At Carolina Herrera, the resort 2021 development process started in typical fashion. Typical didn’t last long. When the imposition of the coronavirus quarantine, creative director Wes Gordon sheltered at his beloved farm in Connecticut. There, he spent months working with his design team via Zoom sessions and in safe, masked backyard fittings with his model, a friend, who drove in as needed from her Hamptons outpost. The Herrera atelier opened on a staggered schedule in mid-June. Since then, Gordon has lived the commuting life. While the trip isn’t brief — 90 minutes — he finds the time in transit worth it, as these days, he loves the country life. He also loves being back at work. “It is really good to be here,” Gordon said during a video resort appointment on Friday. “What we do, you can only do so much of it remotely, by yourself. At the end of the day, you have to touch the fabrics, you have to do fittings. It’s crucial. It’s good to be back in the office, and to be making clothes.”
WWD: How does it feel to be back at work?
Wes Gordon: So nice to be back at work…people who can work from home are still working from home, and others are doing staggered schedules for safety. What I keep telling people is that it feels like being here on a Sunday.
WWD: It’s amazing that remote working has gone as well as it has.
W.G.: I feel like I got much closer to my team over the past four months. Because even though we weren’t having the interaction in person, the amount of time we spent Zooming — it was a huge bonding experience to go through that together.
WWD: Tell me about this collection. When did you decide to do it?
W.G.: So we went into quarantine mid-March with a couple of collections in development — exclusive capsules and early-stages resort. The question was never one of stopping it or canceling, but about just evolving and adapting. At the beginning, pragmatically, it was a conversation of OK, let’s make this very commercial, recut bodies, use on-hand fabrics. Assuming we are not going to have any patternmakers to help with new developments or new ideas, how can we make this as efficient a process as possible?
WWD: That’s not where it ended up?
W.G.: Basically, over four months, the design team and I kept playing with the sketches and working on them. And it morphed from being commercial, just pragmatic recuts, to being something that actually has a lot of new ideas and is directional and something of which we’re all super, super proud.
WWD: How did you get it done?
W.G.: Italy opened five weeks before our atelier opened [in mid-June]. So they were able to start doing some amazing things. I have a team member who has been quarantining with his family back in Italy so he was driving to the factories and working with them. They were sending the boxes of muslins to my house in Connecticut. And then a friend, who’s a fit model, who was quarantined in the Hamptons, would drive over to me in Connecticut and we’d stand outside in my backyard with masks on and do muslin fittings and then I’d ship the boxes back to Italy. So it was a whole new way of working. And it just kept evolving away from this idea we had at the end of March, of let’s just pick commercial bestsellers and recut them and move on. It actually became a designed, beautiful collection of which I am quite proud.
WWD: Tell me about that transition.
W.G.: When this first happened, everyone was very nervous and you’re trying to be pragmatic. It’s kind of crisis management. But the longer I was in quarantine, the more I felt that the beauty and dream of fashion was really important and so intrinsic to what we do. And in this new, post-COVID-19 world — not that we’re really post yet — but in this new, adjusted reality, where we’re all going to have to really focus on the quality over quantity, and do more with less, I don’t want to make things that aren’t special and that aren’t beautiful. The world doesn’t need more stuff. So it just became more and more important to me that if we’re making new product that it be something that’s gorgeous and dreamy and optimistic and inspiring and beautiful.
WWD: Did a particular theme come out of that, or is the theme the idea of optimism and beauty?
W.G.: I wanted to emphasize separates a little bit more, to really build upon the lifestyle components of the collection. But at the same time, this is not a brand pivot. We’re Carolina Herrera, so this is not suddenly ath-leisure. I think to do that would be a huge disservice to the brand. It’s about being mindful of how our client is living right now, but at the same time understanding that there is always going to be a woman who comes to us looking for something specific. And quite often that something is a piece of clothing for an occasion. It’s just how those occasions are celebrated that has changed. And then, can we make separates and other pieces that can turn a regular moment into a celebration.
WWD: That sounds wonderful. Does the elimination, at least for now, of occasions as we knew them worry you for the long term? As you noted, Herrera is largely an occasion house.
W.G.: Since we reopened, our businesses, both wholesale and our own, have been doing very well. We’ve been selling a lot over the past, what, two months, month-and-a-half? In some cases, better than that same time last year.
W.G.: It’s a whole assortment of pieces ranging from very casual to very extravagant. So it’s interesting. Had you asked me in March, I would say yes. But more and more, I think a lot of women are eager to get back to who they were before this started.
WWD: Is it optimism or cabin fever?
W.G.: I think it’s both. You know, I got my first haircut a couple weeks ago and there is something about it that just makes you feel good. It’s the same as buying a beautiful new shirt or a new dress. It makes you feel good.
WWD: An element of normalcy.
W.G.: An element of normalcy. And what’s nice is you’re seeing it happen for the best reason, which is that it’s for herself. It’s not to impress someone else, it’s not for someone else’s approval. It’s just because she’s longing for something new and beautiful — to zip up a great dress or put on a great new sweater and just feel optimistic.
WWD: That’s really nice. [Herrera president] Emilie Rubinfeld e-mailed this morning to say she’s very excited about this collection, and that it was such an accomplishment to get it done. She said you told her that people who worked on the look book felt so good about getting back to work.
W.G.: Well, the first half of what Emilie said — we’re not unique. Lots of brands have put together resort collections. It is a feat, and it is a victory, because all the odds were stacked against any house being able to make a collection right now. Everyone in the company working together, everyone wearing a lot of different hats, people getting involved in doing things where it’s not their role. That this season exists, regardless of what continent, what brand — you could cry. It’s something beautiful that this happened.
WWD: Did you consider not doing a resort collection?
W.G.: No, we didn’t. We are an ongoing business and we have many doors worldwide that we need to make product for. I mean, there is nothing more important to us than everyone’s safety here, so we would never do anything that would jeopardize that. That’s why we [took safety measures], and why we’re showing now, mid-July, as opposed to early June. So it has changed. But we’re a fashion house, and we make clothes. If we stop that, if you stop those wheels, it’s hard to come out of that. I get goosebumps talking about it, just the fact that it happened. And again, it’s not unique to here, it’s anyone who made a collection now. It’s incredible. It’s just such a testament to team work and everyone in this industry loving what they do.So then, to your second point, we shot the look book on Tuesday. [The pictures here aren’t look book photos; they’re from WWD’s shoot by Weston Wells with Avi McClish, shot at the terrace at Herrera’s Seventh Avenue headquarters]. Everyone there was so excited to be working again. What’s cool is you see why people do this business — it’s not about the money. Everyone just wanted to get back to work. Photographers want to be shooting again, the models want to be working again, the hairdressers want to be doing hair again, the seamstresses want to be sewing again. They love what they’re doing.
WWD: Who’s the photographer?
W.G.: Josh Olins, who I’m obsessed with. I’m such a fan. He shoots a lot for WSJ. I think he is such a brilliant photographer. I’ve always wanted to do a project with him. I wrote him on Instagram. To me, it was really important to shoot in Connecticut because I designed the collection there; I fitted it in my backyard there, outside, being safe. And all the calls with the team about the collection were done from that house. So it was important to bookend, to shoot it there. I want to go to nature for everything. I didn’t feel like doing it in a photo studio. It’s a nicer way to ease back into work right now. Everyone has been anxious; no one wants to get close in contained spaces in a shoot. So Josh, a beautiful model, Achenrin [Madit]. She’s from Nebraska. And a super, super skeleton crew came up to my house, and we spent the day running around the fields, shooting the collection.
WWD: You said you focused on quality over quantity. How much smaller is this than a typical resort collection?
W.G.: About half. And it was right down to the wire getting all those pieces made.
WWD: That’s still pretty sizable, because your collections are big.
W.G.: Yes, it’s still sizable. But to go down by half basically gives me double the amount of time on every piece to really perfect it and make sure that everything is something that we believe in.
WWD: What are your plans for spring 2021?
W.G.: Making a collection. We’ve started working on it. We’re kind of shifting how we break down the collections, kind of a super-season model. This first delivery represents about 80 percent of the product, and what comes next is really the most fabulous storytelling fashion message done largely with our in-house atelier. For that, we’re still fine-tuning, but it’s going to be a digital experience.
WWD: You won’t have any live element for spring?
W.G.: Live, perhaps, but a 700-person in-person show? Absolutely not.
WWD: Any early thoughts on specifics?
W.G.: Nothing is set in stone yet. I think it’s still really important that people touch the clothes. So if there’s a way that I’m able to safely and intimately offer something where I can in-person show the collection to you and anyone who finds him- or herself in New York, I think there is something magical and necessary about that. At the same time, if we are able to create something digitally that can showcase the collection to a global audience in a much bigger way and do it in a way that is captivating and interesting and offering something different to the conversation, I also think that’s valid. So we’re trying to find a way to do both.
WWD: Finding a balance.
W.G.: Change does not have to be a bad thing. I don’t think the system was perfect before.
WWD: Certainly not.
W.G.: We look for new and exciting ways of doing things. Everyone has learned a lot about how they work and how they collaborate over the past four months, and maybe new ways to do things and better balance of work life with home life. I think there can be an intimacy factor going forward in fashion weeks that was kind of lacking before. I love in pre-collections when you come and I walk you through the showroom. That’s on the total opposite end of the spectrum of a 700-person show. And so what is the middle ground? How can we combine those experiences a little bit better?
WWD: It’s so hard to work through it all. Couture week proved that digital isn’t a full replacement for live shows, at least not yet.
W.G.: No. At the center of it, the reason you do what you do, the reason I do what I do, is we love clothes. You love touching the clothes, you love seeing them. You didn’t get into this business to stare at a computer screen.
WWD: Back to this resort, one look book picture shows a very simplified bride.
W.G.: Herrera has such a bridal history, but weddings have changed a lot. They’re not canceled. On the contrary, there is a lot of pent-up energy for [engaged] women to get married now that they’re able to, since things are [opening] again. But the dresses they’re looking for are different. I have a little sister who was supposed to get married in June. She had a big gown ordered and obviously, she had to cancel her wedding. Instead she’s having eight people, end of September. Instead of getting married, they’ve used the money and bought a little house, and so they’re going to get married in the backyard. She wants [to wear] something different.
WWD: What is she going to wear now? Has she picked it yet?
W.G.: Yes, it’s [redacted out of old-school belief in the wedding-day “reveal”] — it’s just something easier. There are still women who want the big, fabulous dress, but there are a lot of people now who want something for a civil ceremony or a backyard ceremony or a Zoom ceremony. So this [short white dress in the look book] — it wasn’t necessarily intended as bridal, it was just a cute, white dress. But for the shoot, I put the short Catherine Deneuve veil with it because I think it’s something that could really work for a while. In addition to that, we took five of my favorite cocktail dresses from the past couple seasons and cut them in white.
WWD: Good idea.
W.G.: We’re offering them to our ready-to-wear accounts who don’t do bridal. That way, they can have a few things there for women now who are just looking for something different.
WWD: The bridal version of casual?
W.G.: You can be casual and still be fabulous. I think that’s an important message.