A Q&A With Designer Gabriela Hearst
The Woolmark prize-winning designer talks brand integrity, the importance of sustainable fashion and her CFDA nomination.
Gabriela Hearst’s line of luxe knits, menswear-inspired pieces and cool-girl dresses offer immensely stylish design. But the fact that everything is also sustainable makes her label not only groundbreaking, but one that could help change the way we consume our clothing.
A native of Uruguay who splits her time between there and her NYC home, Hearst grew up on her family’s cattle and sheep farm, where her love of natural fabrics began. She uses fine merino wool, produced organically as per her father’s practice, in her own label. Growing up in such an idyllic setting shaped Hearst’s approach and continues to inform her work.
Her dedication to quality and craft resulted in her winning the International Woolmark prize last year. Her award-winning collection, consisting of an updated trench coat, an evening gown paired with a baseball jacket, as well as a scarf and reversible puffer vest and cycling trousers, will be available at The Room at Hudson’s Bay in mid-July 2017.
Here she talks to The Point about the current state of fashion, eco-friendly clothing and why she wants to win a CFDA award this coming June.
Your pieces are both classic and super stylish. Where do you draw inspiration from? And who do you see as the Gabriela Hearst woman?
I draw inspiration from several places—sometimes watching a movie, reading a book. I am really inspired by Egypt—I am reading a lot about Egypt. And I want to understand about culture in general. I started meditating a year ago, I meditate every day. I was on a run of 163 days in a row until the MET Gala—I couldn’t meditate that day. Some times these concepts just pop up while I am meditating. Before I go to bed I get very visual images of garments, or pieces, or colours, and I write them down so I don’t forget. Also, the rustic side of living in a rural area growing up and then being in one of the biggest metropolis’… that bipolarism combined together.
My role models are women who put their intelligence and their capacities in the service of others. There are a tremendous amount of women that I admire and respect and sometimes I am lucky enough to dress them. But it’s a woman who knows a bit about herself and she travels and she knows quality. She is concerned about the environment. And it’s a woman of action, that’s how I visualize her. She’s a woman on the go.
You took home the Woolmark Prize and are nominated for an emerging designer award at this year’s CFDA awards.
And I really want to win, too.
How do these awards affect your business? Do they guide you in anyway? It must be reassuring that you are on the right track.
It brings awareness to and validates the brand. It also show that you can trust this brand. They’re great morale for the team and they are an honour. And they are amazing goals. But, you know, I have one day to celebrate and then it’s back to work. I hope it does go our way for the CFDAs. Most people will say “It’s ok, it’s an honour.” I’m like, “No, I wanna win.” I actually asked myself, do you want to win for an ego trip? No, I want to win because I think it would be really good for our business. We will do really good things with it. After the elections in the U.S., I want to bring attention to things that need attention, like Planned Parenthood, like refugees. We are lucky that we are independent and we can voice our opinions. We don’t report to a board, so we can talk to things that we care about.
Why do you think sustainability is having such a moment right now in fashion?
Sustainability shouldn’t be a moment. Sustainability is a daily practice. I realized that every garment that we wear comes wrapped in plastic. It started to freak me out. I found through a contact, it’s called Tipa, which is a biodegradable, completely compostable film that looks like plastic. It’s from an Israeli woman who has developed it for the past six years. She’s a software engineer and she put it into the market and we’re starting the process of implementing it into our company. If you compost it with your vegetables and fruits, it will disappear in 24 weeks. While a plastic bag takes 500 years. It’s a no-brainer. I am a sixth generation rancher, and we believe that you always build something that you can leave to your children. Are we really going to leave our children with less than what we had?
We are all still figuring out what sustainability means to fashion. Do you think working sustainably will push your brand forward?
It’s not a marketing tool. It’s a pillar of my brand. It’s as important to me as using a mill that I know is passionate about quality. And knowing that the factory that I use in Italy is owned by a woman. The factory employs incredible people. It’s a must. I believe that you can do luxury without being wasteful.
Who is inspiring you in sustainability and beyond?
I was always inspired by Stella McCartney. She’s a vegetarian, she doesn’t use leather and she has her own values that you may or may not agree with. But she stuck to it, and she made a successful business out of it. That is something to admire.
Where do you see the label going for 2018?
For spring 2018—which we’ve already sketched, but haven’t started working on the materials for—I was inspired by men of style. I don’t know if I am doing it because I have been so focused on women that now I need to study men to understand us better. Contemporary men have a limited way of expressing themselves in a way. Like Fred Astaire, a silk handkerchief as a belt. These little styling tricks they do to differentiate themselves can be very attractive.
Photography by David Pike.