Even if you met Gabriela Perezutti Hearst just once, you’d immediately peg her as a spirited woman. Slightly hyper-active maybe, or just really focused and animated, depending on the time of day. Her gaze is intense, especially because she doesn’t wear any make-up, ever – it’s unfiltered and masculine. Her gestures are hurried but simultaneously suggest routine and a time-is-money attitude. She talks a hundred miles an hour, in a bold and clear kind of language, despite the fact that her accent and grammar are heavily tainted by a Uruguyan upbringing. She has two jobs “beside motherhood”: her clothing brand Candela and running the horse farm she inherited from her father. She’s raising 6-year old twins from her first marriage and two teenage step children from her latest marriage to Austin Hearst. And she finished decorating their new brownstone in the West Village in less than a year. So yeah, perhaps more suited, Gabi is what you might call, a busy lady.
But today something is making her nervous. Each time I give her a break to change and set up a new shot, she dives for her phone and stares anxiously at the screen. Obviously the news she is awaiting is none of my business and I watch her frantic episodes with much patience and amusement. Until suddenly, checking her phone for the third time, she jumps up from her seat, balls her fists and hisses: “YESSSS!” Then turns around to me and apologizes, exasperated: “I’m so sorry but I have to follow this. Uruguay is playing the World Cup and they just scored! I am a fan of the team, as we are a small country of just three point five million people…” I empathize. It’s a big deal. And Uruguay is playing an amazing game.
However, as much as I’d love to discuss soccer, I am here to delve into Gabi’s closet, which is all kinds of special. Not only does it store every beautiful frock from her own collection, it’s also been entrusted with quite a few of her mother-in-law’s famous pieces. Before she became Mrs. William Randolph Hearst Jr., Austine was married to Igor Cassini, fashion designer Oleg‘s younger brother. For most of her working career she was a syndicated newspaper columnist. But at the start she was deep in the world of fashion. “She used to be a model,” recounts Gabi. “She saved all the scraps with her pictures from Vogue and Harper’s. She was a muse to Charles James; then she became a patron. Her wedding dress to Austin’s father was made by Charles James, as well as the clover and butterfly dress that where both very prominent in the recent exhibition [at the Met]. She was constantly in the Best Dressed List – this was the times of the Duchess of Windsor and Babe Paley. What I found so wonderful about her style is how she could be ultra glamour and then an avid horse woman. From what my husband told me she was the happiest in the farm with the horses. My mother and sister are the same (not dressed in Charles James!) but yes, the happiest in the country riding.”
The hyphen has Gabi set for life, but it wasn’t always sunshine and roses. “I got fired from practically every job,” she laughs. “My first job was in a flower shop in Uruguay when I was 17. It was really rare because women my age wouldn’t work at that time until they graduated from University. But I had already lived in Australia and noticed that all teenagers worked.” She also modeled for a couple of years. “I was androgynous when the super Brazilian Amazonian models where coming up. Not the best timing…” she rolls her eyes. “But it was worth the experience; you learn about rejection a lot!” She finally moved to New York to help on a movie and never returned, trying her hand at various production and fashion jobs. “I started Candela at the same time I was a Director of Sales in a New York showroom [in 2004]. Then I got fired, maxed out my credit cards and had to make it work or go back to sell cattle with my family. In less than one year we made it jump so it was pretty incredible. The over-confidence of being young, I suppose.”
With one point on the score board, Gabi has visibly relaxed. We meander through the 5-story house, giggling and looking for spots to set up “funny and interesting” shots. We say hi to Austin who is reading the paper in his study. And take a dip in the pool. And she does it all with style and taste. Gabriela dresses with comfort but remains woman. “I like something very soft in the interior and something harder on the outside; an armor sort of appearance… The urban warrior look….” She loves suits, flowy dresses and sexy shoes, and never wears mini skirts without tights. When it comes to her style icons she stays close to home. “All the women in my family used this amazing seamstress, Tota. The pieces where couture level! Her clothes are probably the reason I got into fashion. I think my father and mother in the late seventies where the chicest gaucho couple, nothing beat that. My husband when I dress him.” I enjoy my time with Gabi. She’s down to earth and cheeky. Uruguay ends up beating England two to one that day and will eventually go through to the next round. It’s a huge victory, for a small country.