LONDON — It might have taken her a while, but designer Gabriela Hearst has crystallized her brand vision. On Thursday morning, she shared her story with members of the British Fashion Council’s Fashion Trust during a talk at Jessica McCormack’s Mayfair Townhouse.
The New York-based designer was also marking the launch of a residency at Matchesfashion.com’s new retail space, 5 Carlos Place, a teaser of the brand’s future store in the British capital, Hearst said.
Alongside her residency at Carlos Place, which will run until Jan. 26, Hearst has also debuted an exclusive capsule for Matches, which added a British accent to signature brand pieces.
“We created a print based on the race of Belmont Park, which is an Ascot race but held outside of New York,” said the designer, pointing to an equestrian print on silk shirts and elegant shirtdresses. “It reminded me of a brooch of a horse I bought from Jessica McCormack, so it’s bringing a bit of that equestrian background into a more traditional, British scenario. I really connected to that print and from then everything naturally fit into place.”
Other looks include corduroy suits and velvet slip dresses, some of which were made from upcycled materials. A range of luxurious cashmere blankets, capes and sweaters, created in partnership with the nonprofit organization Manos del Uruguay, rounds out the capsule.
“It’s the most unbelievable cashmere and it has that element of surprise that can only be experienced in its physical form,” added Hearst. “You may see the digital photo and think it’s a rustic cashmere sweater, but unless you touch it, you can’t understand the level of quality.”
Hearst also transformed the ground floor retail space on Carlos Space — her first physical retail foray in the U.K. — using a range of handcrafted furniture from the furniture maker De La Espada. Modernist wooden tables have been used to showcase a range of new cashmere pillows, while the brand’s new bag style is displayed above a fireplace. Leather rails feature the brand’s signature herringbone stitching and a cozy rug and plush, off-white couch create a serene, welcoming environment similar to that of Hearst’s New York store.
“Our store is a manifestation of what we think luxury is. Everything is made by hand using recycled wood and it’s warm, not ostentatious — that has a more seductive quality to it,” said the designer.
She added that finding her path in the luxury world didn’t always come so easy.
“It took me a lot of time to get confident. I felt disillusioned in the contemporary world,” she said, describing her first foray into fashion with contemporary label Candela. “Being young, you want to say yes a lot and try to please all the department stores, that always want more and cheaper. But at some point you can no longer reduce the quality. That’s why I had to start over.”
She realized that the answer was much closer than she thought, and found her way by sourcing materials from her father’s ranch in Uruguay and creating a fully vertical business.
“There’s this idea that nothing can go to waste if you are in a remote area. You’re always thinking twice and repurposing everything,” said Hearst, explaining that she applied the same principles to her collections and has been trying to come up with creative ways to limit waste production ever since.
She only presents sketches and fabrics to retail partners during pre-collection buying appointments and produces no samples, while her popular bag collections, which can take up to four months to create, are not presented seasonally.
“I made sure to protect that part of the business and keep it free. We don’t do collections, we just present [new bag styles] when they’re ready and that part of the business has grown to make 50 percent of our revenues,” Hearst said.
She has also been working toward ensuring that all of the brand’s packaging is biodegradable by the end of this year. She is working with the compostable packaging by the Israeli company TIPA, and her next goal is to expand the work she already does with deadstock material.
“Luxury is limited in its essence. It has to be. If I like the pink cashmere another designer created, then why not use it?” added the designer. “We always have a tendency to want something new, but before buying fabrics I always try to look at what we have left from past seasons. The challenge now is to understand and really quantify how much material is out there that has been upcycled and find a way to integrate it [in our collections].”
The talk was part of an ongoing event series organized by the Fashion Trust, a charitable organization that is part of the BFC and provides financial support and mentorship to young designers. It is now working toward opening applications for this year’s grants and has also introduced Fashion Trust Arabia last year, to support local talent in the Middle East.