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Fashion

Designer Gabriela Hearst on her Hong Kong installation, quality craftsmanship and the need to be environmentally friendly

The designer is launching her autumn-winter 2018 collection of shoes and handbags in Asia, which includes a partnership with Lane Crawford, that kicks off with an installation at IFC Mall in Hong Kong on June 27

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018, 6:35pm

It’s a humid late afternoon in New York, and Gabriela Hearst has just wrapped a day’s designing at her studio in Chelsea.

The waning sunlight casts gentle shadows through an expansive, downtown-facing window in her private office, and the sound of bustling traffic drifts up from the West Side highway nearby. Hearst is a relaxed host. She wears a black leather pencil skirt, over-the-knee boots without tights, and an oversized sweater with Diana, Princess of Wales on it.

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Her own diamanté and emerald blue glass earrings are reminiscent of the late royal’s infamous engagement ring, and are the kind of jewels fashion editors refer to as a statement piece. “She was my idol growing up,” Hearst explains gesturing at her top while curling her (impossibly long) legs underneath a plush Eames swivel chair.

Before long, we get to the main reason for our meeting: Hearst’s upcoming partnership with Lane Crawford, which kicks off at IFC Mall in Hong Kong on June 27 and at Times Square in Shanghai on June 30.

The designer is launching her autumn-winter 2018 collection of shoes and handbags for the first time in Asia, and is travelling to oversee each installation in person for two weeks. While there, she is also slated to unveil a new personalisation service (customers will be able to have their initials engraved on any handbag for an additional fee), and an exclusive collection of coin purses which were created specifically for the event.

“The design is based on our Nina bag, but it fits in with all of our other bags perfectly too. They are cute and really beautiful,” she explains. “Over the past year we’ve noticed a high demand for our leather goods in the Chinese luxury market; 30 per cent of our customers come from Hong Kong, so I’m excited to get on the ground and meet our woman face-to-face. I want to understand what she desires and what she is missing in her wardrobe.”

Hearst describes customers of her eponymous brand as “dynamic”. Three years of working research has shown that they are predominantly high-flying professional women, who typically operate in the realms of law or academia.

“They live really exciting working lives, so whenever I design a collection I always think about what they might need. I believe that the handbags have been particularly successful because I don’t approach them traditionally,” she says.

“I never make huge collections; I just launch the pieces that my team and I feel the strongest about – and that is it. Little by little, the range has grown into quite a substantial offering, but the same theme of beautiful objects that make women’s lives easier is always present.”

Another distinguishing feature of Gabriela Hearst customers is the willingness – and financial means – to invest in quality craftsmanship.

“I am extremely passionate about anything produced with care and detail,” she says. “It can be bread and butter, coffee, the best prosciutto and Parmesan. As a consumer I ask myself, who makes this product with the most passion? I think you can eat, live, breathe that question.”

Her handbags are a case in point, some have taken up to a year to perfect. “It can take months to execute a single concept because I care about each element being the best it can be. I work with technical designers to ensure that everything I put out is not only desirable, but functional too. When you invest in our handbags, you are also investing in the talent of the artisans who make them individually by hand in Florence and the noble materials that they use.”

Championing superior talent is by no means Hearst’s only philanthropic endeavour. The designer is committed to what she refers to as “honest luxury,” which extends to seeking out the most ethical and sustainable practices in every corner of her business. “I believe in quality over quantity always – and in creating products without harming the environment,” she says. In 2018 she became the first designer to make the switch to a new biodegradable packaging, called Tipa.

“Climate change is one of my biggest concerns, both personally and professionally, and no material creates more problems than plastic.”

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Developed and manufactured by a relatively young start-up in Israel, Tipa acts like plastic, but will decompose in 180 days as opposed to hundreds of years. “Hedonistic sustainability is achievable,” Hearst says. “There is a place for beauty, luxury, and timeless design to live in harmony with the environment.”