Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, who design under the portmanteau Proenza Schouler, had an auspicious start in 2002 when their entire Parson’s graduate collection was bought by Barney’s. Since then, theirs has consistently been one of the mostly keenly anticipated shows in New York, a conceptual hit at odds with the city’s sportif aesthetic. Here, in advance of their S/S17 collection, we present a reminder of the codes that have shaped the house that Jack (and Laz) built.
From the start of the label, Proenza Schouler has pushed the boundaries of the conventional silhouette. This is made clear by their dedication to a palette of black and white, which makes their experiments with proportion and cut more apparent. Where this is most evident is in their lusted-after tailoring – from their very first show, A/W03, their sharply cut jackets were commented upon, balanced by a long, lean silhouette. This has proved somewhat of a blueprint – their woman is always elongated, whether wearing day or eveningwear, as exemplified by the slender lines of model Julia Nobis, a regular in their casting. Since then, they’ve explored pulling in waists, letting out trousers, and sculpting shoulders, but always with an empowering, beautiful result. Perhaps their empathy from the female form comes from the women whose presence is behind it.
Proenza and Schouler are Jack and Lazaro’s mother’s maiden names, a strong hint at the female perspective that shapes everything they do. Whilst experimentation with form is their passion, it never becomes ridiculous. From day one, they’ve been surrounded by women: Shirley Cook, their first CEO, guided the brand from graduate collection to fifty million dollar brand, before stepping down when a minority stake was acquired by Castanea Partners. Their casting director, Ashley Brokaw, and stylist Marie Chaix are renowned for their rigor and forward thinking. And there’s always been a plethora of well-heeled women flocking around them, from Liv Tyler to Liya Kedebe to Chloë Sevigny. Their fascination with the female world is perhaps most palpable in one of the films they made with Harley Weir, PS I Love You, in which some of their muses talk about the relationships between women – Natasha Lyonne and Kembra Pfahler are particularly brilliant.
It’s hard to divorce one’s impression of a Proenza Schouler show from the environment they present in which, for the last two seasons, has been the Whitney – both the old and new buildings. Both show venues were a coup, coming after the former institution had closed and the new one had opened, and cemented their status as art world favourites. The brand has always prided itself on its artistic associations, working with Harmony Korine, Bjarne Melgaard and the aforementioned Kembra Pfahler, and having artist Dan Colen and MoMA PS1 Director Klaus Biesenbach sitting front row. To the art world their allure is clear, as nobody in New York thinks about clothing in quite such a modern, clear-headed and conceptual manner.
All this talk of art and architecture might make one think that the label is hard or impenetrable, and it’s anything but. Proenza Schouler are masters of the cutaway, going so far as to describe the last season as “Peeling bananas.” They’ve shown entirely holey tinsel gowns worn over matching perforated tights, cinched with bows to show shoulders and waists, and deconstructed coats to allow glimpses of the skin beneath. Not to mention their love of mesh, transparency and an assortment of techno fabrics. It’s the dichotomy of the sharpest tailoring and soft, exposing layers that make them so interesting.
Proenza Schouler realised early on that, while they might be the conceptual wunderkinds of New York, no American brand is complete without a must-have bag. Theirs is of course the best: the PS. It's a kind of glamorous Lara Croft Tomb Raider satchel, whilst its follow up the PS11 is a resolutely chic over the shoulder bag finished with a utilitarian, studded clasp. Neither are the bags one might imagine to be ‘it’, but both have been a hit, propelling the company ever forward. They now even have a flagship store on New York's Madison Avenue, a far cry from the downtown location you’d imagine them to favour. Essentially, whatever you expect, they’ll confound and exceed it – do not presume to know what they’re up to. No doubt they’ll deliver another sensational yet unknowable show.