Gordon Henderson: Basics Aren’t Basic

We often note and remember the designs and pieces that wow us; that is, the statement pieces,
the bold prints, the neon colors, and the angular cuts. But what about the basics? What about
the pieces that are the flesh and bones of our wardrobe? What about our uniforms? As
important as they are, basics are often forgotten; not celebrated enough for the capacity and
endlessness they hold for creating one’s “uniform,” that is, an outfit that someone feels so
comfortable and easy in, they wear it every day. Gordon Henderson created the slick, sporty,
and streamlined basic wardrobe that we know and love today, and laid the foundation for so
many brands and designers to produce lines of “basics” that are so vital to our wardrobes.
Born in the small, Northern California town of Merced, Henderson attributes his discovery of GQ
at age 17 as his first introduction and catalyst to loving fashion. As a boy, he observed his
mother sewing dresses from the patterns in Vogue, and took more of a liking than many to the
process. He attended Parsons New School, as many aspiring designers did, and after
graduating in 1981, he landed a remarkable first gig as an assistant at Calvin Klein; skipping
many of the traditional steps and odd jobs and unpaid internships many young up-and-comers
have to endure at the beginning of their careers. Through both working at Calvin Klein, as well
as on his own volition, Henderson found his niche in designing elegant, classic, and timeless
basics that fit well in any wardrobe, and complemented any piece that anyone would have in
their closet. With little to no color and patterns and embroidery here and there, Henderson, with
the influence of the Calvin Klein brand, created the building blocks of getting dressed.
Henderson travelled all over; from Paris to Hong Kong, in order to research and purchase
various fabrics that fit his brand and aesthetic. He specifically gained inspiration and admiration
for the women of Paris’ aesthetic: simple and adaptive, and he believed that American women
should adopt the same type of free will and personal touch in their style. Despite his clothing
and designs being utterly basic, Henderson noted that the way his pieces are styled dictate
one’s uniform, not the pieces themselves: he was simply aiding and augmenting womens’
Henderson was evidently talented at what he was conveying: in 1990, he won the Perry Ellis
Award for best new designer.
Henderson’s chic and modern approach to clothing was somewhat unheard of during the late
80s and early 90s; that is, the basics and proper street style were not as celebrated as they are
today: people used to dress up more, and focus on the statement designers, rather than pieces
that were functional and affordable. But, the time at Calvin Klein had a profound impact on
Henderson, and in effect, Henderson had a profound impact on the world of fashion, specifically
big name, luxury department stores. One very prominent name, Saks Fifth Avenue was struck
by Henderson’s new wave approach to clothing, and decided to fully support him.

Henderson was the first designer in the history of designers to be backed by a huge, large-scale
retailer. In 1992, he designed a line under his name that would sell exclusively at Saks.
When thinking of basics, many brands and designers may come to mind, including, but not
limited to: Rag and Bone, JET, Gap, American Apparel, Vince, Frame… the list goes on and on.
But our basics, and more importantly, our favorite jeans and white tee uniform look would not be
here if it were not for the work of Henderson. Henderson saw the beauty in the mundane, the
mundane in terms of fashion. But in reality, there is nothing more timeless and crisp and iconic
than a perfect white tee, and we have Henderson’s designs and visions to thank for that. By: Emily Goldberg