After 37 years of timeless style, Carolina Herrera’s is no longer at the helm of her eponymous brand.
In her interview with New York Times, Herrera expressed some frustration with the modern inclination of the industry. She cited the changing landscape of fashion’s modern aesthetic—young women embracing overtly ugly composition over classicly pretty ensembles.
“Fashion has changed a lot. What they like now is ugliness. Women dress in a very strange way. Like clowns. There is a lot of pressure to change all the time.But it’s better to wear what suits you. Add something new and you have a great look. Consistency is important.”
The new heir to preserve the old
Herrera, in all of her renowned poise, was surprisingly caught up in a very publicized management-turned-legal battle last year. The house’s parent fashion group Puig tried to push her out in favor of a younger designer to head the brand.
Puig hired the creative directors of Monse, a fledgling brand well-versed in modern trends, to graduate into the creative director position. However, Herrera was not made aware of this supposed transition. And thus began a power struggle which, in turn, snowballed into a legal battle.
In perhaps what could be inferred to be a compromise, Wes Gordon will be taking the reigns. The young designer worked alongside Herrera as creative consultant for the last 11 months. Meanwhile, Herrera, averse to outright retirement, will be taking on a new position as global ambassador.
This move shows Carolina Herrera is yielding to the modern demands while still remaining within proximity so as to preserve her ethos.
Wes Gordon was a strategic pick, autonomous decision by Herrera. His southern charm lines up with many of Herrera’s foundations and beliefs about style.
“I am thrilled with the evolution of the company over the past 37 years…There is still so much opportunity and I look forward to continuing to represent this house and our projects all around the world. I am so pleased Wes is now part of the Herrera house—he’s the right one for this position to further build on our great momentum.”
Gordon’s technique aligns well with Herrera’s brand. In a sea of designers who are increasingly focusing on the conceptual street-style aesthetic, Gordon maintains a classic uptown vibe.
He and Herrera found common ground on keywords like “civilized,” “luxury,” and “bold femininity.” Their goals are beautiful,” not “cool.”
Is pretty out of style?
Through all of the transition in the house, one thing is certain: Herrera is relentlessly committed to pretty. So let’s return to that thought:
“Fashion has changed a lot. What they like now is ugliness. Women dress in a very strange way. Like clowns. There is a lot of pressure to change all the time. But it’s better to wear what suits you. Add something new and you have a great look. Consistency is important.”
And I find that I agree with the designer’s quote. I don’t think it was a statement made out of harshness or condemnation so much as it was one of nostalgia. An acknowledgment of a new time overtaking her own.
There is an obviousness, a simplicity in that consistency she mentioned. Regardless of era, the nearly 4 decades of Carolina Herrera have been so obviously elegant and irrefutably pretty. But is pretty a trend of a bygone era?
Today, it seems if your collections are too “pretty,” they critics will castigate you for it. They are bored with pretty. They find it redundant. Elegant, classic, charming, expected, sophisticated, have nearly become adjectives to avoid. Obviousness is a punishable offense on a runway. People of the social media generation want surprise and shock. They want designers to present them with things they’ve never seen before.
We’ve all seen pretty. But does that mean it has no place in modern fashion?
Modern fashion’s affinity for the ugly
Fashion has had an unprecedented orientation towards the unexpected, the edgy, the shocking. And in many cases, by standard definition, it can get pretty ugly.
Today people dress out of irony or being different or constructing a narrative or making a statement. Despite the message or intent, the visual result is often, well, ugly. Ugly has become the new chic!
But if you’re not an insider, knee-length sleeves, DHL sweatshirts, and dad sneakers may just be over your head.
Everything bears toward the extreme sides of the spectrum. Iterations of the standard fashion templates (skirts, shirts, pants, dress, shoes) can border on the insane.
You have normcore, which in its minimalism is almost boring—like a Mark Zuckerberg simplicity. A man who is infamous for the same tee shirt and jeans. But issa vibe, right?
And then you have the excess. Billboard style phrases obnoxiously overtake blouses, neon printed furs, dramatic sleeves. Who says color should match? It’s more creative that way.
This fashion evolution is something of a caricature, posing narratives on certain trends or societal elements, and then exaggerating it to capacity. For the sake of social media, there is pressure for clothes to convey a riveting story, so to pause the viewer’s scroll.
Herrera’s brand was born from a time when style was obvious. It either was or wasn’t. It wasn’t something to “get.” Her brand is the epitome of timeless. And perhaps we’re in a time where timelessness has an expiration date.
The dawn of street style
The rise of the bloggers democratized the concept of fashion. They put an expiration date on the fashion world’s inherent exclusivity. Juxtaposition of high fashion and fast fashion placed aspirational wardrobe collecting within the reach of the average savings account. The unconventional pairings left their audience in awe. The average consumer could better aspire to this new-age non-celebrity celebrity.
But in order to grab the attention of not only the street style photographers but also their followers, they had to have a flair for shock factor. And shock and awe are sometimes not pretty.
But my goodness is it marketable. High fashion wearability has always had a chasm between runway and consumer. A glossy editorial could never convey to the average reader that the model’s outfit had a place in her closet. But these bloggers were taking looks right off the runway and placing them in the context of the everyday. They bridged the gap. So advertising, along with the labels behind the advertising, shifted.
And as the cycle of trendsetting evolved—previously insiders told the masses, now the masses tell the insiders—the edgy narratives of street style were destined to end up on runways.
The validity of ugly
Perhaps there is a beauty in the blatant ugliness of it all. There are times where I outright grimmace at the absurdity that is Vetements. But when you let your mind linger on what’s going on outside of the composition of fabric, you may find a layer of thoughtfulness woven into the chaos.
I’ve always approached fashion as art, our bodies a canvas for moving masterpieces, to send a message to our viewers. The outfit a composition of color, architecture, prints, texture, layers.
And hasn’t there always been the conventional artwork, like the Renaissance paintings who scoffed at the cubist or abstract paintings birthed out of modern expression? Yes, renaissance paintings are irrefutably beautiful, but there is merit in the modern art too.
Sometimes art should be pretty. But sometimes art should make you feel something.
Modern art is great at making you feel something, at conveying passion and raw emotion into a paint splatter. Yes, the Mona Lisa is classic. She is the staple white blouse. But that Jackson Pollack, when paired with good old Mona, is the juxtaposition perhaps every “nothing-to-wear” syndrome is yearning for.
Extremes inspire the conventional
My style probably falls more in line with Carolina Herrera’s feminine and “pretty.” I love classic and timeless. But I find street style’s deviant ways often brilliant and thoughtful. Sometimes when you peel back the weird layers donned by a street style start, there is a story created not by the designer, but by the wearer.
When you read Leandra Medine’s notions about fashion, you realize her unconventional style is not about facilitating shock. There is such sincerity in her outfits. The authenticity she requires one to approach Leandra’s attire as if it were art in a museum rather than simply a “cute” or “ugly” outfit. It is about so much more than “cute.” The way she interprets fashion and style only further validates and expands on the narrative of her compositions.
I am able to appropriate their style, though it is completely divergent to my own. Their talent for pairing the unexpected easily translates within my own wardrobe, which is much safer. There are color pairings and print mixes that would never occur to me. Where I formerly retreated from a risk, I am now more likely to confidently strut out my door without a second thought.
I am rarely at a loss when approaching my wardrobe with the constant flow of inspiration I have access to courtesy of my curated social feeds. Especially the extremes. My nothing-to-wear complex is all but extinct when I acknowledge the extremes as inspiration templates or mood boards to mold into my own conclusion.
Do you embrace “ugly fashion” do you prefer the classic pretty style?
Also published on Medium.