“From Gaby to Gabi, two ambitious women interpreting femininity in the context of their time,” reads the press notes for Chloe’s Fall/Winter 2021 collection – the first under the brand’s new creative director Gabriela Hearst. Gaby, of course, refers to the late Gaby Aghion, the Parisian maison’s Egypt-born founder; while Gabi is the nickname for her latest successor.
Context is everything. Aghion founded Chloe in 1952 and in doing so, famously coined the term “pret-a-porter” with her vision of effortlessly feminine day dresses – a stark delineation from the period’s structured silhouettes and couture houses that were all helmed by men. In 2021 however, an argument can be made that personal values and priorities have become fashion’s most powerful currency.
Enter Hearst, whose six-year-old eponymous label quickly came to be known for sumptuous, well-tailored pieces and accessories typically fashioned out of top-end fabrics like wafer-thin merino wool and even recycled cashmere. Her choice of materials speaks of her relentless focus on sustainability, a central tenet to her as a person.
In recent years, the Uruguay-born designer has become one of the industry’s most prominent advocates of overhauling the system, staging what was reportedly the first carbon-neutral show back in 2019 with her Spring/Summer 2020 collection. It had a ripple effect; behemoths like Gucci soon followed suit.
Hearst (above) serves up a respectful, grounded take on the free-spirited Chloe bohemian for her debut collection.
The 44-year-old’s arrival at Chloe saw her coalescing her earthy elegance with the French house’s signature flou for what New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman describes as a “haute homey” effect. Think cosy ponchos (familiar to both brands’ DNA) with built-in puffer necklines; gauzy silk plisse confections and relaxed bohemian knit dresses.
There’s patchwork aplenty – cue the ’70s-esque leather coats with Chloe’s signature scalloped pattern and colourful greatcoats that are in fact a collaboration with the non-profit Sheltersuit, which makes winter outerwear that transforms into sleeping bags for the homeless.
Chloe has never been outrightly associated with the sustainability conversation, but that’s set to change in many ways. Hearst was appointed to the house a mere two months before the show in March this year, but she has already eliminated the use of virgin (read: new) synthetic materials such as polyester and viscose. More than half of the silk used in this collection comes from organic agriculture while 80 per cent of the cashmere is recycled.
The brand goes so far as to announce that emissions from the show – held on the cobblestone streets of Paris’ Saint-Germain-des-Pres – are being offset and directed towards a reforestation project of mangroves in Myanmar.
Now calculating carbon emission amounts is not usually a precise science and critics say this process of carbon offsetting can cultivate a cavalier mindset – the goal should instead be cutting down on emissions at the source. That said, Chloe has reported that the production of Hearst’s debut collection “can be considered four times more sustainable compared to last year’s”.
“I strive to have something timeless like the Edith bag that lasts forever and I’ll still love it decades later,” says the designer in an interview with trade publication Business of Fashion. (Fun fact: The aforementioned doctor’s bag that the brand launched in the mid-noughties was Hearst’s first luxury bag and accompanied her for 15 years.
Many of the pieces are crafted from recycled and deadstock materials such as cashmere and jacquard, including the Edith (pictured) – a doctor’s bag revived from the mid-2000s that was in fact Hearst’s first luxury bag with no-nonsense classic good looks in line with her signature elegance.
This season, she brings it back in a big way, sticking largely to its original design – the gently sloping shape; the handy front pocket secured by equally functional buckles – with new sizes as well as one-of-a-kind editions made from leftover and deadstock materials.)
“I’m not a trend designer. I would fail miserably at that task, but I can make things that I feel women would desire for the rest of their lives – or I’ll give it a damn good try at least,” she says. One could argue that a focus on quality and time-proof design is in and of itself a mindset aligned with the ethos of sustainability; cherished clothes aren’t discarded so readily.
Hearst appears to be infusing that slow and considered approach into Chloe beyond the runway too. Take for example how the brand’s Instagram feed (@chloe) has been transformed into a poetic stream of Irving Penn-like visuals – cacti, bees, fabrics, mushrooms, unvarnished images of women and their bodies – with equally esoteric captions. One post of a mountain belching forth lava reads “once matter must change (sic)” with Hearst commenting: “This is the first eruption in the Reykjanes Peninsula in nearly 800 years”.
It’s soft power at its best and most enthralling; Hearst’s measured pace and holistic world-building for Chloe exuding a quietly defiant strength in a hype-obsessed universe. Whether or not one agrees with her aesthetic for Chloe, it’s hard to deny that her philosophy is what the industry and planet need more than ever.