Gemma Street doesn’t design for the banalities of everyday life. Instead, the British-born founder of luxury fashion brand Hester Bly makes moments like sipping cocktails by the pool or whisking off to dinner simultaneously more glamorous and carefree. She aims to inspire women to say, “Oh, this? I just threw it on,” with a knowing smile.
“Every time I travel,” she explains, “I would always feel like there was something missing from my suitcase. I was always looking for that elegant Slim Aarons–type kaftan — something that I could throw on night and day and feel glamorous in no matter what. So I decided to make it myself.” The resulting collection of kaftans, dresses, separates, and accessories captures that exact feeling thanks to Street’s ability to channel the slow-burning glamour of Palm Springs and the surrounding desert into vibrantly patterned silk.
“Palm Springs is my favorite place in the world,” Gemma Street says. “I go with my family three times a year and am so inspired by the architecture, flora, and fauna. It only felt natural that the inaugural Hester Bly collection would center around the destination.”
Street’s love for the bright California desert surfaces in the collection’s 30-plus pieces. For locals and Palm Springs fanatics, much of the inspiration will be instantly recognizable: The striking symmetry of the Horizon kaftan’s geometric pattern mirrors the concentric circles and sharp angles of the John Lautner–designed Elrod house; the graphic chevron stripes on the Swiss Miss kimono call to mind the steeply angled rooflines of its namesake houses; and the silvery mosaic pattern of the Parker kaftan pays homage to the hotel’s iconic breezeblock façade.
In other pieces, however, her references are more subtle. For example, the cold shoulder silhouette and swooping embroidery of the Helene dress nods to the angular open spaces and circular retexture of William Krisel’s House of Tomorrow. And for the Betsy kaftan, Street explains “each color in that design is based on a real front door in Palm Springs. I would run up with my swatches and try to match them before anyone noticed.”
That careful translation of architecture is what makes each style in the collection feel like a piece of wearable art. (Street hand-painted many of the patterns before turning them into digital prints.) They recall the glitz of the studio era — when the biggest celebrities of the day were required to stay within a 100-mile radius of Los Angeles and would hightail it to the desert whenever they could escape — without losing a modern sensibility. Their saturated colors capture the energy of the champagne-soaked midcentury pool parties that Slim Aarons’ photography made iconic, without looking like a 1960s period piece.
It’s a delicate balance that Gemma Street worked hard to evoke. “I want my customers to feel like they’re buying today’s vintage pieces,” she says. “The designs are meant to capture the past but are things to keep forever.”
That mindset not only informs her careful designs but the entire ethos of the Hester Bly brand. Only 50 examples of each of the travel-inspired pieces will be made (and all will be hand-dyed). The brand will only release one collection a year — a striking departure from fashion’s more-is-more mindset. “This is not about fast fashion; it’s about bringing back a bit of bygone glamour with sustainability and technology in mind.”
The designs aim to capture the past and be kept forever.
That approach also means the collection is meant to be worn beyond the Coachella Valley. The kaftans and breezy kimonos are surprisingly versatile, transitioning to urban life with a simple belt cinched around the waist or with sharp separates. The cotton dresses and skirts function similarly and are as appropriate for a wedding as they are for a day spent out at Sunnylands Center & Gardens. And should you need a hint of that desert sun, the canvas and leather clutches make for an easy addition to almost every outfit — no matter how far from the Parker’s pool you may be.
That said, if you are leaning into the Palm Springs vibe of the collection, follow Street’s advice: “Whenever I visit, I always bring a pair of massively oversized white sunglasses and just two pairs of shoes — one pair of Italian leather sandals and one pair of metallic heels — that way I can dress up the kaftans for day and night.” As far as accessories go, Street keeps it simple. “Oh, and you need a fabulous playlist and a really good book.”
Prices range from $250 to $1,695 at hesterbly.com.
Gemma Street’s love for Palm Springs surfaces in her new collection.