“An idea without execution is a hallucination,” said chef Daniel Humm on Wednesday as he and Maria Sharapova addressed attendees at the David H. Koch theater for NYFW’s Museum at FIT annual Couture Council Luncheon to honor Gabriela Hearst. As they spoke about the designer’s approach to luxury in a “changing and challenging world,” attendees including Candace Bushnell, Johanna Ortiz, and Martha Stewart sat around tables dressed in burlap. The earthy color palette of the afternoon, an amalgamation of soft browns, muted oranges and greens, reflecting the environmentally minded ethos that has distinguished Hearst as a designer.
Although many fashion brands have adopted language around sustainability in recent years, Hearst’s approach is unique in that it renders every part of her brand devoid of excess and has positioned her as a leader in what climate-conscious luxury can look like in today’s world.
“I started thinking everyone’s clothing came here wrapped in plastic, no matter what price point you put on that piece or garment, everything came out wrapped in plastic. I would see plastic bags everywhere, and it really became an obsession. So, the first time we did a NYFW show in 2017, everything was recycled, everything was reclaimed—no plastic on the back of house, no plastic on the front of house—everything needed to be repurposed,” she tells Vanity Fair.
As her eponymous brand grew, her commitment to the environment remained steadfast, the opening of her first brick-and-mortar store, another pivotal moment in a designer’s career, proved to be a tangible blueprint for what’s possible for the future of fashion.
“Everything was recycled—the wood was all reclaimed, there were no window displays, there’s no mannequins—everything that was excessive, we cut off. All the water is filtered, all the electricity is smart, so it’s not wasteful. And when you go to our store, you still experience luxury, and it’s quite a beautiful experience,” she said.
That kind of unwavering commitment to the planet is an ideology that can oftentimes be risky as it grapples with profit margins, but MFIT’s Artistry of Fashion honor is a “validation that the work of the team and me is going in the right direction,” she says.
Her work at her own brand and recently ended tenure at French fashion house Chloé has been foundational to pushing forward the sustainability narrative in fashion with a particular fixation on the future and physics as the driving force behind the worlds she creates. But her perspective is largely informed by the world in which she was born into, a farm in Uruguay where sustainability was a way of life.
“It’s 100% how my brain got wired,” she says. “When I try to figure out why I think and see the things I do, I know it’s because I grew up in such a remote place, and you have to be solution-driven when you’re two hours and a half from the closest city. Everything has to be made to last, so you learn about quality and long-term view.”
In 2020, she staged the industry’s first ever carbon-neutral NYFW runway show and was named the CFDA American womenswear designer of the year, and has since continued to be a trailblazer in laying the groundwork necessary for longevity in the fashion sphere to be realized.
As she left the stage after accepting her 2023 Artistry of Fashion Award to a standing ovation, Hearst’s willingness to dedicate her craft to a bigger purpose was palpable. What lies ahead for Hearst is steeped in the same kind of science that has brought her this far. With her sights now set on fusion energy, the feat is bigger than ever, but if anyone, she is up to task.
“I love what I do,” she says. “It’s the work that I love. You also have a platform that you communicate with, and there’s a responsibility because we are under the biggest crisis that our humanity has ever faced…so I made a very keen decision with Gabriela Hearst—that’s what it was created for.”