What is Honest Luxury? Designer Gabriela Hearst Explains

For decades, handbags have been more than just a way to carry one’s belongings. It’s a quintessential element of the outfit — you might even say that it ties the entire look together, like the final missing piece of the puzzle. 

It’s no surprise that designers have been taking bigger risks in their bag designs, sometimes choosing to forfeit functionality for fashion. Not Gabriela Hearst though.

The model-turned-designer is known for her eponymous fashion brand that has created some of the most unique and utilitarian handbags the fashion industry has seen. Her first ever bag, Nina (named after Hearst’s favourite singer and activist Nina Simone), was launched in 2016 and instantly became a hit. In fact, it now has an extensive waiting list and is only produced in limited quantities due to the brand’s commitment to sustainability.

Needless to say, owning a Gabriela Hearst bag has become the envy of many women. Partly attributed to its exclusivity, part due to its exquisite bag designs and craftsmanship. With demand far exceeding supply, how does one get their hands on a Gabriela Hearst?

Local fans of the brand, rejoice! For her first visit to Singapore, Hearst is teaming up with On Pedder to unveil her Fall Winter 2019 collection of shoes and bags in store. The handbag collection will be available exclusively at On Pedder, Pedder on Scotts, for three weeks and will include beloved Gabriela Hearst classics such as Nina and Demi, and newer styles such as Diana, Patsy and Walkwoman. We caught up with Hearst ahead of her trip to understand more about the brand’s strong sustainability commitments and the inspiration behind her Fall Winter 2019 collection. 

Photo: Oliver Mint

How did this pop-up with On Pedder come about?

It stemmed from curiosity and good friendship. We had a wonderful relationship with Pedder Group with our initiative in Hong Kong. They talked to us about Singapore and I’ve been very eager to visit.

You were born and raised on your family ranch in Uruguay — What are some values that you learned growing up that you still hold onto today?

Growing up in a remote landscape with objects and structures that were made to last, quality was a needed characteristic while opulence was not. Things needed to last from a utilitarian perspective and nothing got thrown out – things were re-purposed. At Gabriela Hearst, we use the most luxurious materials available, but each piece is thoughtfully designed, handcrafted and has a purpose.

What are the core values and ethics that the brand abides by?

We want to create “honest luxury”. I think our “honest luxury” standards resonate with the increasing number of consumers who are demanding transparency and sustainability but still are expected to look with certain sophistication. I think it also resonates our love for craftsmanship and luxury. I believe the true luxury client can’t be fooled. If a piece that we design takes space in this planet, it better be great.

We don’t follow trends. I am loyal to the vision of who our woman is and our customer is loyal to it as well. If I am going to be using materials that cost €200/meter, that cashmere coat needs to last you a lifetime. 

Nina and Demi bags

Why did you decide to make bags on top of your womenswear collections?

A friend of mine told me after we launched our collection of ready-to-wear and shoes, that I shouldn’t be carrying someone else’s bag. I thought he was right and I took my time to design a bag I absolutely loved.

Your bags are known to be very functional on top of being stylish — how do you manage to keep that balance?

Our handbags live in a world of their own. I don’t design handbag collections. For our bags, it takes an average of nine to ten months from original conception to sample. We work on them for a long time and the production can take a minimum of three months. When they are ready, we launch them out to the world. It’s a process we manage to keep very free and creative. Our pieces are extremely intricate, with their own technical custom closure systems. For example, the Joni and the Mitchell bag which are inspired by the Tiffins food delivery containers in India are very complex to manufacture as it involves magnets and springs.

All the bags (except for the Vevers Bag) are named after female singers.

What inspires your creative process?

Our process is always lead by curiosity. Sometimes it is clear as a specific muse, like Maya was for FW19 and it is very easy to create by imagining her life. Sometimes it is a movement. I always have a different female hero — someone that we look up to and want to learn about.

Tell us more about the FW19 collection.

For our FW19 collection, I was inspired by Maya Plisetskaya, the famous Russian ballet dancer. We imagined our collection in her urban setting: Maya walking to rehearsals at the Bolshoi a few blocks from her Moscow apartment with coats and outerwear to protect her from the Russian winters. We also imagined her rehearsal and performance outfits, as well as the contrasting rural life she led in her Dacha and the wardrobe she would wear in that setting.

Which one of your bags do you carry most often?

I am still very much in love with all our bags but I always carry the Diana and Vevers bags when I am travelling.

The Gabriela Hearst Pop-up will be available from 25 October to 15 November at Pedder on Scotts, Scotts Square Level 2, 6 Scotts Road, Singapore 228209