Gabriela Hearst

An American Woman at Chloé

Gabriela Hearst creative director debut Chloé

The most interesting thing during the Fall 2021 collections in New York — Ella Emhoff as the new social-currency stunt model notwithstanding — was Gabriela Hearst. Her collection, inspired as always by a strong, irreverent woman, St. Hildegard of Bingen (haven’t heard of her until now? Us neither), was simply beautiful. A story of luxury that was easy, natural, desirable and determined. It was not complacent. It did not kowtow to what may go down in fashion history as the sweat-pant epoch. It bet on a brighter future with places to go, people to see, work to be done.

Hearst may well be the most interesting thing during Paris fashion week, too, when she makes her debut as the creative director for Chloé tomorrow. She will be the only American woman helming a major European house. Sadly, it’s difficult to think of anyone who came before her. Stella McCartney half fits the bill — her mother was American — she’s also of Beatle lineage. Then there was Rihanna, technically Barbadian, whose Fenty collection for LVMH recently went kaput.

Six years ago when she introduced her own collection, Hearst initially garnered attention because of her last name. She is married to Austin Hearst, the billionaire grandson of William Randolph Hearst and an officer of the Hearst Corporation. She proved to be much more than a society woman launching a brand.

Gabriela Hearst debut creative director at Chloe

Gabriela Hearst F/W 2021/22 collection

Gabriela Hearst debut creative director Chloe

Hearst, who had previously run Candela, a boho contemporary line, entered the luxury game armed with a prescient mission of sustainability. She tenaciously flew a flag few aside from McCartney were waving at the time. Hearst put her money where her mouth was, investing in best-in-class fabrics, including dead stock, compostable packaging, carbon neutral stores and fashion shows. She set a goal of eliminating plastic use by 2021 and virgin materials by 2022. All this and her clothes and handbags were designed to be timeless, an antidote to disposable fashion.

Her collections were gorgeous, sophisticated yet unpretentious. Suits, trenches and Henley knits are a signature. She set her sights on dressing professional women rather than starlets. For example, Dr. Jill Biden favored Hearst’s designs long before she became First Lady and wore a Hearst ensemble on the night of her husband’s inauguration. Last year, Hearst was named the CFDA’s Womenswear Designer of the Year.

Gabriela Hearst Jil Biden inauguration lool

The First Lady’s inaugural evening look made out from existing fabrics and featuring hand embroidered flowers representing the federal flowers from every USA state as a symbol of unity.

Jil Biden inauguration look Hearst

The fashion industry is full of nice clothes, talented designers and big dreams. They’re often not enough to get to you to the major leagues of a French luxury heritage, especially coming from the American market, where few stars have been anointed by the conglomerates besides Marc Jacobs and Virgil Abloh. Hearst has made it two-fold: LVMH Luxury Ventures took a minority stake in Gabriela Hearst in 2019; in December Chloé, owned by Swiss luxury group Richemont, announced her appointment as creative director.

Chloé has a history of female creative directors going back to its founder Gaby Aghion. Phoebe Philo and Clare Waight Keller had very successful runs at the house. Hearst replaces Natacha Ramsay-Levi, who spent years in Nicolas Ghesquière’s atelier before taking the top job at Chloé. Still, Hearst is different from her predecessors. A self-taught designer, she grew up on a sheep ranch in Uruguay, galaxies away from fashion’s inner circle.

Chloé Saint Germain

Chloé : Hier et aujourd’hui. Gabriela Hearst’s first collection for the French house will be presented on March 3rd.

Gabriela Hearst quote

There are invisible barriers in fashion, many of them the reasons why most of the big jobs are held by white men: Ghesquière at Louis Vuitton, Kim Jones at Fendi, Matthew Williams at Givenchy, Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent, Hedi Slimane at Celine, Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, Alessandro Michele at Gucci, Pierpaolo Piccioli at Valentino, Riccardo Tisci at Burberry. The list of female heritage creative directors is short: Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior, Virginie Viard at Chanel, Nadège Vanhee-Cybulski at Hermès and now Hearst.

One doesn’t break those barriers without being a force of nature. Hearst, who became an American citizen after Trump was elected to office, is a blunt, outspoken feminist who wraps her persistence in a silver bullet of charm, ambition and true intentions. At the risk of invoking a word that’s become overused marketing speak, she’s authentic. Riccardo Bellini, chief executive officer of Chloé, knew it when he hired Hearst as he outlined the company’s purpose-driven pivot toward a sustainable business model, which is where all the entrepreneurial money is going.

I don’t know what Hearst’s aesthetic vision will be for Chloé, but I imagine it won’t be too far afield from the confident, real-woman craft and modernism she’s honed at her own line. The difference is at Chloé, she has the mega resources of a storied atelier to fuel her mega drive. As an American woman in fashion, who has followed Hearst’s rise at close range, I’m excited to watch.

Title image: Gabriela Hearst portrait by Michael Avedon.