|NEW YORK, Apr 10, 2003/ (Updated Dec 6, 2009) — The list of New York’s notable young designers reads like the homeroom roll call at a cool school: Alice Roi, the budding poet who sits sleepily in the back of the classroom; Peter Som, the meticulous student whose notes you always want to borrow; Tara Subkoff, the class valedictorian who’s both brainy and cool; Zac Posen, the kid whose parents take him to Paris on winter, spring and fall breaks; Esteban Cortazar, host of the house parties everyone wants to get invited to. And the list goes on.But Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, the design duo behind Proenza Schouler — a moniker comprised of their respective mothers’ maiden names — aren’t as easily categorized, mostly because they don’t want to be. That doesn’t mean they haven’t been noticed though — the CFDA honored them with a nomination for the “Swarovski’s Perry Ellis Award for Ready-to-Wear,” which will be given to an emerging talent at the CFDA’s annual fashion awards June 2. Other nominees include perennial emerging talents, Zac Posen and Behnaz Sarafpour.
“It’s human nature to categorize everything,” says Hernandez. “That’s why this CFDA thing is weird — making it a whole competition, a category…”
“But it’s an honor to be nominated,” interjects McCollough, channeling a screen star.
“Yes, it’s great to be nominated,” his partner agrees.
As the two 24-year-olds speak, from behind a big wooden work desk in their elegantly sparse 5,000-square-foot Chinatown loft studio, they pass a cigarette back and forth, taking slow drags; they are utterly calm, a rare quality to find in any fashion studio. Some would say they’re not emerging, but have already emerged.
That moment of emergence came when Barneys buyer Julie Gilhart spotted their senior thesis designs at Parsons School of Design, bought the collection for fall — and sold it, all of it. Proenza Schouler still sells there — and at stores like Jeffrey, Harvey Nichols, and Colette — a list that’s international, impressive, and confidence-inspiring. Aiding these two designers, as well, is a German venture capitalist.
Gilhart certainly isn’t sorry she took the chance on the two then-seniors. “I felt like from the beginning, they had a savviness to them in terms of what they were proposing for a modern chic girl to wear,” she says. “It was completely edited, completely thought out. It was very focused. The clothes exude a mature youthfulness.”
That maturity comes through, foremost, in their cuts. “Our premise is shape,” says McCollough; true to that, last season brought plenty of bolero styles and cocoon-shaped cut-out collars, looks rendered even more sophisticated by luxe materials such as raccoon and painted leather.
Their first collection (they’ve had two in total so far, the second debuted at a formal New York Fashion Week presentation in February) also exuded this elegance. Double-faced wool, for instance, was broken up by just enough silver sequin trim to be noticeable, but not excessively so. It’s serious-looking, maybe even a little somber, with none of the silly-socialite attitude that some other Young Designers can’t seem to avoid.
This attention to detail shows that Hernandez and McCollough — who interned in college for Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs, respectively, and “loved every minute of it,” says Hernandez — are into craft, rather than flash. “When we started designing, it was that whole deconstruction thing,” says Hernandez. “Everyone was tearing up T-shirts and tying them. We thought, ‘Anyone can do that. We’ve been in school for four years. We can do work. We know what construction is.'”
By Stephen Milioti
Photo courtesy of Proenza Schouler