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A conversation with the creative director of Chloé and her eponymous fashion brand on standing up for youth, women, and the earth.
AT THE PARTY where I met Gabriela Hearst, creative director of fashion house Chloé and namesake label Gabriela Hearst, she gave me a tip: Only drink mezcal. This was the secret to not turning red while imbibing — something I explained suffering from that night, which she too has experienced. “What sign are you?” she asked in a husky Uruguayan accent. “Capricorn,” I replied. “Yeah,” she continued with an assured look: tall, soulful, and stunning. “Drink mezcal.” After chatting for a bit, we parted, and I self-consciously reached up to feel my ruddy cheeks again. Hearst paused for a moment, turning back. “Also,” she touched my arm, “you are beautiful.” I forgot about my wine flush after that.
Several months later, we’re at the Gabriela Hearst headquarters in New York City — a slick industrial space, thick with the amber-rich scent of leather. Colorful crystals dot the windowsill of her office. Horse figurines and a dizzying array of picture frames fill the shelves, the biggest of which contains a black-and-white photo of her doppelgänger — her mother, I’d later learn. Outside, the showroom conveys a sumptuous cowboy swagger across its 2023 Resort display: horseshoe jewelry, debossed leather, fringe, and metal accents.
This is where Hearst heads up the eponymous brand she founded in 2015, inspired by the Uruguayan ranch on which she was raised and still currently operates. Since its inception, the brand’s conscious and sustainable values have been executed through timelessly elegant looks in natural, low-impact materials — think long leather skirts, sweaters made of wool sourced from her ranch, and hand-crocheted dresses. The designs have stood as a beacon of sustainability in an industry rife with greenwashing. When the brand launched, bags were only produced in small batches or made to order. Profits were pledged as donations to communities decimated by climate change. In 2019, plastics were eliminated from all packaging. The following year, Hearst staged the world’s first-ever carbon-neutral fashion show.
In 2020, Hearst brought this same sense of climate urgency to the heritage French brand Chloé. Championed by style icons ranging from Jackie Kennedy to Grace Kelly, Chloë Sevigny to Katie Holmes, and helmed by renowned creative directors like Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, and Phoebe Philo, Chloé has long been famous, but never for a purpose-driven model — until Hearst. In 2021, Chloé officially received B Corp status under her stewardship, a rare certification signifying a business’s positive environmental and social impact. To this day, Chloé is the only luxury fashion house with B Corp status.
‘I lived half of my life in Uruguay and half of my life in New York, and both places have a lot of grit. Both places have different types of sophistications.’
Hearst begins this morning with a photoshoot. Her former modeling career radiates through her regal posture and camera-piercing gaze. In between shots, she is goofy. She talks about the Gabriela Hearst top and skirt she’s wearing — hand-crocheted cashmere in earthy tones of brown, orange, yellow, and black. “It’s fancy without screaming. That’s me!” She then looks down lovingly at the bracelet on her wrist. “My daughter made it for me,” she says with pride and a little smirk. “It says ‘bad bitch.’”
Afterwards, Hearst speaks on the conscious philosophy serving as her North Star. “Everything I have, get, or make, I want to pass down. That’s how I was brought up on the ranch. Sitting at the table of your grandparents, in the chairs of your great-grandparents, to have dinner — you see how things are made to last.” The office desk we’re sitting at turns out to be the dining table from an apartment she lived in 10 years ago. The seats we’re sitting on are covered in leftover fabric from an old collection. “You don't throw things away when you grow up in a ranch, because there’s nowhere to throw it. So you take care of your things. The most important thing is taking care of what you have.”
Both of her brands holistically exemplify this philosophy, most notably in the use of recycled and deadstock materials (the collection in the showroom, for example, is made of 49% deadstock and recycled materials) and slow craft — made completely transparent through a partnership with EON, a platform mapping the supply and production chain behind each garment. The “no shortcuts” approach is reflected in Hearst’s pricing. Doing it right is expensive. But this is simply another key part of her philosophy: Buy better so you buy less — and treasure what you have for decades to come.
Hearst says her greatest achievement is her children (twin 14-year-old girls and a 7-year-old son). “If I have one thing to give myself positive feedback on, it’s that I realized my children were pretty good out of the box, and I got out of the way for them to be them.” They once asked what her expectations were of them. Her response? “Just be kind. I think that is enough for me.” One daughter now wants to be a human rights lawyer. The other wants to be a journalist. She jokes they ruined her vacation through ardently planning their summers around extra studies (with a law firm and through a summer creative writing course at Columbia, respectively). “They’re so passionate that you go with it,” she grins. “You have to support the youth.”
The youth are a big theme in our conversation, a cause for much of Hearst’s concern as well as hope. “We can all strive to leave our kids better off than when we started. But from the perspective of the environment, I don’t feel like we are doing that.” Hearst sees right now as a window of opportunity, where certain things must happen to bring us back from the brink of environmental catastrophe — steps like rewilding and adopting clean energy (she’s a huge champion of fusion, an alternative form of non-weaponizable energy harnessing sea water and lithium).
The next step is a value shift, a more discerning eye toward today’s overproduction and rabid consumerism. “I’m hopeful around this too because I see my kids and they’re not into brands. They want to learn how to sew, how to make. This idea of making your own stuff, learning how to grow a plant, how to do ceramics — there is a reaction to the digital revolution.” To Hearst, this youth-driven skepticism and return to slow craft is vital in shifting our collective consciousness. “And I think that we will,” she adds.
“It’s been challenging to come of age in these times,” she says (the pandemic spurred an uptick in anxiety and suicide rates in adolescents). “But also, it’s always challenging to come of age.” So Hearst started a support program for youths: The Gabriela Hearst Youth Program. Completely youth-led — “because youth talk to youth” — the program taught kids how to make things over the course of a month. They decided what they would create, using Hearst’s deadstock fabrics to bring their products to life. They learned how to use sewing machines, then how to display and sell, hosting a sale at the Gabriela Hearst headquarters. They then donated the sale’s profits to a charity of their choosing. “It’s very small,” she says, “but it’s a little seed of something that could grow if we foster it.”
Hearst speaks with equal fervor on the matter of empowering women, with a quiet fire in her voice. “I don’t think where we need to go as a species is possible without the empowerment of women. I like an article I read in The Economist. It points out that nations who don’t do good by women — that suppress women’s rights, that don’t give women opportunity — do worse from a developmental and financial perspective,” she says. “If you empower women, you empower communities. There’s something about our gender that’s made for lifting, for building.”
‘If you empower women, you empower communities. There’s something about our gender that’s made for lifting, for building.’
I ask what she believes are the foundations for desire — what draws her customers to her clothing? Desire, to Hearst, stems from what she calls “beauty from the soul” — creating beauty with what you have. Beauty doesn’t inherently imply bounty or excess, she explains. It can be found and expressed on something as simple as a plain white bag, or on an empty table. “It’s about how you make what you have beautiful. And that comes from the soul. All these crafts that we do with different co-ops that empower women through the Americas [Indigenous artisan groups like Navajo weavers, Madres Y Artesanas Tex, and Manos del Uruguay who weave, macrame, or crochet entire garments by hand in accordance with ancestral techniques] have an intrinsic understanding of beauty, of craft, and of excellence.” In other words, in the battle for a better world, beauty is a weapon — one Hearst believes we can all wield.
We turn to her current collections and Hearst’s creative process. Hearst explains that sometimes she has visions, visions of a garment or a person wearing the piece, elaborating on the themes weaving through her designs. The debossing in many of these current pieces takes the same pattern as the embroidery she did in lace and in leather for the last show, which share the same swirls she did in another book. “I love the continuity of a theme,” she says. “Because I don’t do branding. I don’t do logos. The goal is that someone can tell it’s a Gabriela Hearst product without it.”
There is a grounded timelessness characterizing Hearst’s designs. The places she’s lived have both served as major influences. “I lived half of my life in Uruguay and half of my life in New York, and both places have a lot of grit. Both places have different types of sophistications.” The anti-trend approach parallels a consistency within her own personal style. Looking back at old photos, “I never go, What the hell was I wearing? And I had different types of budgets. But it’s a following of trends I am incapable of. I’m always attracted to timeless design.”
Hearst pulls out two thick leather notebooks, pages hemmed with references. The contents of the creative director’s brain spill out of each. She flips through one, and across its pages I see how her mind moves through sketches of long, flowing looks or the early stages of an accessory, mapped out like a blueprint. “This will be in the future collection for Chloé. This is an idea of a collaboration,” she speaks quickly and excitedly. “This is the back of a dress for the next collection” — Hearst had a vision of a woman showing up in this dress; in her mind’s eye she saw all black. She shares another page containing an off the shoulder dress with puffy sleeves, to me reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Juliet. “Yes, a Renaissance kind of vibe,” Hearst nods.
There is a huge research component behind each collection. For Chloé, the team is going deep on Hearst’s passion — fusion energy — a story Hearst focused on telling at the Chloé Spring/Summer 2023 show through a synthy, techy, futuristic spectacular. Seats were arranged in a circle in homage to the circular shape of fusion power’s tokamak (the magnetic confinement mechanism used to produce this kind of energy). Ceilings were decked with hanging loops of circulating neon light, and lasers beamed throughout the space — all visual metaphors for a future flowing with a new kind of energy. “The kind of silo society that we live in doesn’t [allow us to] talk to each other,” she says. Cross-pollinating the energy world with the fashion world thus remains a top mission.
For her namesake brand’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection, connected consciousness is a theme of interest — particularly the ancient Greek poet Sappho (“my daughter got me into Sappho”), and Brazilian musician and political activist Caetano Veloso and the South American hippie movement he belonged to, specifically in Brazil in the late 1960s. Hearst glances up at the black-and-white photo of her long-haired mother in Uruguay. Barefoot in bell bottoms, bareback on a rearing stallion, with a band around her head — she’s a picture of the free, bohemian spirit that would ironically foreshadow the essence of Chloé in its 1970s heyday.
“I was fascinated how, pre-globalization, people were still connected in a thought process and a belief system, even throughout South America, which was under a repressive government. During this time, to be a hippie was really a dangerous thing. You would go to jail,” Hearst explains. “So we did a whole collection based on the jipitecas [the Central and South American youth dedicated to the same peace, love, and counterculture ideals of their hippie comrades up North — infused with the philosophies and styles of their own Indigenous histories]. It was difficult to be a youth with ideas in those times under repressive governments. But my husband always says don’t fight the youth. I agree with him. Don’t fight the youth.”
Three themes come up in equal measure with Hearst: Youth. Women. Earth. The potent consistency of their force behind everything she does is unerring. “What I’m learning and seeing that is hopeful — I’m using every single platform I have to communicate and take action on it,” she stresses. Hearst is many things: a creative director, a fashion designer, a mother, a media figure. But I see her as a conduit — working through every channel she has access to in honor and protection of that holy trinity. A young woman myself, I felt it from that very first encounter — when in a moment of vulnerability most might have brushed off, she chose to leave me with an affirmation instead: “You are beautiful,” she told me.
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Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Photographer and director Katie McCurdy divides her time between New York City and Los Angeles, where she creates vibrant and expressive images that are both playful and earnest. When not shooting commercially, Katie continues with her personal projects including photographing the teenage youth in her hometown in Pennsylvania.
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