Hospitality. It’s a concept that appears to have gone out the window since the coronavirus pandemic made the prospect of taking off face masks to clink Champagne glasses appear like courting disaster.
It was a welcome surprise, therefore, that Gabriela Hearst kicked off her Paris Fashion Week debut with a buffet lunch held outdoors, in a courtyard at the National School of Fine Arts where a small crowd munched on roasted vegetables and drank elderberry cocktails at a cautious mutual distance.
It was a fitting introduction to the brand, which has made its mark in the luxury space with attention to detail, combined with a mindful approach to the environment that is becoming increasingly relevant to consumers in the post-COVID-19 age.
“I’ve been working with the mind frame that we are in a crisis since before the pandemic,” Hearst said during a preview.
“The paradigm that we always set ourselves is, ‘How are we going to do business 10 years from now, where there’s water shortages, where there’s less access to natural resources, lack of biodiversity?’” she explained.
Hearst has weathered the last few months by following her gut instinct, which told her to up the ante on craftsmanship with a collection that did not skimp on fabrication or embellishment, even as it ticked sustainability boxes.
Take a graphic black pleated cotton dress, or a sweeping riding coat with handbraided silk tassels. Both were made of repurposed material, yet looked — and felt — every inch as luxurious as the rest of her equestrian-inflected lineup.
There were plenty of personal touches: the shell decorations lining the cutouts on a white tank dress were inspired by a bracelet her mother brought back from Easter Island. Another dress with knots tied in the back came to her in a dream about her grandmother.
Hearst was sketching to keep calm during the lockdown, and channeled those colorful visions into featherlight crochet slips made by Manos del Uruguay, a nonprofit organization in her native country.
At the other end of the spectrum were glossy black napa leather dresses with puffed sleeves, or a sleek black trouser suit with a double leather belt inspired by horse reins.
At 30 looks, it was a tight collection, but it felt neither too much nor too little. “Quality doesn’t need to be obnoxious or ostentatious,” Hearst said. “You can’t build real quality fast, you can only build it step by step.”
LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the industry leader, last year took a minority stake in the brand, which does 65 percent of its business outside the U.S. With her first showing in Paris, Hearst has invited herself to an even bigger table.