Carolina Herrera Fall 2021

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Imagine a fashion snow globe.

“Being on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building surrounded by glass as it started storming.…It was pure magic,” said Wes Gordon.

Neither snow nor COVID-19 could stop the designer from kicking off Carolina Herrera’s 40th anniversary this season, using the New York skyline and an open-air tour bus in Times Square to stage his celebratory collection and film. (Kudos to his models and team for grinning and bearing it.)

Carolina Herrera RTW Fall 2021

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It was worth the effort. With a flurry of sequins, tulle and taffeta, the designer made the heart ache to dress up again — in a pink silk faille sweetheart cocktail frock embroidered with scattered candy-colored hearts, a wildly chic red giraffe print taffeta strappy dress, or a drop-dead gorgeous black mermaid gown with pink tulle frothing out from the hem.

“Despite the reality of gowns not selling as much, it’s still something that’s one of my highlights, and I don’t think it would be Herrera without them,” Gordon said, taking a moment to describe a black polka-dot jacquard pleated baby doll confection as “pure joy.” Indeed.

Honoring Herrera’s first ready-to-wear show in February 1981 — held at the Metropolitan Club, where neckties were required and guests included Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Studio 54’s Steve Rubell and a front row full of socialites — Gordon brought back the fashion party.

He honored the house matriarch with a ruffle-trimmed tie-neck blouse modeled after the one she wore to take her first bow, with the mismatched polka dots that are kind of like a Herrera family tartan on a black-and-white look, and with a new iteration of her trademark ball skirt in bold blue taffeta, worn with a white puff-sleeve T-shirt cuffed with heart buttons for a new take on her iconic white shirt.

But he also honored the new Herrera, the one he’s created, which over the past few seasons has come to be more synonymous with tailoring, whether it’s a black-and-white giraffe print pantsuit for some brave political animal, or a Jean Shrimpton-looking black wool minidress with Peter Pan collar and gold heart buttons.

His Herrera has also come to mean strong knits, like the cuddly red cashmere high-low sweater and straight skirt set, and bringing joy to the everyday. So wide-legged palazzo pants had the ease of joggers, there was a red giraffe print windbreaker for braving those elements, and plenty of dark denim, on a bomber jacket, high-waisted jeans and an A-line skirt with heart-shaped button and pocket details.

What this collection highlighted beautifully is how Gordon has come into his own at the house, still reverent but also forging a new future while walking the fine line between sweet and syrupy, decorative and decorous, rarified and reality-based. Here’s to another 40.

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