ACE Award Winner Cult Gaia

A seamless blend of art and fashion.

By Karen Giberson

For 80 years, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has stood at the crossroads of New York City’s vibrant garment center and the lush, diverse flower district. While countless FIT students have passed by the district’s lush blooms, Jasmin Larian Hekmat was one who saw more than just flowers; she saw inspiration. Making flower crowns out of silk and paper flowers for friends became the first step in her journey to founding Cult Gaia, a brand celebrated globally for its award-winning designs and distinctive creative vision. Hekmat’s design inspirations, however, extend far beyond greenery and florals.

Drawing from the natural arrangement of rocks to the ephemeral beauty of an ocean wave, from a simple hair scrunchy to a painting at the Louvre, Cult Gaia stands out for its use of architectural silhouettes, natural materials, and a creativity that turns each piece into both a conversation starter and a functional work of art.

Raised in Los Angeles in a creative household — her first word was “lebas” (Farsi for “dress”) — Hekmat was destined for a career in fashion. Her mother was an apparel designer, and her father was the creator of Bratz dolls, with Jasmin being the muse for the Yasmin doll. Her passion led her to New York City to attend FIT, where she began experimenting with designs that combined fashion with the beauty of nature. Before long, her headpieces caught the attention of her peers and others.

Hekmat’s dedication to learning every facet of the fashion industry was evident in her internships with designers Narciso Rodriguez and Jason Wu, where she sacrificed personal time to immerse herself in the world of fashion. This commitment paid off as she launched Cult Gaia, designing each piece by hand and cultivating her brand from the ground up. A pivotal moment came at Coachella 2011, where her floral crowns became a social media sensation, catapulting Cult Gaia into the fashion spotlight.


Hekmat’s initial design project, however, was a line of couture gowns and dresses under the name Gaia Astoh. But in the spaces between her classes, she crafted head crowns for her friends, using silk and paper flowers bought from a nearby flower market. “I quickly noticed the crowns acted as a beacon of interest, sparking conversations wherever we went,” she remarked. “People were curious about the girls wearing flowers in their hair.”

The attention led her to add wired headbands made with vintage fabrics to her range, utilizing textiles she had collected over time. The popularity of these floral crowns and headbands soared, prompting her to sell freshly made ones from a specially designed flower cart at various pop-up events across the city. This not only served to promote her brand but also introduced a unique product that, unlike fresh flowers, offered permanence — a lasting crown that customers could cherish indefinitely. She forged ahead with the development of Cult Gaia, personally designing and handcrafting each piece while also learning how to create her own website. Following her graduation and the cessation of financial backing from her family, she chose to return home. This move was driven by her commitment to refine and expand her business, dedicating her full attention to nurturing the brand she would build.

Driven by her vision and ambition, Hekmat expanded her creative focus from headpieces to include handbags. In 2013, she debuted The Ark, an innovative unlined bamboo bag with a top handle, which initially struggled to find its audience. It wasn't until two years later that The Ark bag truly captured the public's attention, becoming an iconic representation of the brand. Hekmat reflects on the initial challenge of selling the first batch of 1,000 bags, noting that she even resorted to bundling them with crowns to help move the inventory.


The fortunes of The Ark bag changed dramatically when updated imagery caught the eye of Claire Distenfeld who owned Fivestory, a retailer celebrated for its cutting-edge luxury fashion. The strategic placement of The Ark in a window display alongside a Gucci bag catapulted sales to new heights. “This was a defining moment,” said Hekmat. Motivated by this success, she resolved to craft luxury items that remained accessible, balancing premium quality and innovative design without commanding exorbitant prices.

Committed to a self-financed growth strategy, she expanded her range judiciously, questioning the necessity and potential impact of each new design. With each design, she’d ask herself, “does the world need this?” If it wasn’t able to stand the test of time and be a conversation starter, it didn’t get made. Only pieces that promised longevity and the ability to spark conversation made the cut.

Originally focusing on accessories, the brand took a significant turn in 2017 when Hekmat introduced a select collection of ready-to-wear garments. These garments were designed not just as stand-alone pieces but as complements to her accessories, enhancing their presence in photo shoots. This strategic move not only showcased Cult Gaia's versatility but also amplified Hekmat’s presence on social media, attracting retail partners to seek out her creations. Cult Gaia has since evolved into a comprehensive lifestyle brand, offering an array of clothing, footwear, jewelry, bags, and accessories. Each piece is a testament to the brand’s signature blend of sophistication and whimsy.

There has been a parade of “it” items over the years, including the Willow dress, Luna bag, Serita dress, Pearl bag, Naomi pant, and Eos clutch, each becoming an iconic representation of the brand’s aesthetic. “Maintaining high quality and innovative design at a more attainable price point is our top. priority,” Hekmat stated, highlighting the brand’s commitment to utilizing premium Italian fabrics and the finest craftsmanship from India. Looking ahead, Hekmat aspires to expand the brand's offerings to include home decor items, further extending Cult Gaia's reach into the realms of lifestyle and design.

Cult Gaia has five freestanding stores, a robust direct-to-consumer business, and a strong presence in a carefully curated group of fine retailers in 32 countries. The team has grown to nearly 90 people. Fans of the brand include Lupita Nyong’o, Kendall Jenner, Michelle Williams, and Chrissy Teigen. The day we met, she had just sent a stunning hand-painted chrome floral bouquet to Beyoncé.

Based in Los Angeles with her family, Hekmat frequently travels, balancing her role as a mother to two young children with her commitments as a designer. Her ambition is to craft enduring pieces, treasures that can be handed down through generations. Despite the challenges of having her designs replicated by others, she remains focused on innovation. “The expense of safeguarding every creation is prohibitive,” she shared. Hekmat expressed the need for a fund or mechanism that could offer designers better protection for their intellectual property.

Awarded Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2017 and a member of CFDA since 2019, Hekmat has a unique vision. “Our design ethos is to make things stand out and turn heads,” she says on her website. “Pieces should be perfectly imperfect and need to be nuanced to be beautiful, like nature, no two things are ever the same.” From the first flower crown to Spring 24’s introduction of the Aura dress with its intricately constructed petal bodice, the designer has remained true to her objectives. “Set big intentions, but take small steps,”she said. “Move forward every day until you get what you want."