Gabriela Hearst has landed on the West Coast with her first Los Angeles store, now open in Beverly Hills.
Hearst collaborated with Foster & Partners and “designer-makers” Benji Gavron and Antoine Dumas on the 2,500-square-foot space, another step in the eight-year-old brand’s forward momentum this year, as the designer stepped away from her role as creative director at Chloé to focus solely on her own business.
More from WWD
Her vision for sustainable luxury fashion resulted in Chloé becoming B-Corp certified, and has led to demand from wholesale partners for exclusive collections, including one that launched last week with Net-a-porter. That capsule has resonated with its “ultra-elevated winter wardrobing offer, which includes not only special evening pieces but also hero categories such as tailoring and knitwear,” said the e-tailer’s buying director Kate Benson, adding that Net’s seasonal spend on the brand has increased 50 percent year-over-year.
Laura Dern and Mariska Hartigay have recently worn Gabriela Hearst to high-profile events, and the look created for Jill Biden for the presidential inauguration was added in January to the first ladies display at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.
The L.A. flagship is the third to open after New York in 2018 and London in 2019.
“Extending the direct presence of our brand in new markets like L.A. is an essential means to introduce ourselves to a new clientele,” said Gabriela Hearst chief executive officer Thierry Colin, who plans to double the brand’s retail network in the next three to five years, adding to the 80 wholesale accounts.
He said the “strong performance” of the first two stores was an indicator for the L.A. opening and the broader retail expansion strategy.
“When you are truly luxury, retail is the only way for clients to really appreciate and know the craft. There is another part of our company — we do a lot of social work through our production with the different co-ops that we work with worldwide, so retail is the place for the product that I want to make,” Hearst said.
The flagship sells women’s and men’s ready-to-wear, knitwear, footwear, accessories and blankets made with co-op Manos del Uruguay. The location is the exclusive retailer for Hearst’s handbag collection on the West Coast, including the Nina, the Demi, the Diana and the Baez styles among others.
The store is located at 9500 Wilshire Boulevard along the street front of the historic Beverly Wilshire hotel, originally built in 1928 and renovated in the 1940s by Paul R. Williams, the first certified Black architect west of the Mississippi, who also designed the Saks Fifth Avenue building in Beverly Hills and many other L.A. landmarks. Elvis Presley, Warren Beatty and Steve McQueen all lived at the hotel at one time or another and “Pretty Woman” was famously filmed there.
“For a U.S. brand we have quite an international clientele, so for retail, the idea was we need to be next to a hotel, like the best hotel in the city,” Hearst said. “So it was The Carlyle in New York and Claridge’s in London. For L.A., we wanted the same, something that was historical that has a presence for itself and something that we could transform into what feels for us like the luxury experience in 2023.”
The street-facing reception hall has low ceilings, creating an intimate entrance that opens to an airy double-height space. Soaring vaults frame the space and create recessed niches for display. The vaults have been finished with an eco-friendly plaster. There is also an entrance from the hotel, and a VIP area featuring fluted glass doors and silk carpets.
There are no window displays and no mannequins, however.
“I wanted to cut and trim all the fat from the retail experience,” said Hearst, who has 50 company employees. “And just because we want to open a store the environment doesn’t have to suffer, so all the wood is reclaimed. The light is intelligent, the water is all filtered. And what was very important as well is that it’s inviting and there is nothing to trick you. It’s the product and experience. That transparency is to show the confidence that we have in our product.”
“The first thing Gabi did was give us 20 photos of her home in Uruguay, her family ranch where everything’s handmade out of wood, very simple, Shaker and beautiful. We really took that to heart and that’s how the design process started,” said Dumas, explaining Hearst’s requirements were that the wood be sourced sustainably and locally and the furniture be handmade by local artisans.
All of the furniture and store displays were constructed out of lumber from two fallen Western Sycamore trees that had been condemned by the city, cut down and were destined for the compost pile. The furniture designers worked with Angel City Lumber to reclaim the wood.
“I love when a leather or wood has its natural character but you never know what happens until you open the trees,” Hearst said.
“We took a risk and they were just phenomenal,” said Gavron, whose favorite detail in the store is the bag shelf, modeled after room dividers from the home of pioneering modernist architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray, who inspired Hearst’s fall 2023 collection, one in a series spotlighting powerful women.
“They are able to do something [that] is so difficult, which is timeless design that feels current,” said Hearst of her designers, calling out the cocoon-like couch built on a four-faceted pyramidal form.
Gavron and Dumas worked with Hearst on projects in South Korea, Paris, Chicago and New York, and found the experiences so rewarding they are creating a Brooklyn design studio together, they said, calling her “dedicated, uncompromising, kind and generous.”
Hearst’s approach seems to be getting traction.
Retail sales have doubled year-over-year since 2020, Colin said. So far in 2023 alone, sales are up 20 percent on an organic basis across all categories, especially in rtw and footwear. The men’s collection is continuing to grow and the launch of the house’s first fragrance with Fueguia 1833 in has seen a good response, the executive said.
“People underestimate the power of product. The power of staying true to quality, to what I believe about working with the best materials possible. It’s the first thing I told Women’s Wear Daily when we did Ten of Tomorrow,” Hearst said of a feature spotlighting her in 2016. “I want a client to buy something once and keep it. So we sacrifice a lot as an organization, we’d rather have a lighter structure that gives us great product to sell at lower margins. True quality is just such a rare commodity these days.”
For Hearst, designing from season to season is about a fashion evolution not a revolution.
“We created a program of evergreens because they have super high sell-throughs, clients come for that consistency of something that works for them,” she said. “We were always really strong in knitwear and suiting and then we’ve been perfecting pants. We have a Rhein pant that we cannot keep in store. My retail head says I wish we could just buy more. But not having stock is a good problem.”
In August, she launched her first fragrances, but in limited editions of just 315 bottles; she has no plans to expand further into the beauty category anytime soon.
“It’s more about having something special even if it’s scarce. We already have the elements that create the bread and butter for this company so we will keep on building on those,” Hearst said.
To that end, sustainability is becoming a bigger selling point. “Nobody’s gonna buy you for your good intentions, so you have to drive by desire. Beauty is intrinsic to the human soul for me and I think that this is something that we have. But I would say today our clients are much more well-informed. I love this anecdote that there was a client who came and bought a couple of things and they were wrapping it for her, and even though our packaging is all thought through, she said, ‘I’m not gonna take any packaging, thank you. Gabi wouldn’t like that.’ So that philosophy is actually filtering down.”
L.A. is the brand’s second-biggest market in the U.S. behind New York, and Hearst is looking forward to having a space to cater to the needs of Hollywood VIPs, who will have a lot more occasions to dress for now that the SAG-AFTRA strike has ended.
“I understand a lot of the retail experience in L.A. is clienteling, but I think the store is so visual it will bring curiosity,” she said.
And even as luxury sales begin to slow, Hearst feels optimistic about the rest of the year.
“We haven’t overexposed ourselves, we haven’t overrun our market shares. We are in a different position than other big luxury brands so it’s a different outlook for us, and I like it. We’re growing at a pace that I’m comfortable with. I don’t believe in rapid growth, I believe in consistent growth, especially in the beginning.…If the foundations are not solid, you cannot weather the storms and there are storms in a lifetime. Ask a tree.”
Launch Gallery: Inside the New Gabriela Hearst Flagship Store in Los Angeles
Best of WWD