Getting to Know Wes Gordon

Wes Gordon
Photo courtesy of Wes Gordon
Wes Gordon.

Even for an industry obsessed with youth, designer Wes Gordon is more than a little impressive. The 24-year-old Atlanta native has a résumé that boasts a degree from Central Saint Martins, internships at Oscar de la Renta and Tom Ford, and a three-seasons-old eponymous collection that’s slowly but surely making the fashion world take note.

His contemporaries may be preoccupied with rock and roll, grunge, or the ‘70s, but Gordon eschews trends, focusing instead on modern but timeless pieces—stocked at the likes of Saks, Neiman Marcus, Harrods, and his latest account for Fall 2011, Kirna Zabête—that have all the luxury characteristics of his former bosses.

It’s no small feat for a newbie more or less fresh from design school. And yet this Southern-bred boy is far from pretentious; during our visit, he admits to being a “Gleek” and really wanting to see the Justin Bieber flick Never Say Never.

FashionEtc stopped by his Financial District studio to get to know Gordon, from his suspender-wearing youth and super-supportive family to why Oscar de la Renta’s studio is like “a movie about high fashion.”

When did you know you wanted to be a designer?

I always knew I wanted to be in fashion—ever since I knew that was a career I could go into. In school I was always sketching and drawing. I used to insist on wearing a pair of suspenders every day in kindergarten. I would look at films, beautiful older films, and I would sit on my mom’s lap when I was very young while she was getting ready in the morning, so there was always this seed of being interested in how people dress and what they choose to wear. I remember looking through an old Valentino book and being mesmerized at how beautiful it was, and the aura and romance of Valentino. I still have that book.

Who were your fashion icons when you were growing up?

I loved Valentino, I loved Erté—I had this big Erté coffee table book. Actually, John Galliano was the reason I wanted to go to Central Saint Martins.

How are you feeling about him currently?

I’m in no position to judge Galliano, but he’s representing a big company, and making drunken anti-Semitic remarks—aside from the fact that it’s horrible to even think that—are just not OK. Dior is a huge company. It’s horrible.

What was CSM like for you?

I lived in Atlanta and I went to a conservative private school, so going to London was like going to the other end of the world. It seemed like this magical place far away that was all about fashion. I liken it to the Hogwarts of fashion—creaky wooden floors and hallways that don’t match up. It’s incredible.

How did your family feel about you going off to London?

They were happy because they got to come visit! I have wonderful parents. At my presentation, my mom was running around giving everyone the spiel about the collection.

Does she wear your clothes?

She does! I actually have a very large outstanding invoice for her.

How did you end up working with Tom Ford in London?

When I was there, Tom Ford had just opened his store on King’s Road. It was very small and it had just opened, and I was there interning and helping out with things in the office. There’s a great spirit of tailoring in London. There’s amazing womenswear there, but for me, London is amazing for it’s menswear.

Do you think your collection would be different if you had studied in New York rather than London?

I was accepted to Parsons, and I thought really hard about that. It’s an amazing school, but at the end of the day I thought that, as an American, it would be cool to spend time abroad. I always knew I wanted to come back to New York to start my business, and I was very lucky because over the summers I worked for Oscar [de la Renta], so I got the New York fashion experience as well. That was really helpful. London is amazing, but it doesn’t have the same industry and infrastructure for fashion that New York does. In the Garment District, you can find anything you could ever need in 30 seconds.

What was it like working with Oscar de la Renta?

First of all, he’s the nicest man alive. Second, it’s just exactly how you would envision the fashion industry to be. A big, beautiful office, him in a tie, very chic women coming in and out to say hi and air kiss. House models, bolts of beautiful fabric—it’s like a movie about high fashion. I think I spent all my savings on clothes to wear there. I got to be his intern, which was amazing. He works so hard—for someone of his status and age, it’s extraordinary. I got to stand next to him and hand him pins while he worked. I was always at the ready with pins, holding the pointy end so I wouldn’t stab him!

To observe that atmosphere was incredible. So few people in New York still have that very elegant atmosphere. There’s so much that’s factory-line fast and contemporary price points, and he is truly a master of luxury. I was so grateful to be there.

To go from working in such an established, glamorous place to starting from scratch and launching your own line—was that a kind of wake-up call?

There’s a lot of glamour looking into the fashion industry, but at the end of the day, it’s a very hard industry. People work really hard—maybe they’re wearing cuter outfits than people in other fields, but they’re working just as hard. People who go to fashion school realize that pretty quickly. I happen to enjoy working as much as I do because it’s something I love doing.

Wes Gordon Fall 2011 collection

Photos courtesy of Wes Gordon

Looks from Wes Gordon's Fall 2011 collection

What was the hardest part about launching your line?

It’s actually the same thing that makes it so fun: that you’re doing everything for the first time. There are no systems in place. On the one hand it’s great figuring out all the ways to do what you need to do—but the other side is tough. How do you get the customs forms to ship to Germany? I’m so lucky to have an amazing group of people here, but we’re kind of blazing the trail. It gets easier, but then you have to start worrying about scale; we’re now producing three times the clothes as when we started.

Do you have mentors in the industry?

It’s really amazing in New York the way everyone wants to help out small brands. We work with people for whom we’re a very small account, but you would never know that based on how they treat us. I think it’s a real testament to fashion in New York. Our pleater, for example, who does pleating for everyone, will spend 45 minutes on the phone with me answering all my silly questions.

How are you growing?

There are so many things I want to do! We’re going to start working with knits. I’d love to do menswear eventually, maybe experiment with different price points, home lines. And definitely accessories, starting with belts. But it’s really important that we start how we’re starting, which is as a luxury brand. From there, we can branch out in other directions.

What’s your dream for the future of your company?

I look at people like Armani, Ralph Lauren—anything they do, whether it’s menswear or a chair or women’s gloves, it fits into their world so perfectly. They’ve built such a great brand identity that’s so clear and so them, you can apply it to anything—hotels, for example. They’ve created a world.

That’s the most fun about what we’re doing here: starting a new company from scratch, and everything—down to the business cards—needs to start coming together to create a thread, an identity season after season.