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. “Everyone in my house growing up knit or crocheted in the countryside. So understanding craftsmanship was something that was ingrained in me, and also making things last.”
Hearst has established herself as a designer who values not just quality, but an exceptionally simple beauty and relaxed elegance. Estée Stories met up with the refreshingly warm and friendly Hearst in her New York City office 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. There was no gorgeous store where you could go buy a special dress, so you had to make it. You would import the fabrics and then you would look at the magazines and a seamstress would make the clothes. So I grew up seeing my mother with her certain looks and the pictures [that inspired them]—that was always very attractive to me. And also, I remember the first time 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.
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.
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, suits and skirts. I always wear boots in the winter. In the springtime, I’ll do a floral dress, maybe, with more manly-looking shoes. 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 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.
And I just recently cut my hair short. I have three kids and full-time work, so 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.
What advice do you have for 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.