10 things we learned at the proenza schouler talk

From Cobain couture to the possibility of Pro-men-za, here’s what we learned from the American design duo’s talk this week.

by Emily Manning and i-D Staff
17 April 2015, 5:50pm

proenza schouler fall/winter 15

On Wednesday night, Proenza Schouler's Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough joined Vogue's Sally Singer for a conversation at the French Institute Alliance Française. Since Barneys bought the entirety of their collaborative Parsons senior thesis collection back in 2002, the duo have helped usher in a new era for American fashion (and brought home basically every industry accolade there is along the way). Addressing a jam-packed house, Jack and Laz reminisced about their humble Chinatown origins, the evolution of their signature silhouette, and their plans to take Proenza into the future. Here are ten things we learned about New York's brightest design stars:

They think nothing is more punk than couture: Speaking about their days at design school in the early aughts, the duo explained that most of their classmates were heavily into doing the deconstruction thing: "Everyone was taking things and tearing them apart, ripping up T-shirts and calling themselves designers," Jack said. "I guess to us, the rebellion against that was to do something quite constructed," he continued. "We just felt it was really punk to do couture, the total opposite of what was happening in fashion at that time," Lazaro added.

They're all about mash ups (just probably not the musical kind): They might love construction and Christian Dior, but the designers don't draw influence from straightforward sources. "We're really interested in mid-century French couture, but we're also kids of the 90s," Lazaro explained. "We grew up on Kurt Cobain and the grunge generation, so there's this mash up of these two worlds: of oversized grunge but with extreme elegance and couture sensibility."

The design process is truly international: In its collisions of craft and technological innovation, Proenza becomes a United Nations of fashion. The designers spoke to their globetrotting production process; in the past, they've sent a single piece to India, Germany, then back to New York. "Three, sometimes four countries or even continents are involved," Jack said. But it's all for the pursuit of something special and unique: "In one collection we did a lot of crochet, but we also did a lot of laser cutting. We sent it down to Madagascar after all those pattern pieces were cut with lasers and then crocheted by hand in New York."

They don't really care about celebrities: The audience's ears certainly perked up after Sally asked the boys which Proenza-wearing celebrities made their hearts leap. Although they shouted out Cate Blanchett and Cindy Sherman, for Jack, it's more exciting to see someone who bought it themselves: "When you see a complete stranger walking down the street wearing your jacket or bag, and they're wearing it not because they're famous or because they were given it, but because they really loved it and they bought it with their hard earned money, I think that's the most exciting thing to us."

The PS1 opened up new possibilities: On the subject of people buying their bags, the pair also spoke to the transformative effect their accessories explosion had on the company since they first launched the PS1 back in 2008. These massive commercial successes, Jack and Laz explained, allowed the brand to open its own boutique locations. Designing their own spaces and fully actualizing the world of Proenza, they said, has been one of the most rewarding aspects of their careers.

And Pro-men-za might not be so far away: The pair also addressed the company's future, citing new store locations, fragrances, and menswear as fields they're starting to open up discussions about.

They're not like Zara: The guys just returned from Cuba, where they were visiting Laz's relatives, the Proenzas. "I met the oldest living Proenza," he laughed. "I tried to tell him what I do, and he's like, 'Is that like Zara?'" to which Jack added, "I wish!"

It's all about the music: "We're inspired by a Kurt Cobain moment, Pearl Jam, I guess even the Grateful Dead to some extent," said Lazaro. Jack also gave Mazzy Star a shout out, and our fingers are crossed Hope Sandoval will start rocking Proenza soon, too.

When they do shoot films, it's with friends: Speaking to the strategy behind their unconventional and compelling fashion films, Jack and Laz said their work stems from their friendships. "It always just happens really casually, like, 'Let's do something together.' It's never about making a commercial. Those Harmony [Korine] movies probably lost us business, they were really controversial!" Lazaro said.

But above all else, they value their independence: The final question of the evening was the one on everyone's mind--would they ever head up a different house? Conceding that they've been approached for creative director positions numerous times, Jack confirmed, "What's most important to us right now is Proenza Schouler. If we were gone 50 percent of the year working for someone else's company, I think it would suffer at this point." Although no one had the balls to actually ask about an LVMH acquisition, the pair might have been addressing it anyway: "We're really focused on what we do and making our own company, which we own, the best it can be," said Jack. "Freedom, to us, is the ultimate luxury." 


Text Emily Manning 
Photography Kate Owen

Proenza Schouler
jack mccollough
lazaro hernandez
sally singer