Gabriela Hearst doesn’t care if she’s cool or not. The 42-year-old says, with a warm South American intonation, that it’s a confidence that comes with age, but as someone who effectively lives two lives—one as a cosmopolitan fashion designer and the other as a sheep rancher—her coolness is implicit.
“I don’t try to be cool. I’m interested in alluring people.”
The same can be said of Hearst’s eponymous womenswear brand, which is equal parts pragmatism and romance—just as a city-dweller might view the life of a rancher. Her upbringing in the lowlands of Uruguay makes it easy for Hearst to eschew the ephemeral, trend-driven nature of the fashion industry, opting instead to reuse what’s already available.
At Hearst’s studio, in West Chelsea, mementos of South America sit among clothing samples and look books. Above her desk is a framed black-and-white photo of her mother, wearing jeans and a bandana, riding a horse. Another shows her father in typical gaucho garb. Hearst, née Perezutti, stands tall, clad in a red suede skirt and matching silk top of her own design—paired with a Mochila bag. Shelves are stacked with books on Argentinian artists, fashion photography, and feminism.
You’re a Scorpio. That means you’re supposed to be resourceful, do you agree with that characterization?
I am very resourceful. I don’t know if that’s the sign or because I grew up in Uruguay. Everything was kind of seamless and low-impact and really thought-out. I think that’s a very South American way, because we don’t have access to a lot of things, so you just have to make it pretty with what you have. And that’s part of our aesthetic.
Tell me about growing up in Uruguay.
I lived in a very isolated place—when I was born there was more animals than people. I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could. Once I traveled around the world and lived in other places, my appreciation became evident. People tend to romanticize where they grew up, but this is a really romantic kind of existence. I was isolated from people, and it made me crave people. I wanted to know about other cultures, and travel the world.
But now you run your own sheep ranch there.
I inherited my father’s ranch when he passed away, six years ago, so I’ve been managing the ranch, but I have an amazing foreman who trained with my father, so he’s kind of like my dad’s clone. If it wasn’t for him, it wouldn’t be possible for me to have this dual life, because to get there takes twenty-four hours, door-to-door.
Two years ago you started to do runway shows during Fashion Week instead of presentations. What made you decide to do change your platform?
I think it was the right moment. Three years ago we decided to do our first show, but we wanted to do it smartly. A third of the collection is made with things that already exist: limited-edition Loro Piana fabrics, Swarovski crystals—they’re all stocks that we just chose. I’m having a aversion to using new stuff and throwing things out, because we can’t afford waste. We just can’t.
Recently, you have expanded the company's commitment to sustainability and designed or introduced quite a few new innovative practices. Can you tell us about some of those?
People say, ‘Oh you know we need to save the planet.’ No, no, no. Obviously you do not expose yourself to nature. You think you’re going to save the planet? Nature is a natural force. We are going to get exterminated. First it’s going to happen to the people that have the least, but then it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the luxury of selling people things that people don’t need. If we’re going to do that, let's make sure it’s good and that we’re doing some good.
In 2017 we introduced, a special silver fabric that prevents cell phone radiation from reaching women’s reproductive organs. Our jackets and coats are lined with this silver textile.
We only use certified natural fibers and leftover materials like cashmere and silk from previous collections to implement our designs. For the Resort 18 collection, a brand new fabrication was introduced: aloe-treated linen, a much more complete fiber than cotton because it absorbs less water during production. At the same time, its flax seed can be used for nutritional value.
In April we achieved our goal of being plastic free for both front and back of house with the use of TIPA packaging, which offers bio-based alternatives to traditional plastic packaging that are fully compostable within six months and introducing recycled cardboard hangers.
For the Spring Summer 2019 collection, we introduced piqué and twill suits spun from the wool of the merino sheep of my family's ranch in Uruguay.
You must have been very excited to be able to integrate the sheep ranch into the Gabriela Hearst brand.
It was a joyous process because it took me back to my childhood home more often but it was also a labor of love. The entire process took us over a year and a half to execute.
It’s also interesting how manufacturing from deadstock materials creates an exclusivity to your collection.
That’s why it made so much sense. There’s only going to be ten of a certain coat and for me, that’s real luxury. By using something that already exists, I think we’re building on the positive, and building on positive is always good commerce. Maybe it’s a slower route for us, but I also have ten years of experience of making mistakes, so I can use what I’ve learned in a very efficient way.
What are those mistakes?
I started [the contemporary clothing label] Candela with $700. It had its advantages—you make money really quickly because you have to pay for your own light switch. You have to make it work, but you don’t have many choices. When you launch with better capital, you can choose to work with people who are really experts in their fields. When you work with masters, it elevates your work.
When you launched your line four years ago, what made you think it was the right time?
I couldn’t work with more crappy product. Straight up. I was in my late 30s, they were asking me to make cheaper product, and I was basing collections on, like, graffiti artists—I was communicating in the wrong medium. I was thinking of doing a high-end line for a long time, but it’s very hard to bring a line from a certain price to a higher price. That’s nearly impossible. You have to start all over.
And it takes time and experience to be able to make that change.
I’m at an age where, first of all, I don’t care if I’m cool. I don’t try to be cool, but I’m interested in how to seduce and allure people. I think comes with confidence. It usually comes with time for women. I think about women all the time, because at the end of the day what I do is a service. I dress women.
Who are some of the women that inspire you?
Angela Davis, Oriana Fallaci, Kamala Harris, and Tammy Duckworth. All women who are very strong and very tough, but it’s what they are hiding—their softness—that’s powerful. Tammy Duckworth was a soldier who survived a helicopter accident, lost her limbs, was left for dead, rehabilitated, and then ran for Senate and won. They go through these challenges and put it in the service of others. I have huge admiration for them.
After your first show, the Business of Fashion’s headline for your review was “Gabriela Hearst Proves She’s Her Own Woman.” Did you feel like that was something you had to prove?
I feel like a lot of the time because of the last name of my husband [media executive Austin Hearst], I have to work three times as hard. He had to live with it all of his life, so I got to experience a little bit of what he’s experienced. Some people had this misconception that I just woke up and created a fashion line. I’ve been schlepping for the past twelve years. I’ve paid my dues. Candela was never a huge success, but it was a medium success, and I was able to support myself with it.
Were you considering using your maiden name, Perezutti?
I did, but at the end of the day I think the name was the most truthful option. It was a right choice because it’s a family business. I’m the Gabriela, he’s the Hearst. We are the sole investors in the company. He’s still an investor, so I have to show a profit. At the end of the day, the product can be called whatever. If it doesn’t sell, it doesn’t sell.
One of your best-selling products is the Nina bag, but you didn’t originally plan on making accessories. What changed your mind?
I just wanted to make one bag, so we worked on this bag for nine or ten months with no pressure. I had the prototype and I met Johnny Ives in the elevator of Claridge’s in London. I didn’t recognize him—he asked me who makes the bag. I was like, “I do. It’s a prototype.” I told him I may do twenty or twenty-five to give to women I know, and he said, “If you do, I’d like one.” He gives me his card. His name reads: Jony Ive. That was the sign.