Gabriela Hearst Blends De­sign­ing, Sheep Farm­ing

WWD Digital Daily - - News - BY

The de­signer talks about time­less de­sign, in­vestors and con­trol.

In busi­ness since 2015, Gabriela Hearst is cook­ing on all burn­ers. She's opened her first flag­ship on Madi­son Av­enue in Man­hat­tan, has de­vel­oped a ro­bust readyto-wear and ac­ces­sories busi­ness, was the grand-prize win­ner of the In­ter­na­tional Wool­mark Award, and was a 2018 fi­nal­ist for the CFDA Wom­enswear De­signer of the Year award.

With a de­signer col­lec­tion that fo­cuses on lux­u­ri­ous fab­rics, fine crafts­man­ship and sus­tain­abil­ity, Hearst is do­ing things on her own terms.

The de­signer sat down with Jes­sica Iredale, se­nior fash­ion fea­tures ed­i­tor at WWD, to talk about her Uruguayan up­bring­ing, her ca­reer, her de­ci­sion not to whole­sale her hand­bags and sell di­rectly off a wait list, and where the brand is headed.

WWD: When I was putting this to­gether, I was think­ing about how we met three-and-a-half years ago, when you were launch­ing Gabriela Hearst. I re­mem­ber go­ing to your house to pre­view the col­lec­tion and think­ing I was go­ing to see a stan­dard new de­signer launch. When I got there, you were very preg­nant with your son. You had a full ready-to-wear col­lec­tion with the nicest fab­rics I had ever seen, you had shoes, bags and a logo and a brand book de­signed by Peter Miles. And I said, “OK she's se­ri­ous.” You had a re­ally clear vi­sion and a story to tell from the be­gin­ning. What did you want to do and why? Gabriela Hearst: I wanted to do ex­actly what you just said — I wanted to present the col­lec­tion. I also had 10 years of my pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, and I re­ally knew what I wanted to do. I fi­nally found my voice, and what I wanted to do was very clear, but it took a while to get there. The first im­age was ac­tu­ally my mother, the one on the horse in 1971. Those are the im­ages of the first col­lec­tion. I wanted to bring back what I learned in Uruguay, be­cause I in­her­ited my fa­ther's ranch. The el­e­ments of where I grew up, and the 19 years of liv­ing in New York. Com­bin­ing those two in essence was the be­gin­ning of the brand. I had a very par­tic­u­lar up­bring­ing so I knew how to keep all those el­e­ments ex­actly. The vi­sion fi­nally was crys­tal­liz­ing. It took over a decade.

WWD: Talk a lit­tle bit more about be­ing from Uruguay. You grew up on a sheep ranch.

G.H.: My fam­ily is all in ranch­ing. My fa­ther, my step­fa­ther, my mother. All I knew grow­ing up was be­ing in na­ture, out-num­bered by an­i­mals in a large-scale place where you don't see other houses or any other peo­ple. That made me very cu­ri­ous. Life is very sim­ple in that way. And, I was ac­tu­ally telling my chil­dren, we had the phones [she makes a mo­tion of an old-style wind-up phone]….There's a joke that if the end of the world is com­ing, you move to Uruguay, be­cause it will come in 15 years.

I learned about qual­ity there, and qual­ity that's not op­u­lence. Qual­ity that's made from a util­i­tar­ian point of view. Ev­ery­thing, the leather is made by hand, the sad­dles are made by hand. They need to last. That's what qual­ity is. You can't do qual­ity fast. It takes time. That's where the time­less as­pect comes from. You're go­ing to in­vest your time in de­sign­ing what will have a cer­tain value. You have to have a de­sign that's not trend-based or trend­fo­cused. You're go­ing to have it for­ever. My mother didn't have a lot of clothes. What she had was very beau­ti­ful. When she had to clean up, when she was not on a horse. There was no Bergdorf's to go shop [at]. There were no fancy stores. The nicest thing you could do was to buy fab­rics and have them done with your seam­stress.

You would de­sign and make your cloth­ing. It's ba­si­cally cou­ture. It's a beau­ti­ful seam­stress that all my fam­ily worked with. I grew up with very beau­ti­ful prod­ucts that were made in this craft. That's where the vi­sion comes from. I have a true pas­sion of al­ways look­ing for qual­ity. It can be the best parmi­giana or the best es­presso. It's about find­ing the pas­sion.

WWD: What does lux­ury mean to you? It is true lux­ury. You're one of the few de­sign­ers in the U.S. do­ing that.

G.H.: It takes know­ing where things come from. My fam­ily is five gen­er­a­tions, and I'm six gen­er­a­tions in busi­ness. But I know what pas­sion looks like and feels like. It takes some­times a gen­er­a­tion or more to make a good prod­uct. When you're work­ing with mills that are fam­i­ly­owned, they take so much pride in the prod­uct. It takes more of a life­time to cre­ate a prod­uct. For me, that's lux­ury.

It's know­ing where ev­ery­thing is made, how it's made and what you're giv­ing to your cus­tomer.

WWD: You ac­tu­ally use some of the wool from your ranch.

G.H.: It was a year-and-a-half process. It was ac­tu­ally my hus­band's idea. He's Amer­i­can and from New York. He was telling me, “You should use the wool from your farm.” They're com­pletely dif­fer­ent, I'm sell­ing a raw ma­te­rial. He said, “No Gabby, you need to ex­plain. You know where things come from, a lot of peo­ple don't tie the knots like that.” I'm like, OK. Af­ter a lot of in­sis­tence, we had a mill from Italy take the wool from the ranch, and process the wool, and the navy twill and gray flan­nel from our col­lec­tion is from the wool from the farm.

WWD: Sus­tain­abil­ity fac­tors into your idea of lux­ury. How do you im­ple­ment that, and what's your phi­los­o­phy on sus­tain­abil­ity now?

G.H.: I come from there. I grew up in a sus­tain­able en­vi­ron­ment. We've had grass­fed, or­ganic. That's the way we've al­ways done it. For me, lux­ury is sus­tain­able. It shouldn't be two com­pet­ing con­cepts. Be­cause some­thing that's crafted by hand and the whole process, it needs to have the hu­man as­pect, and not be based on over­con­sump­tion. We do spe­cific things in our com­pany to cre­ate that. We know how many prod­ucts we make, and we know how many prod­ucts we sell. We also make sure we'll take plas­tic out of the com­pany by April 2019, the flex­i­ble pack­ag­ing will be biodegrad­able.…We found Tipa, which is cre­ated by two Is­raeli moth­ers. We had seven years in re­search and devel­op­ment, it's an amaz­ing so­lu­tion. We're the first ones to de­velop a gar­ment bag with them, and hope­fully a lot of de­sign­ers can use it, too. Ev­ery­one's clothes here have been wrapped in plas­tic and all the hang­ers that come in plas­tic end up in land­fills, they don't get re­cy­cled. Those are the two big prob­lems we saw in our back of­fice. The Tipa pack­ag­ing now will be biodegrad­able for 24 weeks ver­sus 500 years. We're go­ing to ship in card­board hang­ers,

WWD: The de­signs are very in­ter­est­ing, and they're all struc­tured. G.H.: The whole process of a hand­bag is not out of your tra­di­tional recipe book of things. Our head of sales told me you can't launch just a hand­bag, you have to launch a col­lec­tion. And a friend was telling me, “You can't walk around with your shoes and your col­lec­tion and some­one else's hand­bag.” I ba­si­cally cre­ated a hand­bag that I wanted to wear. In that phi­los­o­phy, we're still cre­at­ing our dif­fer­ent hand­bags. In the nine-to-10month pe­riod it took to de­velop, in that one [the Mitchell is based on the Tif­fin sys­tem for In­dia where it sep­a­rates and com­part­men­tal­izes] you can have your cell phones, your bat­tery charger, your makeup and your credit cards. I like this idea of cre­at­ing things that are more struc­tural, but they're com­pletely free. I don't de­sign a hand­bag col­lec­tion. I come up with an idea and we go. It's 50 per­cent of our rev­enue.

WWD: In ad­di­tion to in­ter­est­ing de­signs, you also ba­si­cally refuse to whole­sale them, which has prob­a­bly driven your re­tail part­ners crazy, but it worked out pretty well for you. What were you think­ing?

G.H.: I had two guide­lines for Gabriela Hearst: codes. Long-term view, num­berone, and sus­tain­abil­ity. They pre­sented me the whole­sale plan. Im­me­di­ately, I thought, OK, we can sell a lot of bags. At the end of the day, we'll be mak­ing the same amount of money to be sell­ing dou­ble the amount. It just didn't make sense from the nat­u­ral re­sources point of view. In the fast pace that we're liv­ing of over­ex­po­sure, I want to be do­ing this for a long time. I can pace my­self to grow. That's part of the phi­los­o­phy of the com­pany. Growth, con­trol, strate­gi­cally. I want to be do­ing this for a while.

WWD: Some of them have a wait list. How does it work?

G.H.: It's the op­po­site of speed. We did ►

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