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Gabriela Hearst makes fantasy clothes for real women. Take the navy double breasted cashmere a-line coat that opened her first-ever runway show; it had a hint of belonging into a queen’s wardrobe, and yet paired with merino knit long johns and white boots with a sensible (albeit heavily embellished) heels, it was a coat you could see yourself wearing everyday. For the South American designer, the fantasy is not in becoming a “punk princess,” or a “french ingenue,” or whatever other thing designers love to turn women into. The goal is about being a woman with a wardrobe full of these exquisitely crafted, timeless clothes.
“I’m too old to be cool,” Hearst tells me as she guides me through her upcoming collection, “I want to seduce and attract in other ways.” And seduce she does. It’s not just that her clothes look beautiful–on a model, on a hanger–but they are often made from the softest fabrics you could possibly think of. She shows me a coat with a Mongolian fur trim and it’s what I imagine touching a cloud must feel like. “One of the things I say to the team is imagine if the lights go off in the department stores and you have to find the clothes just by touching them,” she tells me in between petting cashmere jackets and merino wool sweaters. Her team has certainly succeeded in this endeavor.
About a year ago she had decided that this season would be the first where she showed her collection on a runway. A few months before the election, she attended a screening of the movie The 13th, and all of the things that she had been thinking about, the Harlem Renaissance and James Baldwin among them, coalesced into the singular inspiration for her collection. “I saw Angela Davis and I was like that’s it, that’s her, because we always use a strong woman as a muse to the collection,” she tells me sitting in front of her inspiration board, which is filled with images of Angela Davis’ iconic 1972 prison interview.
“The thing I found so fascinating about her, is that she was very young, [about] twenty-six when the whole incarceration process started. It was a very intimidating process for a young woman, and she did not fold in her beliefs, she didn’t stop being who she was.” She adds, “then after [the election] in November, she had a whole other meaning [to our collection].” After the election, Kamala Harris, Tammy Duckworth, and Kristina Cortez Masto were added to her “power” board. The women served as an inspiration not only for the collection, but for her team as well, who were all very pro-Hillary during the election. “Before we were thinking about dressing Hillary and now it’s like, how do we bring Donald Trump down? Women that put their strength and their qualities in the service of others seemed like a good reference to keep us motivated.”
One could certainly see Angela Davis in the khaki trench coat with a graphic print at the bottom, or the herringbone velvet trench with matching trousers, and the Prince of Wales nylon trench coat. One could certainly see women incorporating these pieces into their wardrobe with the ease of a beige sweater or a pair of jeans.
In a season where so many designers are struggling on whether or not to make a political statement, Gabriela let her clothes do the talking. It’s not about slogans, or safety pins, or other accoutrements of activism. What Hearst focused on instead is in creating clothes for the women that are out there in the trenches, as mothers, as lawyers, as politicians, etc. They are clothes that travel without wrinkling too much, clothes that even at their sexiest, are still acutely aware of the world around them. The collection features a variety of paper-thin long johns, turtlenecks, and henleys, that she has layered under embellished velvet spaghetti strap dresses and satin crepe one-shoulder gowns. It looks cool, but it’s also a luxurious alternative for the women that may have to cover up for religious reasons, or those who might feel too old for exposed arms or deep décolletage, or those who simply do not like to be cold in the winter.
Her ethos can best be described as “slow and steady wins the race,” and it speaks to the kind of brand that she aims to establish. Gabriela Hearst, the label, has only been around for two years, but they have been two of the most volatile years in the fashion industry, where designers seem to be running after the most viral sensation, running after immediate gratification in all mediums. “I had two years of research of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do, it was very thoughtful process,” she tells me. That thoughtfulness extends to for example, her very small leather bag offering–despite the fact that they have proven hugely popular, “we launch one a season or one a year, depending how it feels.” Their new backpack took nine months in development.
Shirts emblazoned with THE FUTURE IS FEMALE have become a fashion favorite in recent years, and after leaving her office, I start to believe they might actually be telling the truth. Gabriela’s vision is singular, and so far unwavering. She makes beautiful, classic clothes, and her knitwear expertise is obvious, even before she was awarded the Woolmark Prize earlier this year. Hearst grew up in a ranch in Uruguay that has been in her family for six generations, around horses, cattle, and of course sheep. “Imagine your family grew tomatoes for six generations, and then you’re invited to a tomato sauce competition,” she tells me by way of explaining the reasoning behind her entering the competition, and the subsequent nerves that came afterwards. “You have to win.” And win she will.