Gabriela Hearst and the Future of Luxury
By Thomas Sweeney
Photographed by Hanna Tveite
Whenever the topic of discussion is the future of womenswear (and, by extension, that of the luxury-goods business itself), Gabriela Hearst, whose eponymous label is a mere three years old, seems to be the name on everyone's lips. What is it about the Uruguay-born, New York–based designer that resonates not only with fashion businesspeople, but also, more importantly, with the women who crave her expertly tailored suits and gaucho-inspired cashmere knits? The answer, she explains, lies in a two-pronged approach that's trickier to execute than it sounds, especially in a fashion environment ruled by Instagram-friendly fads: 1) produce only timeless, practical designs of the highest quality, and 2) maintain a relentless commitment to unique forms of sustainability.
Hearst, who began fashion-illustrating in her youth and who has been designing professionally in New York since the early aughts, is a purveyor of what she calls "honest luxury" (i.e., the ethical and sustainable kind). Each season, for example, she collaborates with Manos del Uruguay, a non-profit co-op that pays local craftswomen a living wage to hand-knit the outsized wraps, cardigans, and crewneck sweaters that are fast becoming trademark pieces for her brand. And for Spring 2018, the merino used for suiting comes from sheep on her ranch. "This is the first time I've ever done it," she says. "It involved having the wool sent to Italy to be milled. The whole process took a year and a half." Hearst is also passionate about the aloe-treated, skin-moisturizing linen that appears in both Spring 2018 and Resort 2018. "Flax is the ultimate eco-fiber," she enthuses. "There is no waste and zero water needed, and there are no GMOs."
It was, as it happens, an eco-centric, secondhand inheritance that inspired her Resort 2018 collection. "For Christmas, my friend Lauren gave me a rustic cross-body raffia bag that she'd bought in the '70s," Hearst says. "I decided to put a crocodile bag in it, to hide the richer material. With time, I became more drawn to the idea of wealth being on the inside, of looking past the surface, which is very South American. With Resort, this idea manifests in crochet-trimmed pieces and silk-piqué dresses." Vibrant color stories, too, play a significant role, she says. Blues (particularly cobalt tones) are prominent, appearing on a shoulder-baring puff-sleeve top, a cashmere-lined denim puffer jacket, and a striped tie-back midi dress in that aloe-softened linen.
If a client is buying a suit or a cashmere coat, I want her to have it for the rest of her life. All of this while pursuing a sustainable way of creating luxury, which shouldn't be wasteful.
Spring 2018, too, was influenced by threads from the past, but this time by those of a masculine nature—something of a first for a label that always seems to count a woman as muse. "For Spring, the inspiration came from men of style who used garments in distinct ways to translate their passion," Hearst says. "Winston Churchill's polka-dot bow ties and pocket-watch chains, for instance, were transferred to dresses and skirts, while one of Miles Davis's suits inspired a windowpane blazer that we mixed with polka-dot pants." The looks pictured here on model Liisa Winkler, which include the "Herve" dress, the "Gainsbourg" pant, and a pink rendition of the Miles Davis–inspired blazer, initially appear to be further studies in Hearst's tailored simplicity, but, she says, there's more than meets the eye: "This collection took a lot of detail and in-depth work in developing materials for each individual style. A simple stripped T-shirt is not just that; it is cashmere and silk. But, like these men, there is still a coolness and a relaxed sense of luxury."
As is always the case with Hearst, the luxury is a delicate and unassuming kind, requiring a trained eye to spot (there's nary a logo in sight). But, then, what else would one expect from a conscientious New York designer who doubles as a sixth-generation rancher in another hemisphere, far from the bright lights of the city? Ultimately, she says, her roots and one-of-a-kind backstory are precisely what offer her, and her brand, that certain mark of difference—one that would be difficult to replicate: "I like the expression that 'You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.' Even after all these years in New York, Uruguay is always expressed in what I do, as it the core of my DNA and a wonderful and very specific place to grow up. It gives me a uniquely precise point of view."
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Styling Gabrielle Marcecca
Makeup Rei Tajima
Hair Takayoshi Tsukisawa
Lighting Design Aaron Joseph Thomas
Art Director Ashley Helvey
Model Liisa Winker
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