Three years into a pandemic, plenty of luxury houses are ready for us to get back to business. This season’s runways are no longer far removed from the classroom or the conference room. Academic prep style is back, albeit with an edge. Elevated capsule wardrobes—what some might call “real-world clothes”—are inherently chic. This New York Fashion Week, you’re just as likely to snag the lens of a street style photographer with a pair of leather ballet flats as you are by toting a crystal-bedazzled Prada bag.
Meanwhile, at Carolina Herrera, the work week might as well not exist. And if it does, the Carolina Herrera woman certainly isn’t enduring it in blazers and slacks at the water cooler, as is her wont. Creative director Wes Gordon’s latest collection, shown this morning at The Plaza Hotel, instead seemed to float in a permanent post-office dream. A long-sleeve sheer floral jumpsuit was made for Sunday brunches; a gold-embroidered black gown for A-listers already running late to the red carpet; a red-and-pink striped set for summer soirées fueled by Aperol Spritzes and finger foods. The designs are neither showy nor understated; they yearn to be seen, but not necessarily spotted.
In his collection notes, Gordon described the show as “inspired by the dichotomy of discipline and grandeur” found within Sisi, the 19th-century Empress of Austria. Film buffs might recognize that name from 2022’s Corsage, in which Vicky Krieps plays the young empress, and poses for the movie’s poster with her ring finger hoisted like she’s flicking the bird. One critic I admire described this film as “finely tuned, and never fussy,” which could just as easily describe Gordon’s new Herrera collection. Yet, like Sisi, his designs are still proud, opulent, and luxurious enough that they forego any easy association with the return of the status quo. Such voluminous ball skirts, neon silk capes, tulle tufts, and off-the-shoulder sleeves speak to a lingering desire for adventure, for ease, for one or two (but not three!) drinks at lunch. Perhaps, they seem to suggest, you’d like to clear your schedule for the afternoon?
Even so, it’s in Gordon’s subtle, respectful deviations from the influence of his predecessor, Carolina Herrera herself, that the collection becomes more kaleidoscopic. Three looks in particular showcased the brand’s flirtation with a more bombastic aesthetic: one metallic gold dress featured a high-low skirt fused with a bomber jacket top; another paired the torso of a hooded anorak with a bow-cinched waist in an emerald-purple paisley print; a third design took the label’s classic white blouse and pinned it with a decidedly genderless oversized tie.
The result is a Herrera look that is classic but not forgotten, escapist but not out-of-touch, romantic but not saccharine. It’s a look that belongs under sunsets in the Hollywood Hills, in front of flashbulbs at the step-and-repeat, draped against the bar as the clock strikes midnight, but not anywhere within walking distance of a fax machine. And praise be for that: When the rest of us decide to quiet quit, we’re going to need something to wear.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.