NEW YORK — Gabriela Hearst saw an opening and she plunged right in — and it’s turned out to be the right move.
The designer — who has made a mark in fashion with her own chic, luxurious collection of environmentally and socially conscious women’s wear — is also carving out a niche in men’s.
Hearst, who launched her first women’s collection in fall 2015, started offering men’s pieces six seasons ago, “but we started very small,” she said during a visit to her studio in Manhattan.
For the fall 2022 season, the men’s offering has been dramatically expanded to become a full lifestyle collection — everything from suits, sweaters and outerwear to shoes and accessories.
And the customers are responding.
“We’re seeing the numbers grow organically. The business is driven by knits and smart tailoring and it’s becoming more and more important,” Hearst said.
Thierry Colin, who joined the Gabriela Hearst company as chief executive officer last July, said that although men’s wear currently represents a little under 10 percent of the brand’s overall sales, “over the next two to three years, we expect to double the business. It’s still small, but it’s an important segment from an image point of view.”
Hearst believes her men’s wear has found a home because it fills a void in the market. “We saw there was a window between extremely fashion forward and traditional, classic luxury brands,” she said. “Our niche is somewhere in between.”
Hearst has coined a phrase to describe her collection: “honest luxury.” That two-word phrase packs a lot of meaning since Hearst is unwavering in her commitment to using as much upcycled or recycled material as possible and also employing skilled artisans from impoverished communities around the world to create her collections.
Hearst, who grew up on a 17,000-acre ranch in Uruguay that her family still owns and she now runs, uses its wool in her line, along with natural fruit dyes, recycled cashmere and other sustainable materials. She proudly says that 57 percent of her collection is made from upcycled or recycled yarns, and she has used a co-op of women in Uruguay for a decade to help create her line. “We take a less-industrialized process to clothing,” she said.
Her goal is to create products with care and detail “where tradition is more important than trend, where there is a purpose to every piece,” according to her brand’s mission statement. For instance, women’s coats are lined with a special silver fabric that prevents cell phone radiation from reaching reproductive organs, and she opts for linen because it absorbs less water than cotton and is derived from flax seeds that can be eaten.
This commitment is evident in her men’s wear as well. She uses a deadstock wide-wale corduroy for a trench coat, a military-inspired M65 cardigan is made from recycled cashmere and a bouclé coat is created from 50 percent recycled cashmere.
“We had our first women’s show in 2017 in New York and used all repurposed fabrics. It was strange to use deadstock in luxury then, but now it’s a common practice,” she said.
Among her most striking men’s pieces is a green suit in double-face recycled cashmere, a linen wool melange overcoat made from recycled fabrics, a bright yellow waxed linen wool suit and a raw denim hooded coat.
Her suits, offered in both single- and double-breasted options, are “quite traditional,” she said. “They’re not super sharp, but more casual” and answers the need of today’s man to look sophisticated but still feel comfortable. “I like the psychology of clothing, it has a transformative power,” she explained. “It empowers you but you also have to make sure the person feels sharp and comfortable. So we make things that look good and feel good.”
The design of the pieces is intended to serve a variety of purposes, such as the reversible shirt-jacket, created from vegetable overdyed recycled cashmere. “I’m a sucker for a two-fer,” she said with a laugh. “Functionality is one of the things I love about men’s wear. The silhouettes are quite restrained, understated and utilitarian, but you see the luxury in the fabrics and colors.”
Several of the pieces, such as the knitwear and the tote bags, are intended to be dual-gender. A speckled sweater, for example, was created from a special yarn developed from cashmere, and is offered as both men’s and women’s wear. “Anyone can wear it, the genders are blurring today, fusing and becoming one.” Case in point: She tells a story about how the first customer to buy one of her men’s suits was a woman, which she embraced.
As a result, she will showcase a few men’s pieces in her runway show during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 15.
Hearst said that overall, she’s “super happy” with how the men’s fall collection came out, and she’s sure it will also appeal to her intentionally small number of wholesale accounts: Bergdorf Goodman, Mr Porter, Mytheresa, Matchesfashion and the newest addition, Ssense. She believes that many luxury brands are over-distributed, so the company is careful to ensure the Gabriela Hearst brand doesn’t fall into that same trap. “We want to grow slowly, but only with the right people,” she said.
But she does want to grow — as long as she can hold fast to her vision. Eventually she hopes to add more accessories and footwear to her men’s offering as she moves closer to her goal. “We want to be one of the luxury brands occupying a prominent place in the next 10 years,” she said.
That’s one of the reasons Hearst brought in Colin as CEO. His résumé includes stints at Burberry, Brioni, Bottega Veneta and Fendi. Although his background has been in large brands, Colin felt there was an opportunity to apply his skills to help the Gabriela Hearst business move to the next stage of its growth.
He said Hearst has “a very uncompromising view of what a luxury house can be,” which appealed to him. Her sustainability goals, social responsibility and use of traditional, artisanal craftsmanship all combined to lure him to the job.
“It’s all core to who she is as a person and a designer,” he said.
On top of that, she has a “recognizable stylistic identify” that attracts high-end clients who are seeking “understated luxury” rather than logo-driven statement pieces. “That’s what’s resonating at the moment,” Colin said. “She has the right balance of elevated sophistication and a rustic feel, which is rooted in her own identity and life.”
These are the attributes he plans to capitalize on as he maps out a slow but steady growth strategy for the brand. Much of that will be centered around adding to the company’s retail footprint. Right now there are three Gabriela Hearst stores: one on Madison Avenue in New York and two in London. Over the next two years, he said, the brand expects to open its first location in Asia and add to its store count in the U.S., including on the West Coast.
Colin said it’s hard to put a number on how many stores the company hopes to open within the next few years, but said it’s likely the number will more than double within two years.
“Retail is our main focus, but it’s a very demanding process,” he said. “We have to be very fiscally responsible.”
What he doesn’t expect to do is add a lot of wholesale distribution, especially in North America. Instead, the plan is to grow the business with the existing customers.
That includes bringing the men’s wear to higher prominence.
Colin said the men’s offering “fits very naturally” into the aesthetic Hearst has created, with “its elegant, casual silhouette. It’s not forced, it’s a natural extension.”
He said her “very responsible approach to clothing and the consumption of luxury goods, the quality and warmth of the materials and the very strong knitwear and outerwear identity are what we’re trying to bring to the male customer.”
As more retail stores open, Colin said the plan is to make sure men’s wear has a home in the stores where it can be showcased properly.
Even though the company expects to continue on a path to growth, there are no plans to sell to a larger luxury house, Colin said. The business is funded by Hearst and her husband, Austin Hearst, the grandson of William Randolph Hearst, and in early 2019, LVMH Luxury Ventures, an investment arm of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, took a minority stake.
And even though Hearst also serves as creative director at Chloé, a division of Compagnie Financière Richemont, the two remain separate.
“She has a long-term view to how she approaches the business that is attached to the ownership and her vision,” Colin said. “So we will build a growth plan that will preserve this ownership structure.”