A Carolina Herrera collection won’t be shown during New York Fashion Week this week, but the company’s founder and its current creative director Wes Gordon have come together to make their presence felt.
Instead of staging a dramatic or splashy show for hundreds, as was customary pre-COVID-19, a tête-à-tête between Herrera and Gordon was filmed to disclose interests, ideology, fashion and memorable stories. Entitled “The Conversation,” the 16-minute video project consists of four parts — “Fashion Is Magical,” “ I Love New York,” “Life Is in the Details” and “The House of Herrera.” It will go live at 10 a.m. Monday via the company’s web site, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
Two-and-a-half years have passed since Herrera handed over the creative reins of the company to Gordon. Although she was not available for an interview, Gordon and the film’s director Lisa Immordino Vreeland offered a behind-the-scenes view. In the film, Herrera chats about what she likes to watch on TV, Diana Vreeland’s influence on her life, why she dislikes selfies and how sweatpants (not surprisingly) are not her thing. Viewers will learn that the late Robert Mapplethorpe worked as a party photographer for the famed designer at one point.
However entertaining and enlightening the video is meant to be, there is more to the story, according to Immordino Vreeland. “To take a pause during fashion week, whatever this new fashion week is going to be, is going to be a really nice break for people to sit down and see this really honest exchange between two creative forces,” the filmmaker said.
For Gordon, the film’s takeaway was Herrera’s message of hope, her absolute firm belief in optimism and the reassurance that everything is going to be OK.
Like other fashion houses waylaid by the pandemic, this year’s seasons have been tweaked. Resort was released in mid-July instead of early June, and the company will hold its summer market digitally later this month in line with the Paris market. Shortly after that, Gordon will be doing a shoot of the collection with a yet-to-be-named photographer that will include a video. The current set-up versus the Carolina Herrera runway show at The Shed during last February’s NYFW seems worlds away.
“We had 750 people in one room together — absolutely another lifetime,” Gordon said. “It’s also an exciting time. We’re all external optimists at Carolina Herrera. People are coming up with really creative ways to talk to their customers, to present fashion, to explore what fashion is and new ways to have dialogues.”
While the format of a big show can offer a little magic and be powerful, it can also be very generic depending on how it’s done, who is doing it and for what purpose, Gordon said.
Reached in his Garment District office, where he has been working a few days each week since mid-June, Gordon said the unscripted film was shot a few weeks ago in Herrera’s New York City home. The half-day shoot presented COVID-19 safety-related challenges. “How do you go into someone’s home, make sure that everyone stays safe, do it respectfully and make a quality product with the most skeleton crew possible? We were doing COVID-19 testing. We were as few people as possible.“
While there is no shortage of fashion films, the Herrera team’s approach is meant to be more personal. “For 39 years, Carolina Herrera has been a pillar of New York Fashion Week. At this time, when we can’t do a show for safety reasons, it was really important that we do something special and intimate. And go home, quite literally go to the home of the founder of this house, and take our customers and our audience to Mrs. Herrera’s living room, and be a part of the two of us talking about our shared belief that life is beautiful,” he said.
While designers are increasingly expected to reveal more of themselves as people, and not just create beautiful clothes to have a wider appeal with consumers, Gordon said, “the time that we’re in right now calls for total honesty, pulling back the curtain, being real and vulnerable, speaking your truth and sharing. That’s really what this project was about.”
When Herrera and Gordon meet up, they are inclined to talk about a TV show, a restaurant or their dogs, but not about fashion or work. The shoot gave him the chance to ask some of the questions he never was able to before such as, “‘What is beauty?’ ‘Where does taste come from?’ ‘What is her favorite part of the process?’” he said.
Less esoteric and philosophical are the anecdotes Herrera shared, such as Studio 54 cofounder Steve Rubell being turned away from her first fashion show at the Metropolitan Club because he wasn’t wearing a tie. (He remedied the problem by dashing over to Bergdorf Goodman store to buy one.) Herrera also sheds light on how trading a piece of jewelry with Andy Warhol led to her portrait by the famed artist. Gordon said, “You get goose bumps. As someone who loves Mrs. Herrera, loves New York and this idea of this romanticized café society of Seventies, Eighties New York with artists, intellectuals, fashion designers and socialites all together, hearing her tell stories about Andy [Warhol], Steve Rubell and Diana Vreeland, it’s magical.”
A decade ago, Immordino Vreeland filmed Herrera for another project, “The Eye Has to Travel.” Making the point that a lot of companies are looking for content that tells a story, Immordino Vreeland said stories like Herrera’s are more important than ever now. “There’s a really authentic story to tell between the designer-founder of the house and the new generation, the creative director,” she said, adding that there aren’t many fashion houses around the world where such conversations would be a possibility, never mind an unfiltered one.
Although Herrera has done “hundreds of press interviews,” Immordino Vreeland said, “it’s so nice to see the two of them engage and have this passion for creativity, beauty and the ethos of what the House of Herrera is about. It is really nice to be able to celebrate fashion week, and to give this glimpse to the rest of the world of their relationship. They’re also both caring for the legacy of what Carolina Herrera is. Wes is a more contemporary approach, but she’s also very much like that.”
One baffling footnote in the film is mention of how the pair were speaking about fashion for the first time. During his yearlong role as a consultant, when Herrera still helmed the house, the company’s namesake and her successor worked on collections and fittings together, he said. “But after that, she was very clear in her decision that she wanted to give me the ability to stand on my own. And she didn’t want there to be any confusion about me being creative director, which I am so incredibly grateful to her for. I know that she is always there for me, should I need anything or advice. But when she comes to a show, she’s seeing that collection for the first time,” Gordon said. “Being backstage during a normal fashion week, yes, I have the normal anxiety that every designer does about the fashion directors, the editors in chief, the buyers, the critics in the audience. But then I have the added pressure of the house’s founder is sitting there about to see the collection for the first time….It’s kind of amazing that we don’t sit and talk about collections, business or fashion. I really cherish our relationship. It’s more about being friends.”
The pandemic has led to Gordon brushing up on his Zoom skills and videoconferencing with customers, whether that’s Matchesfashion, Neiman Marcus, Net-a-porter or Saks Fifth Avenue. Virtual cocktail parties and trunk shows are other ways the company is linking up with shoppers. “The other day I was FaceTiming with a bride and her mother during a fitting at our boutique So we’re really finding ways to connect and stay connected with the Carolina Herrera women like never before,” he said.
Meanwhile, Immordino Vreeland’s newest feature film, “Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation,” centers on a dialogue between Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, and was one of the selections for the 2020 Telluride Film Festival, which was canceled. Accustomed to being immersed in research “in some dusty archives somewhere,” the Herrera project was a treat for Immordino Vreeland and her team to step away from longer format film projects while maintaining authenticity. Next up may be a film about the late American writer and Paris fixture Gertrude Stein.
Although Immordino Vreeland is not planning a feature-length documentary about Herrera, she said, “It would definitely be a great story. I would love to. I would love to look at all those photo albums that Mr. [Renaldo] Herrera has in their study. The stories that those photos could tell would be quite fantastic.”