Art of Style

5 women behind female-led label Gabriela Hearst on the art of collaboration

Adishree Kumar, head of production, wears cotton and silk-blend shirt dress, and crocheted cotton and croc-effect leather loafers, both by Gabriela Hearst

As a pioneer of sustainability in luxury fashion, GABRIELA HEARST has made it her mission to ensure there’s “a purpose to every piece” created by her eponymous brand, focusing on a slower pace and process and partnering with carefully chosen suppliers that share her vision. MEGAN LOGUE speaks to five members of the esteemed designer’s team about empowerment in the workplace and what being part of a female-led business means to them

Photography Dana ScruggsStyling Hannah Krall

Since establishing her label in 2015, Uruguayan designer Gabriela Hearst has quickly become a force for positive change within the industry. Chances are you’ll be aware of Hearst’s impeccable eco credentials and philanthropic partnerships, but what you might not know is that her taste for altruistic disruption is also reflected in the way she runs her label. Hearst’s entirely female workforce is something of an anomaly in the world of fashion. “With a female-driven team, you can expect creative and administrative excellence, not to mention execution,” says Hearst. “We are tight; we all help each other.” The fact that many of Hearst’s employees have been with her since the early days is a testament to the success of this female-powered enterprise. When discussing the company and their place within it, the majority of these colleagues name-checked one another – or, more precisely, the collaborative, creative and warm community they’ve created – as the highlight of working at Gabriela Hearst. As the designer says herself: “I can’t even call them my team – they’re my work family. We have been through so many challenges and triumphs together, experienced birth and loss. That is a life truly lived together.” Read on to meet the women behind this one-of-a-kind brand…

Adishree Kumar, head of production

“I sought out a role at Gabriela Hearst in 2016 – I was an intern looking to work within a female-driven organization and company that valued women’s empowerment. Since then, Gabriela has allowed me to rise to the role of head of production, where I now facilitate partnerships with female-led factories in Italy and New York, not to mention Manos del Uruguay, a non-profit organization that provides work to artisan women from rural areas in Uruguay. It is truly humbling to be able to work with such beautiful, accomplished women. Having gratitude and not taking things for granted are two key lessons I’ve taken away from the events of 2020. Despite being a small player in a very large industry, our actions at Gabriela Hearst have wide-ranging consequences. Our suppliers depend on us. Gabriela never compromises on quality, and I find that to be the most remarkable thing about her, and the brand. Each piece is designed to be an heirloom; passed on to the next generation; and that can only happen if the quality and construction is top notch. Of course, it also helps that Gabriela’s designs are timeless and not influenced by fleeting trends. During the winter, you’ll always find me in our cashmere sweaters, whereas in the summer I gravitate towards our aloe linen shirts and dresses – this fabric is a more sustainable alternative to cotton and the aloe vera has a moisturizing effect on the skin.”

Michele Cohen, global head of sales

“Gabriela always says you should be able to identify her designs in a sea of clothes – even if you turn the lights off – which is why I would say touch is what I appreciate most about her clothes. Gabriela considers clothes to be a woman’s armor; something that should make her feel confident and allow her to navigate through different situations easily and freely. My most loved and worn pieces by Gabriela have to be her turtleneck sweaters, in all weights, fabrics and colors – I don’t think my neck sees the light of day through fall and winter. In the summer, I live in our aloe-treated linen dresses. It is a beautiful fabric that is good for the earth and your skin. Gabriela always wanted to build a platform – not only to sell beautifully crafted clothes, but also to enact change for a more sustainable future. The way we look at sustainability doesn’t just include our supply chain but also how we treat our community. Social responsibility is a part of my role that I really value. Working with Gabriela to execute her vision in helping others is what gets me up in the morning. For example, we have raised almost $1 million for Save the Children through our ongoing handbag initiatives with NET-A-PORTER. Gabriela inspires the team to dream big – she teaches us that we can make the impossible possible by working collaboratively, being creative, and empowering us to bring new ideas to the table.”

Stephanie de Lavalette, deputy director

“I grew up in Paris, and the effortless yet impeccable style of Parisian women has influenced me greatly. My off-duty and nine-to-five looks are very similar. I might trade a suit jacket for cashmere knitwear at the weekend, but I will always include a tailored piece in my outfit, whether it be pants or a structured coat. I still cherish lots of pieces from Gabriela’s first collection and often mix them with her latest designs, which really highlights just how timeless and wearable each one is. I have very sensitive skin, and after experiencing the unparalleled quality of Gabriela’s pieces, and how they feel against your skin, there really is no going back. Working with Gabriela has long been a dream of mine – one formulated years ago, when we were roommates in the West Village. Before making the leap into fashion, I worked in finance on a trading floor, in a very male-dominated environment, so I went from one extreme to another, and it’s been a really refreshing change. I became a mother shortly before the label launched; quite a few of the team have children and so we lean on each other for advice on how to balance motherhood and our professional lives. Gabriela often references Thomas Edison’s famous quote, ‘Vision without execution is hallucination’, and I agree. So, I would have to say that working with such a talented team to make this dream manifest is the most rewarding thing about working for Gabriela.”

Linda McEwan, vice president of design

“It’s important to me that my working style is functional, without sacrificing on personality and the carefully considered aesthetic of Gabriela Hearst as a brand – and everything it stands for. For me, getting dressed is more than just putting an outfit together – it’s a testament to how I feel on that particular day. On- or off-duty, there is always an elegance and ease to the clothes I wear; I style beautiful pieces in a subtle way that does not shout. The classic slip dresses Gabriela creates each season are among the most treasured pieces in my closet. Gabriela’s designs are an ode to the sensuality and spirituality of women. Her deep knowledge of history and philosophy form the cornerstone of each collection; her pieces are beautifully crafted and special, but also come from a place of higher thinking. Gabriela dives deeply into research for each collection and takes the whole team on a magical journey with her, either by arranging special trips to the Metropolitan Museum archives or hosting documentary screenings. These experiences encourage me to aim higher and challenge myself to think about design in new ways. Every day, I am in awe of the strength and resilience of my female colleagues; we share an unapologetic drive when it comes to achieving our common goals. Many of us are mothers, and therefore family is an important aspect of our daily lives. I feel that this has influenced the way we work at Gabriela Hearst – we’ve become a family.”

Nancy Kang, head of design development

“Whether I’m dressing for work or off-duty days, my style is instinctive. My closet is my palette. One piece will strike me – because of the color, shape or fabric – which naturally leads me to the next layer, and the next, until the look is complete. One of the things I appreciate most about Gabriela Hearst’s designs is that each piece is full of meaning – each one is an anthology of inspirations, stories and narratives. And, of course, the quality is just as carefully considered as the aesthetics; I live in the brand’s cashmere sweaters, button-down shirts and leathers. As head of design, one of the biggest challenges I face is having to reconcile creativity with working against the clock, but when a piece comes out beautifully and exceeds all expectations, it makes it all worthwhile. Throughout the pandemic, Gabriela has motivated us to remain curious and allow ourselves to be more ambitious than the circumstances might seem to allow. I was raised by a single mother, an immigrant, nurse and a business owner. In a way, the admiration I have for Gabriela comes from my familiarity and respect for my unapologetically ambitious working mother.”