Designer spotlight: Interview with Gabriela Hearst

Designer spotlight: Interview with Gabriela Hearst

Understated luxury

Text: Dora Aljoofri-Shrestha

Image: Olga Izakson

In an industry dominated by men, Buro meets the new female designer on the rise

Uruguay-born New York based designer, Gabriela Hearst is someone who should be on everyone's fashion radar this year. Her namesake label, launched just under a year ago for fall 2015, is steadily growing a strong fan base who truly appreciates quality luxury apparel that transcends time and seasons. But the biggest goal for her new label? To cut out garment wastage by creating well-crafted functional clothes that people will never want to throw out.

Married to Austin Hearst, a TV and film producer who's also the grandson of William Randolph Hearst, the former model turned fashion designer started her first label, Candela — a contemporary line of bohemian clothes — over a decade ago. Now with her second line, the creative businesswoman and mother of three speaks to Buro about her latest venture, what drives her and the plans she has for the family ranch she's inherited. 

I want my clothes to function;
I want my coat to protect you from the cold weather.
We're constantly on the move and I want these clothes to adapt to whatever environment you are in. 

You launched your eponymous label nearly a year ago and before that you started the brand, Candela. Why did you decide to start your own label?
I started Candela when I was in my early twenties. It was more of a contemporary brand. In the past few years, when I was thinking about clothes, I realised that I always had a strong passion for making things in the best quality possible; and I couldn't just take a brand with a certain price point to another. We had to create something new. Gabriela Hearst is much more reflective of what I do today as a woman, as well as what I believe and want to do in general.

How has your design approach changed in these last 10 years?
I am much more confident in voicing exactly what I want and how I want it. I would say that Gabriela Hearst is more of a complete vision. It is really what I believe we should be putting out as a product.

There is a brilliant new wave of female American designers like Rosetta Getty and Rosie Assoulin whose designs manifest modern femininity. Do you feel you are similar to these designers or are you completely independent, following your own vision?
Well, we are all women. These designers are very talented, so it's an honour for me to be seen as one of them. We all have our own distinctive styles and we are trying to say something different with our clothes. What makes us similar is that we are very passionate about what we do and there's a certain point of view when women design clothes for women. We come from different backgrounds. I was raised in Uruguay. When it comes to clothes, I combine luxury with rustic elements. You can't take a girl out of a country.

Gabriela Hearst - Ranch

Let's talk about this new wave in American fashion. Do you think it is a modern phenomenon?
I can only talk about what I'm doing, which is thinking about the whole process and combining beautiful materials with great design and functionality. I want my clothes to function; I want my coat to protect you from the cold weather. We're constantly on the move and I want these clothes to adapt to whatever environment you are in. I want to make sure that it's made to last and it isn't just a purchase you would throw away later. I'm completely averse to buying and throwing. I want people to buy it and keep it. I want to make sure of that — that's just the way I grew up.

Do you think women are tired of trendy-driven clothes and want simple wardrobe pieces for their daily lives? Could this be the reason behind the new wave in fashion?
Women these days are doing a lot and women want to feel strong, comfortable and attractive. The clothes have to communicate that. I don't want to use the word 'simple' because it may translate into something different.

Maybe we can call it functional?
Maybe functional or well thought out, but also it's not about clothes that say "me, me, me, look at me" all the time. It's about understanding that someone has made an intelligent choice in what they are wearing because it's well made and comes from a good source.

Is there a big difference between your personal style and the Gabriela Hearst woman?
Our design process is always collaborative. Overall, our vision shows what we think and what we would wear. I only have one point of view but that doesn't mean that the women I'm going to dress will have the same point of view. There is nothing in my collection that I wouldn't wear myself. If I wouldn't wear or buy it, I won't approve it.

Gabriela Hearst collection

You once said, "it makes me comfortable when something is not perfect". What kind of imperfections do you like when designing clothes?
I like things to have a raw edge. If you touch the material on this skirt, you can feel how beautiful and soft it is, but yet there's structure and draping to it. I don't believe in perfection. You can't be perfect when you have an active life. I believe one can try to achieve perfection, but I don't think it exists.

Your style is minimalistic and urban with a sense of poetry. You also use a lot of rustic elements. How do you find balance between minimalism and poetry?
When I start designing, the first thing that comes to mind is a strong image, a silhouette or an idea. Then I work on rough sketches, talk to the team and we develop it. I take everything out to see exactly what I need and then I add character. I don't want clothes to be boring or one-dimensional. I need to see what purpose the piece can fulfil and then add more character to it.

You do a lot knits. How important is knitwear in your collections?
Knits are so important! I inherited a sheep and cattle ranch in Uruguay from my father. On my mother's side, I'm a sixth generation rancher. We have always produced and sold kilos of merino wool. I used to buy yarn in Italy to make my sweaters. One day, my husband asked me, "Why don't you use some of your wool to make your sweaters?" Now, we take wool from our farm and send it to be washed, spun and made into sweaters in Uruguay. I have to thank my husband for helping me realise this.

Gabriela Hearst - Knits

And thus they are authentic...
My husband is making a film about this. Everybody talks about the concept of "farm to table" where you learn and understand where and how the food you eat is produced. When you live in a city, you tend to forget where your food comes from. The film addresses the same agenda where one should think about where their clothes come from and the process behind it.

There are designers who sketch and then there are designers who can sew and construct. What do you do best?
I can sketch, but it's not perfect by any means. I can communicate through drawing. I'm fairly good at communicating an idea by drawing it and then talking about it. I don't have the technical training in garment construction, so I surround myself with people who are technical and we collaborate. Sometimes it's a bit of an impairment and I have to try really hard to communicate what I want. I wish I had a formal education for it. But after 10 to 12 years in design, you learn and get the idea.

What are your favourite fabrics to work with?
I get really excited about yarns. I can think about endless possibilities in designing garments after I find the material. I love things that feel soft on the body, so I go for silk chiffon or a very thin tissue like cashmere. I also like wool flannels and anything that's good for layering. When choosing fabrics, I take my time to discover. It's got a lot to do with balance because sometimes you think of the silhouette first. It's a bit like song writing. What do you write first? The music or the lyrics? Sometimes I see the silhouette first and then I find the fabric for it.

Do you think that the fashion industry is monopolised by men? It seems that most creative directors at the helm of big French fashion houses are men.
It's not only in fashion. It's tough for women in general because we have kids and other responsibilities. We are the same, yet different from them. We should be regarded on the same level, but we are so different that maybe we should be regarded a little bit higher. A little bit higher because we do much more.