Fashion designer Gabriela Hearst: ‘I could always have gone back to selling cattle’ | Fashion

hWait a minute, I want to show you something, “says Gabriela Hearst, getting up from her chair in her breezy Manhattan office and picking something up from the shelves against the backdrop of her Zoom frame.” These are my journals from when I was 16 or 17 – make me check the date, er 1993, yeah I was 17 and look! “He flattens a page full of colorful teen drawings and holds it up to the camera:” I’ve designed a whole collection of scary shoes! “

The fact that these journals remain within easy reach of the designer’s desk in his Chelsea studio is testament to the fact that despite the success he has achieved, Hearst never forgets where he came from. As the creative director of his award-winning brand, founded in 2015, and for a year in the same prestigious role at fashion house Chloé, it would be an understatement to say that Hearst is a hot property in the fashion world right now.

Not only can she count the likes of Angelina Jolie, Gillian Anderson, Greta Thunberg and Jill Biden as fans of her brand (she dressed the latter in the embroidered white coat for the 2020 opening night), but she is doing well headlines. fashionable for his determination to prove to an industry famous for its unsustainable practices that sustainable innovation can also make good business sense. It is also a serious asset that her husband, John Augustine Hearst, a senior member of the Hearst Corporation and heir to one of America’s wealthiest families, is involved in the self-financing society.

From day one of her eponymous brand, famed for its luxury aesthetic, she has raised the bar on how to run a luxury fashion house in a sustainable way. She set a goal of using 80% deadstock fabric within three years and no virgin materials by 2022. Her first fashion week runway in 2016 – where she brought chairs from her home and donated floorboards in metal of the show when it was finished – laid the groundwork for the first carbon neutral fashion show in September 2019. Earlier that year his brand declared itself plastic-free, “front and back of house”, using recycled cardboard hangers and fully compostable bio-based TIPA packaging. And she re-romanticized the idea of ​​waiting lists, making her handbags more or less to order to avoid waste.

Gabriela Hearst appears on the catwalk for her SS 2022 collection for Chloé, wearing a long, color-block skirt.
Shout out: on the catwalk for her SS 2022 collection for Chloé. Photograph: Christophe Petit-Tesson / EPA

It’s a passion from a bucolic childhood that Hearst loves to keep as close to her heart as she is close at hand. Born to a sixth generation of ranchers in remote Uruguay in November 1976, she spent her childhood living virtually off the net, raising cattle from a young age on her parents’ 17,000-acre ranch in Paysandú. “It’s extremely remote,” he points out. “When I was a child and it was raining, you didn’t go out because the rivers flooded. We should plan a whole year of what we would like to eat because you can’t just pop into the supermarket or a deli. “

In the absence of a TV, the radio provided entertainment, while for the designer, “My toy was my imagination,” she says. “Much of the creativity I have today comes from using my imagination [back then]. Imagination is all problem solving, right? On a ranch you have to use it a lot; you can’t just bring an expert if something doesn’t work. That time taught me that quality essentially comes from a utilitarian perspective … and even in a humble environment there is high quality, because everything is made to last a lifetime. “

This logic – and the rhythms of following nature in its early years of development – is what Hearst attributes his appreciation of the land and its resources to. He also has an innate understanding of how to use common sense: “Reset your mind on what needs to be done to work? The ways to prioritize were ingrained in my education! ” she says. Those formative years would go on to create a force to be reckoned with later on.

In 2017 she won the prestigious Womenswear International Woolmark Prize; in May 2018 he won the Pratt Fashion Visionary Award for his commitment to sustainability; in April 2019, LVMH Luxury Ventures acquired a minority stake in the business; was named Fashion Council of America’s Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2020 (the fashion equivalent of the Oscars); and last month she was named Leader of Change at the British Fashion Awards.

“This accolade humbly gives us more push for the way to go,” she told her followers on Instagram (where, by the way, you can find her making her way into shopping encounters, demonstrating how to wear her designs and sharing inspirations. pictures of his mother raising criollos horses). Hearst’s road to success, it transpires, has been as dynamic as she is.

Turning the page of his diary, he proudly displays a sketch that reads: “I’m going to Australia!” “When you live in Uruguay, you are really far from everything and [when I was 17] I wanted to go to Australia like nothing else in the world. I told everyone I was going there and they said I was crazy, “she explains.” Then one day a friend told me about a scholarship that would take me there. There was a place, I applied for the whole presentation and I got it.

Resort and Summer 2022 Collection by Gabriella Hearst
Color code: designs for Gabriela’s label. Photography: shutterstock / PR

After returning to Uruguay, Hearst convinced her mother to let her get a paid job to save money to visit a friend in New York she had met during her scholarship. “I arrived [in New York] in 1994, when I was 18 and within a few hours I said I’m going to live here, “he says pragmatically. Six years later, he made the permanent move, enrolling in the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater to study performing arts. . After convincing his father to pay his taxes – “convincing my father that he was a gaucho to pay for drama school in New York was my best performance ever” – he worked on his studies to cover his expenses. While a career on stage turned out not to be her calling, she took an important lesson from her time there.

“We studied the Meisner technique, which I got,” he says. “It’s the technique of being honest – of facing the truth [it takes] perform and perform from a place of truth. It was an amazing experience and without it I wouldn’t have been able to do interviews like this or be so present [today]. “

None of her friends or family are surprised Hearst ended up being a stylist, she says, though she admits she fell for it by accident.

Before Gabriela Hearst and long before Chloé, came Candela, the women’s clothing brand that started with two partners and $ 750 each. “At that point, if it didn’t work out, I would have to go back to selling cattle with my dad, so I gave it my all!” she laughs. “I don’t recommend it, but at the time it was like 0% APR and so we ran out of credit cards [to get it started]. Fortunately, the business went from zero to a million dollars in no time, so we were able to pay it back. “

Gabriela Hearst with Jill Biden and Carolyn Miles.
Blue Note: with Jill Biden and Carolyn Miles. Photograph: Mike Coppola / Getty Images

It was Candela who taught Hearst the crux of the matter of supply chains and logistics, which she is grateful for, but ultimately led to disillusionment. “We were doing [clothes] for the contemporary market at cheap and low quality prices and for me there was a total disconnection ”. In 2011, her father passed away and she inherited her ranch (which she still manages remotely to this day). Finding himself in Paysandú “working with tradition, organizing animals, [watching] the circle of life ”he knew that something had to change. “I thought about it and said, ‘If I’m going to publish something new, it has to be done better and with less environmental impact than anything else.’

Four years later, and after a lot of research and planning, her brand was born in partnership with her husband, with whom she has three children, Jack, six, and Olivia and Mia, both 13. It was with her encouragement that Hearst has pursued the pinnacle work in Chloé, which happened in the distinctive enterprising style.

“I had one of these crazy Gabi moments when I said to my future boss: ‘Look, my name is Gabi, just like founder Gaby [Aghion] so it’s this’! ” she laughs. “Then, of course, I did a 92 page presentation and justified my thought process, but it really had to be because it’s a language I love.”

Achieving a work-life balance while leading two of the world’s most successful fashion brands is “very challenging,” he says. “But I have a very supportive family. My husband’s responsibilities have changed and adapted, so there is definitely a sacrifice ”.

Gabriela Hearst with Gillian Anderson at the Met Gala.
Brand Fan: With Gillian Anderson. Photograph: Mike Coppola / Getty Images

Living a “moderate” life that includes sleeping by 9.30pm for at least eight hours of sleep a night, exercise and a healthy diet – “I mean, I’ll derail certain times of pressure and eat too many gummy bears and drink too much coffee, sure” – believes in maintaining clarity so that she can “access information from the subconscious” and carefully chooses what takes her away from home. In November, Hearst spent her birthday in Glasgow on a panel at COP26 talking about achieving success climate through low-impact business models. “Spending your birthday away from your kids is painful, and so if I’m going to do it, I really wanted it to be worth it, and it was.”

His work as a Save the Children trustee since 2018 has also turned his attention to Ghana, Kenya and, more recently, Afghanistan. Not for the first time, it took advantage of the exclusivity of its waitlists and limited edition designs this December and donated 100% of the net proceeds of all items in its flagship stores in London and New York, as well as the his website to the charity Afghanistan Crisis Relief Fund for Children.

“I don’t like it when brands are bombarding me with gift lists and things like that,” she says. “The holiday season is about giving and being aware of others, so I don’t feel comfortable selling a product just to make more money. Can’t we think of other people? Afghanistan is one of the places that is hell on earth right now and why do those children have to suffer? It may not be in the news now, but that doesn’t mean the problem has been eradicated. “

This year she quietly launched the Gabriela Hearst Youth Program in the United States as well, to create a space where teenagers can channel their anxieties by teaching them about fabrics and the future of fashion design. One of his proudest hits of the year, says a lot about Hearst’s motivation to do everything he does. Two of his main conclusions at this year’s COP26 summit were: “Anyone who fights against young people will lose” and that when it comes to the environment, we should all leave our children better than when we started. “The mission was worth it,” he says. “I can honestly tell my kids I’ve tried, I’ve tried damn.”

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