Joy: Catching up with Carolina Herrera’s creative director, the man of the hour at May’s postponed San Francisco Opera Guild fundraiser.
“I wanted to co-chair this lunch because it’s my first year as an Opera Guild member, and I thought my passion for fashion could benefit this event and help the opera raise money,” Lisa Zabelle tells the Gazette. Zabelle refers to the San Francisco Opera fundraiser featuring Carolina Herrera’s latest collection, which had been set for May 14 at Neiman Marcus until coronavirus postponed it to later this summer.
The annual fashion show and luncheon, hosted by the Opera Guild, is an essential event, tapping deep-pocketed donors’ wallets to fund outreach and education programs that help keep the art form alive. “We are in very challenging and uncertain times, and the funds we will be raising for the guild will be needed now more than ever,” explains Zabelle’s co-chair, Roman Gronkowski. The Guild had tapped Wes Gordon, the Carolina Herrera creative director beloved by the City’s socialites, to make a special appearance. Both Zabelle and Gronkowski count themselves as fans. “I love that Wes has kept the elegant aesthetic of Carolina Herrera but added his modern look to it with bright, fun materials and flattering cuts,” says Zabelle.
In anticipation of the soon-to-be-rescheduled festivities, the Gazette caught up with Gordon before shelter-in-place to get the inside scoop on his relationship with the guild and what makes his San Francisco clientele so unique.
How did the fashion house’s partnership with SF Opera Guild come to be? Neiman Marcus presented us with the opportunity, and it was a perfect match for Herrera. We admire that the San Francisco Opera Guild is committed to bringing quality arts education and engagement programs to Bay Area schools and communities. In 2017, Carolina Herrera hosted the fashion and luncheon at Neiman Marcus, and this year I have the pleasure of hosting it! It’s so crucial for brands to partner with art and creative organizations. Often, these initiatives are one of the few fundraising opportunities they have throughout the year. These institutes are so important to stimulate and continue supporting the younger generation to participate and contribute to the arts.
What’s the biggest challenge for a fashion designer today? Leaving the office on a Friday! I truly enjoy coming to work and being inspired by all of our teams. Being a designer is a 24/7 job, and you need to always think of new ways to be inspired and how to translate that into beautiful clothes that make women feel powerful.
How do you hope a woman feels when she wears one of your designs? I want to make clothes that make women smile and dance. There’s a lot of uncertainty and darkness in the world — we need joy wherever we can find it, and that’s what fashion should do for you!
What distinguishes the San Francisco market from other cities? The San Francisco market is filled with confident, motivated women who are not afraid to live their lives to the fullest. When I visit, I always meet so many engaging women and leave inspired on so many levels.
What do you credit the brand’s longevity to? The Herrera woman is always fearless and fabulous, and when I first joined the house, one approach I found in building the brand codes was through color and the use of vivacious, bold and pigmented hues. These brand codes have always been part of the house, and they’ve allowed for a strong foundation and years of success.
How do you plan to stay relevant for another 20 years? We’re a house known and loved for our distinctly feminine glamour, and I approach this through the lenses of color. Our goal is to make a woman feel her most beautiful, no matter where she lives. I love traveling the world and meeting our clients and hearing their feedback. It’s so important to connect with the client and understand their needs.
Describe your upcoming fall 2020 collection, which you were supposed to be showing this month. The starting point was really about the idea of “One Grand Gesture” — it’s about creating modern drama with bold colors. I wanted every look to be about one grand gesture, whether it’d be a color, silhouette or dramatic cut. Within this gesture, I wanted to celebrate the house codes, including dynamic prints, hyper-pigmented hues and a sense of optimism. To say the least, the Herrera collections are filled with hyper-saturated, bold and “happy” colors. Our fall-winter 2020 show was set in a round set with a large white carpet — almost like a blank canvas with the girls’ colorful looks as slashes of paint. In some ways, it’s like looking into a fabulous kaleidoscope.