition, we added a few fun pieces to it from Rio. Just to create a visual, it’s beautiful, everything ranging from day to evening.
Finally, do you have any favourite Arab designers, and if so, what aspects of their work resonate with you?
Elie Saab, a woman always looks beautiful wearing his pieces; their gorgeous gowns are immaculately made, there is real elegance and chic to them. There is a freshness and feminine element which is similar to our collection. I’m looking forward to really introducing people to a new Herrera who may have a preconceived idea of what Herrera was.