Monday, March 4, 2024
Monday, March 4, 2024
HomeFashionHow Carolina Herrera got the succession right

How Carolina Herrera got the succession right

When Wes Gordon met Carolina Herrera, there was an instant connection.

He admitted he was nervous about meeting the legendary Venezuelan designer and socialite, who founded her brand in 1981 and dressed some of the most famous women in the world, from Jacqueline Onassis to Renée Zellweger (the night she won her Oscar for “Cold Montaña”). ) to Michelle Obama. With signs showing his vision for the brand’s future in hand, which he had just finished presenting to Carolina Herrera president Emilie Rubinfeld and executives at parent company Puig, he walked into his office in the heart of the district. New York City textile.

He assumed she would question him about his presentation and his thoughts on the business.

“She did that with me for maybe three minutes,” Gordon recalled of their 2017 meeting in an interview with The fashion business at the end of January. “And then he spent another hour trying to get to know me as a human being. We talked about the books we read, the TV shows we watched, and our dogs. I can’t stress enough the importance of establishing that trust. We were very different, but also, in many ways, we were able to find beautiful bonds.”

Conversational chemistry is not necessarily a prerequisite when choosing a successor. But that first meeting underscored the shared sensibility between the two designers, a sensibility that has proven valuable since Gordon succeeded Herrera as creative director in 2018, after a year following her as a consultant.

Six years later, Carolina Herrera’s business has undergone what José Manuel Albesa, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division, calls a “profound transformation.” She has evolved her signature elegant and feminine aesthetic while growing the business. Since Gordon took over in 2018, the brand’s number of national wholesale doors has more than doubled. Although parent company Puig does not specifically break down Carolina Herrera’s performance, the parent company, which also owns brands such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Dries Van Noten, posted a 40 percent sales increase in 2022 to $3.6 billion and forecast a double-digit growth in 2023.

The transition from Herrera to Gordon is a best-case scenario for one of the most important and complicated decisions a designer will ever make. The question of succession seems especially relevant now, as iconic designers such as Giorgio Armani, 89, Miuccia Prada, 74, and Ralph Lauren, 84, reach the twilight of their careers.

There is immense risk in making the wrong decision; Meanwhile, the right successor can breathe new life into a fashion house. But success isn’t just about choosing the right person. At Carolina Herrera, it has also been about evolving the brand’s codes, maintaining close relationships with key customers, investing in digital and e-commerce, and working closely with the beauty side of the business to ensure both can elevate each other.

“When we had the initial conversations with Wes, we really saw that passion for Carolina Herrera, for what the brand stands for and stands for,” Rubinfeld said. “She still has that same passion today.”

Why Wes Gordon works

Gordon’s career in fashion began when she launched her own eponymous womenswear brand shortly after graduating from Central Saint Martins in 2009. In her seven years in the business, she saw designs stocked at Harrods and Bergdorf Goodman and worn by Michelle Obama and Gwyneth Paltrow; In 2014, he was named a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

But running an independent fashion brand isn’t easy, and the strain was starting to get to him. He was planning to close the business and was looking for a new challenge. In that sense, Rubinfeld’s call came at the perfect time.

“All my life, growing up in America, I revered this house as a cornerstone of fashion,” he said. “Having the opportunity to inject a new perspective and think about what Herrera means to a new audience while maintaining that elegance and beauty was the most exciting challenge.”

When he started as a consultant, there was no set timeline, but he took that period as “an opportunity to refine my vision of Herrera,” in addition to studying with the designer herself, learning from someone who approached fashion in the same way. He did.

“Carolina always said that he shared her opinion, that beauty was not just a perfectly tailored jacket, but the environment in which it is displayed,” Rubinfeld said.

Carolina Herrera with her characteristic white button;  Wes Gordon's take on the style in the Spring/Summer 2024 collection.

However, once he was at the helm, Gordon needed to put his own stamp on the brand. He sees his job as interpreting the codes of the house for a modern consumer, gently introducing concepts that can eventually become brand signatures.

For example, it has kept the classics, a white button-down shirt, as part of the brand’s stable, but incorporated more exaggerated versions, with an asymmetrical design or sewn hand-cut flowers. Additionally, he has introduced more color into the collections.

“He always said, ‘This is not my brand, I’m working for the continuation of the DNA, the heritage and the longevity of the brand,'” said Geoffrey van Raemdonck, CEO of Neiman Marcus; The company has doubled Carolina Herrera’s distribution locations during Gordon’s tenure.

Additionally, Rubinfeld added, Gordon, a Millennial, approaches each collection with an eye toward how it will appear online, whether on the brand’s e-commerce channels or in a digital campaign. Since the beginning of 2020, the size of Carolina Herrera’s digital business has doubled.

At first, the designer’s shadow appeared in her mind, wondering if she would choose the same button or match a similar earring with a particular style. However, over time, he accepted that she might not agree with every decision he makes.

It has helped that Mrs. Herrera has given him space, he said. In 2018, she stopped participating in the day-to-day running of the business. As the brand’s global ambassador, she still attends the brand’s show every New York Fashion Week (he admits that seeing her sitting front row always adds a layer of nerves), but this is the first time she’s seen each collection. She has not returned to the office in the six years since her departure.

Still, they have maintained a personal friendship; Herrera has met Gordon’s children and they have gone to dinner at each other’s houses. And, of course, her influence is still present.

“She’s really a role model in the sense that you can have that strong voice and be so elegant and kind at the same time,” he said.

Carolina Herrera sits front row at the Carolina Herrera Spring/Summer 2024 runway in September 2023

Listening to customers

Earning the trust of the outgoing creative director is one thing; doing it with clients is another, particularly for a 31-year-old man succeeding a 79-year-old woman.

For Gordon, that relationship is built on respect for women. “What motivates me is a complete awareness of the vast amount of beautiful clothing that exists in the world, the options that are available to women today. “I want to make sure that if you choose something from Herrera, it’s perfect.”

Gordon said clients have been some of his best teachers as he takes on the lead role. He travels as much as he can to attend core exhibitions and client events to get to know them on a personal level. Seeing what pieces they love, talking to them about the fit, and the intentionality they put into their outfits has helped her hone her own design processes.

He also expanded the list of who Carolina Herrera’s client is. Her designs have been worn by public figures such as Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, but also by internet personalities, such as influencer Christina Najjar, known by her online nickname Tinx. Last June, the brand held its first international runway show in Rio de Janeiro to present its Resort 2024 collection. The location may have been new, but it made sense considering Herrera’s own South American roots.

“He designs for his client,” van Raemdonck said. “There’s no arrogance of ‘It’s all about fashion.’ It’s about my point of view.’ It is about serving women and making them beautiful and elegant. He is using his creativity to get women to use the product.”

That understanding extends to other areas of the business, particularly beauty, run by Herrera’s daughter, Carolina Adriana Herrera. Fragrances have long been an important division of the brand; Parent company Puig first partnered with Carolina Herrera in the late 1980s to manufacture her perfumes. But during Gordon’s tenure, beauty has become a bigger business. In 2020, the brand launched its first makeup collection.

Although many times a luxury brand’s beauty business is transferred to a licensing partner. With both sides of the business under Puig, there is more connectivity between the two. The makeup collection, for example, is done in bold colors that have become Gordon’s calling card, while in the ads, ambassadors like Karlie Kloss, the face of the brand’s Good Girl fragrance, wear dresses from Carolina Herrera.

Karlie Kloss wears a Carolina Herrera dress in an ad for the brand's Good Girl fragrance.

“Regardless of whether you sell a lipstick or a dress, at the end of the day, you have to send a unified message that you are a unique brand and it speaks to the consumer,” said Ana Trias Arraut, brand director at Carolina Herrera. official.

That vision will be on display Monday morning, when the brand unveils its latest collection on the 41st floor of a midtown Manhattan skyscraper. Show attendees, who will receive the brand’s “Fabulous Eyes” mascara as a gift, will see a parade of brightly colored dresses, suits and more making their way down the runway.

The clothes, as always, will look different than many of the other lively New York Fashion Week runways, which fit more into a capital-F fashion, downtown New York aesthetic, full of neutral colors and brighter looks. severe. But the brand enjoys the contrast.

“There will always be a customer who wants beautiful, feminine and elegant clothes, whether for day or night,” Rubinfeld said. “That’s our superpower.”

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