Over the last five years, Wes Gordon has skillfully crafted a modern vision of the Carolina Herrera woman. Who is she? Well, she’s the kind of woman who will wear a quilted skirt suit, but only if the hemline is short and the blazer is cropped. She’s the kind of woman who has occasion to wear evening gowns but loves the easy wearability of strapless chiffon silhouettes (ideally with pockets). She loves an embellished, embroidered day dress but feels just as powerful in a sharply tailored cigarette pant and sky-high heels. She is, to use a word, unapologetically “opulent” — which is why Gordon was inspired by the extreme opulence of Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria when designing his Fall Winter ‘23 collection (the royal was the subject of a hit Netflix series, The Empress, last year).
Empress “Sisi,” a world-renowned beauty during her reign in the mid 19th century, was known for her grand fashions and hyper-vigilant approach to beauty. Some of her (occasionally troubling) habits included sleeping on a metal bedstead without a pillow to maintain perfect posture, and wearing a leather facial mask lined with crushed strawberries to bed each night. On the runway, the empress’ sensibility was seen in overt references — grand billowing gowns with intricate jacquard print, chandelier drop earrings and a bounty of jewel tones. But her influence was there in less obvious ways too. In today’s era “opulence” isn’t just about after-dark glamour, it’s about the construction of a garment, the sumptuousness of the fabrics, the precision of the cuts. Gordon’s show notes reiterated that the designer shows “zero compromise for the very best of construction and craftsmanship,” and it showed.
The show was presented to an intimate crowd in the ballroom of The Plaza hotel, which was also Gordon’s venue of choice for the brand’s last show. It was the perfect location for a fashion house that continues to typify old world New York City glamour. The front row was filled with three generations of Carolina Herrera women, from 20-year-old Maddie Ziegler looking fresh and youthful in her embellished mini dress, to perennially chic illustrator Jenny Walton in demure baby pink skirt suit, to the brand’s namesake herself, who cheered on Gordon from the front row in resplendent red and camel. The Herrera legacy is clearly in capable hands.