For designer Gabriela Hearst, working in the world of fashion wasn’t a choice. “I always feel like it really kind of chose me in a way,” says the Uruguay native, mother of three and founder of her eponymous line. “There was never a ‘Hello, do you want to work in fashion?’ But everyone in my house growing up knit or crocheted in the countryside. You had to kill time somehow. So understanding craftsmanship was something that was ingrained in me, and also making things last.” Having just shown her fourth collection, Hearst has established herself as a designer who values not just quality, but an exceptionally simple beauty and relaxed elegance. Her graphic fall 2016 line features luxurious velvets and cashmere, discrete cutouts in the backs of dresses, and the playful use of lines and dots to spell out “love” in the embroidery on pieces. Estée Stories met up with the refreshingly warm and friendly Hearst in her airy west Chelsea offices to find out how she developed her aesthetic, started a successful company and balances life with work and a family.
I really love women because we are so effective and we think of many ways to solve something.
What attracted you to the world of fashion design?
I grew up on a ranch in South America in Uruguay, so it was a lot of cattle and sheep. My mother was a very beautiful, kind woman, and she loved riding horses. She was kind of wild, too. She used to do rodeos at 18 years old. So she had this tough boy look to her, but at the same time when they had to dress up for certain events or social activities, they did.
Everyone in my family used to have their clothes made with a seamstress that they employed, so basically they had all their clothes made couture, if you think about it. Because there were no nice stores in Uruguay so you had to go and get your fabrics from Paris. You would import the fabrics and then you would look at the magazines and they would make the clothes. They basically designed their own clothes, so I grew up seeing my mother with her certain looks and the pictures [that inspired those looks]—that was always very attractive to me. And also, I do remember the first time when she said to me "We’re going to do a velvet dress for you, a navy velvet dress." And it was such a big thing for me. I think I was six or seven years old, and to have a beautiful dress made for me, it was just really neat. There was no gorgeous store where you could go buy a special dress like here, so you had to make it.
What made you want to start your own line?
I got fired from too many jobs [laughs]! But it's kind of true. I think that when I worked in a showroom, I realized I could do it. So I just started it, and thank God it's worked from that moment, obviously with a very modest beginning.
What’s the inspiration behind your collection?
The main focus is to create a wardrobe for women that adds on. It’s not a renewal, like they say, every season. There are new options, but most of all there's a modern design to it, but with the old mentality that this needs to last. So I am designing for the modern woman with, I guess, values from the past.
I’m also very conscious of how the product is made. Where is it sourced? Where are we doing it? Who is making it? Our cashmere is being produced by "Manos del Uruguay" which translates to "Hands of Uruguay," which is a not-for-profit that includes over 300 women across the country. So they get to do the production for us for this beautiful cashmere, and we are helping. I always try to think about things that are not only good for us, but that are good for more people than us.
What are your favorite materials to work with?
Choosing yarn is one of my favorite things. Touching the yarn and feeling fabrics even when we look to wovens—that part gets me excited. Like you see what it can transform into.
And sometimes we may look a little cray-cray on the outside, but we are actually making it happen.
How did growing up on a ranch in Uruguay influence your design aesthetic and personal style?
There’s always a rustic element to what I do. I’m going to be doing something with a beautiful fabric or beautiful yarn, but I’m going to put in something tougher or something that has a raw edge or a hem. I have to bring it to a place that is natural and organic in a way.
Now can we talk about the way you dress? What’s your typical look for a day at the office?
I dress 100 percent in my brand because I love the clothes that we make and I don’t like to think a lot. I try to do that for our woman; she doesn’t spend of lot of time thinking of what she has to wear. You’re able to dress in five minutes—that’s what I want. And so I usually wear a pencil skirt with a nice knit, or my blazer with suits and skirts. And boots—I always wear boots in the winter. In the springtime, I’ll do a floral dress, maybe, with more manly-looking shoes. I always wear dresses and skirts because that’s kind of my thing. If I wear a pantsuit, I will wear more feminine shoes. But I think my uniform is always adding a balance between the masculine and the feminine.
Beauty and fashion go hand in hand. How would you describe your beauty aesthetic?
My beauty aesthetic is as natural as possible. I don’t wear makeup because I don’t know how to apply it. No makeup at all unless I’m going out and have someone apply it for me. Then I like people to focus on my eyes, so there’s some neutral toned eyeshadow and something glossy on my lips. But I keep it quite simple. I do admire women when they put a beautiful red lipstick on their lips and it just works. It just doesn’t work on me.
I really don’t use many products at all, but I do think Estée Lauder’s PowerFoil Mask is amazing. My skin is so much brighter and even-looking when I use it. You know, even my husband noticed my skin after I used it, which for a husband to notice anything is like “hello!” I use that and New Dimension serum.
And I just recently cut my hair short because I noticed in some pictures that I had a lot of knots in the back of my head. I have three kids and full-time work, so brushing my hair isn’t a priority. I realized I have to cut it in a way that it can be messy and it looks like it’s on purpose.
What is one of your favorite memories of growing up in Uruguay? One that influenced how you live your life and run your business?
Nobody told me “you have to work hard.” They just worked hard and I saw them working hard and they had passion for what they did and loved what they did. So the belief of finding your passion, what really makes you tick, and going and living that reality—I think that’s the thing that has really impressed me. To grow up with people that have feeling and passion.
How do you manage to balance your life as both an entrepreneur and a mother of three?
I love spending time with my husband and my children. That's my favorite thing. It's difficult to balance life, and I'm in a privileged position in that (A) I have help, paid help, and (B) I love what I do, so that gives me the certainty that I'm setting a good example for my children. But sometimes it's difficult and you question yourself. "What is better for my kids? That I’m home, or that I'm away and I'm working?” But I always come back to the conclusion that this is a very personal decision for every woman, and I respect the stay-at-home mom and the one who goes to work, and also the fact that there are women that don't even have the option to choose—they just have to work two or three jobs because they have to support their family. I just think it's a very personal thing for everyone. But for my case in particular, I couldn't not work. So, at the end of the day, I think if I'm going to be a good mom I have to be a good complete human being and that makes me who I am.
Are your kids involved in your work life?
Oh yes. They come to the office, they've seen all the processes. They're very involved, they're very aware of what I do. And my baby, I have an eight month old baby, and he just travels with me everywhere. He's been to Paris twice for market, L.A. for product knowledge, Moscow for a store opening, London for a press appointment. He's been to Uruguay to do part of a film that we're doing to show how we're using our wool. The husband of a friend of mine said, "Your kid travels more than me the first 20 years of my life."
What advice do you have to women thinking of starting a business?
I think just start. With whatever you have, just start. With whatever you are able to do, just start.
This is why I love our gender. I really love women because we are so effective and we think of many ways to solve something. And sometimes we may look a little cray-cray on the outside, but we are actually making it happen.