Although Gabriela Hearst only had a few months to prepare her debut collection for Chloé, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today during a digital Paris Fashion Week, she was hardly a stranger to the storied French house.
“The first luxury bag I purchased 16 years ago was the Edith,” she said, holding up the reddish-brown leather satchel with its characteristic contrast stitching — and a weathered, slightly rumpled appearance from years of use. “The love I have for this brand is completely authentic and genuine from being someone that grew up loving Chloé” — its signature, bestselling fragrance included.
The American designer, born in Uruguay, practically squealed with delight trying on a striped blanket poncho she designed with the look of something a gaucho might wear, but with a funnel-neck puffer built into the neckline. “We call it a puff-cho,” she said of the style, iterations of which have made occasional appearances on the Chloé catwalk over the past 20 years.
Her affection for the Edith undimmed, Hearst had her teams scour eBay, scoop up 50 vintage specimens and then customize them with leftover fabric scraps and dangling crystal talismans. She’s also reissuing a mini version of the bag, which dates back to the Phoebe Philo era, when Chloé’s accessories business took off.
Suffice it to say that Hearst relates wholeheartedly with the Chloé aesthetic, and its new purpose-driven business model prioritizing environmental and social sustainability.
“I feel so aligned with the belief system, I can produce authentic products,” she enthused during a preview at Chloé’s Paris headquarters, bustling with makeup artists, models and staffers readying looks for the collection film. “The company was ready for change in order to to tackle the most important issue that we’re facing as a species, which is climate change. We don’t have much time. I think Bill Gates has made it pretty clear these past two weeks with his green manifesto coming out saying that we only have nine years.”
Hearst certainly wasted no time paying homage to the brand’s legacy of breezy yet thoughtful feminine empowerment — and its stepped-up commitment to doing good for the planet and people.
Her debut collection incorporates house codes like scalloped edges and broderie anglaise, the latter associated with one of Chloé’s most famous designers, Karl Lagerfeld, who logged more than two decades at the brand in two separate stints. Hearst proudly showed off scalloped cuffs on lightweight knitwear, and knitted iterations of broderie anglaise.
She also assembled leftover fabric from multiple Chloé designers of yore and handed them over to the Sheltersuit Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Dutch fashion designer Bas Timmer that provides immediate shelter to the homeless, and also gives them windproof and waterproof jackets with a sleeping-bag like attachment made from repurposed materials.
Hearst was so alarmed by the rise in homelessness during the pandemic — and so moved by the altruism behind the suits, assembled by Syrian refugees — she included several in her show lineup and also made a range of backpacks with the same textiles that will help the foundation. For every backpack sold, two Sheltersuits will be created.
“We’re really focusing in on illuminating the work of others, because we are in a pandemic, and we went through something very dramatic. So I think it’s the only thing appropriate to do is to showcase care,” she said. “The wider your platform, the more responsibility you have to showcase the work of others that are at the service [of humanity]. And I feel very proud that Chloé embraces those principles.”
To say that Hearst was gung-ho and well prepared for taking on the French house at a critical juncture in its history is an understatement. She submitted a 92-page proposal that spoke volumes about her affection for the brand DNA and the depth of her sustainability credentials and convictions, honed over the past five years developing her signature, New York-based brand, which has become a byword for eco luxury.
She’s excited at the prospect of scaling ecological fabrics and even the recycled cardboard hangers she pioneered, realizing bigger volumes will ultimately make supplies more affordable and enticing for others. All of her vendors were put at Chloé’s disposal, allowing her to boast that 80 percent of the cashmere used in her debut collection is recycled, including for the long, multi-striped dress shown here.
What was most heartening for her was how fired-up the Chloé staffers were to ramp up eco-friendly practices. “They were able to shift from one day to another to a new way of thinking, and a new way of of designing,” she marveled. “I think that speaks to their remarkable commitment to this house.”
Hearst walked into a fashion company with a team in place heading sustainability, mostly on the development and production side. Having a designer intimately aware of materials and construction methods that have a lower impact can propel a company quickly.
“In only two months, we were able to do a collection already four times more sustainable than the past winter collection,” she said.
Today’s show falls exactly 100 years after the birth of Chloé founder Gaby Aghion, and it is dedicated to her.
“We have to pay respect to the founder. That is the first most honorable thing that one can do for a house. And second is to bring light to someone that has such incredible values,” Hearst said, recounting how she recently spent time with Aghion’s granddaughter, Mikhaela, who showed off the four handbags her grandmother owned, and the scarves she made of leftover fabrics — foreshadowing Hearst’s nothing-to-waste ethic.
The vivacious, fast-talking designer is clearly relishing the opportunity to interpret Chloé, and focusing solely on design and running wild with categories like footwear, a struggle for a small brand like her namesake house.
“I love shoes. I was never able to see prototypes happen so quickly,” she said, showing off one tall dress boot with a crease on the instep that was something of a serendipitous design she can blame partly on fatigue. “I thought it was a boot from the Lagerfeld era, but I was so jet-lagged actually it was a pant and a shoe,” she said with a laugh.
Asked about her starting point, Hearst hoisted her tweed coat to show off the ceramic buttons.
“I’m a very specific type of designer, where I create branding from little things,” she said. “For me, nothing says luxury more than thinking of a little detail. So I went from micro to macro. The mission given to me was to bring the know-how and understanding to make great products that are desirable, and that will sell. I feel confident because I understand this woman.”
Hearst noted that Mikhaela Aghion attended the collection shoot, and also lent the designer a ring that her grandmother wore to every Chloé show, no matter who the designer was. (There have been six over the past 20 years, including her.)
While some might call that a revolving door, Hearst thinks of designers at heritage brands as links in a chain, each adapting the founder’s legacy and DNA.
“You have to pay your respect to the ones that came before you. And you have to make sure that your link is strong enough for the ones that are going to come after you,” she said. “So that’s your number-one duty when you’re coming into a heritage brand — to make sure that it lasts.”