The move ends a long-running saga — and adds to the turmoil — at the company Herrera founded 37 years ago, one that exposed internecine battles between the designer and the management of her firm as well as its parent Puig. It ended in a high-profile legal battle between the House of Herrera and her archrival company, Oscar de la Renta, when her then-president and chief executive officer and top executives at Puig attempted to push her out in favor of younger, hipper designers.
Herrera appeared to have fought off that attempted coup — but it seems only for a time. She shortly afterward brought in Gordon and, after her final bow at Monday’s runway show at the Museum of Modern Art, he will now become the brand’s creative director and she will become its “global brand ambassador.”
Herrera and Gordon declined an interview request via Lauren Astry, vice president of global marketing and communications.
The brand has always generated the vast majority of its revenues from fragrances — at last count there were 22 — which is Puig’s specialty. In 2012, the last time for which the firm has released figures, Puig put 2011 consolidated global retail sales for Herrera at $1.3 billion. One source said the company’s sales are now nearing $1.5 billion. Executives at Puig declined comment Friday.
But Herrera becoming the global brand’s ambassador does raise questions over the roles of her two youngest daughters, Carolina Herrera Báez and Patricia Lansing. Herrera Jr. works in fragrance from Madrid and Lansing is in the New York design studio.
The company also has yet to address whether it will continue to work with photographer Mario Testino, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by several male models. The Peruvian lensman is practically next of kin with Herrera, who recruited him in July 2015 to shoot his first global campaign for the house. Testino has shot the campaigns since that time.
Executives at Carolina Herrera have not yet indicated whether they will continue to do so. A spokeswoman for Testino did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Known to be well-mannered, polite, big on tailoring and business-minded, Gordon’s temperament, as much as his design aesthetic, seems to be right in line with the Herrera ethos — and could be the reason she picked him while digging her heels in over Puig’s earlier attempt to install Monse designers Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia as co-creative directors. That resulted in two uncharacteristically tumultuous years for the New York label, during which time the brand cycled through a series of second-in-command designers.
In February 2016, Herrera’s right-hand man Hervé Pierre left the company after 15 years — timing that some observers found puzzling since his most recent collection received strong reviews. Six months later, Raffaele Ilardo joined the company as vice president of design, but that didn’t last long. Kim and Garcia — who had been working at de la Renta under the late designer — were initially hired as consultants at Herrera, starting in October 2015. They then eventually returned to de la Renta as its co-creative directors.
But that’s where things turned Machiavellian — and the internal battles among Herrera, Puig and her executives over reinventing the brand were exposed for all to see. In December 2016, the Herrera company sued Oscar de la Renta Ltd. in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, trying to block Kim from joining de la Renta. The suit spells out the company’s plans to transition out Herrera in order to install the younger Kim as creative director. Kim allegedly turned down a $1 million offer and potential bonus of $300,000 for that role and bolted back to Oscar de la Renta to become co-creative director with Garcia.
An affidavit filed with the suit by Kim’s lawyer Neil Capobianco said that at the end of 2015 and in early 2016, Kim started having talks with the House of Herrera about becoming creative director. Based on the promise that Herrera herself would be “transitioning” out of that role, the affidavit said, Kim “agreed to give it a try” with a start date of Feb. 29, 2016.
But according to the affidavit, Kim realized that “nobody had informed Ms. Herrera that she was being transitioned out and that Ms. Herrera intended to run CH as if she were the creative director. According to my offer letter, I was supposed to be reporting to CH’s president and chief executive officer Francois Kress. However, I soon learned that Ms. Herrera frequently took charge, without objection from Mr. Kress.”
What made Kim’s departure even tougher to accept was that the one collection she designed from start to finish for Herrera — resort 2016 — was Herrera’s most commercially successful collection in its then 35-year history, according to the lawsuit.
Kress declined a request to comment Friday on the latest round of changes, as did Pierre.
The legal battle between the two iconic American fashion brands was settled in January 2017. While the terms were not disclosed, Kim was able to return to de la Renta after all. Around the same time, Kress was pushed out at Herrera and Emilie Rubinfeld — a longtime Herrera associate — was bumped up from chief marketing officer to president.
In another sign of that, Puig finally got its way at the fashion brand, Gordon — whose first collection will be resort 2019 — will report directly to Rubinfeld, and not to Herrera. Kim’s lawsuit alleged that Herrera “frequently took charge,” even though she was supposed to report to Kress in accordance to her offer letter. After learning the ropes at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London, Gordon interned at Tom Ford (in his London King’s Road days) and Oscar de la Renta, before starting his own signature collection of women’s wear in 2009. Last spring he put his own collection on hold after joining Herrera. Gordon may have had a strong inclination from the start, considering he decided not to renew his Nassau Street lease shortly after joining the company last year.