Barneys’ relationship with designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez goes as far back as the launch of their label, Proenza Schouler, which they officially formed after Barneys bought their entire Parsons School of Design senior thesis. Since then, they’ve gone from invigorating emerging designers to industry leaders known for their innovative approach to luxury craftsmanship. Luckily for us, our relationship with the brand continues to flourish too, resulting in exclusive collections like this season’s new XO capsule.
Below, we talk to the designers about how they went from inspired students to bona fide designers, all the while maintaining an irreverent passion that shines through their bold collections.
The Window: How was the Proenza Schouler DNA present that now-famous thesis collection? Why do you think Barneys took a chance on you?
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez: First of all, we are eternally grateful for the chance that Barneys gave us. At the time, it really wasn’t a common practice to put that kind of weight behind a couple of then-students. Proenza Schouler began a kind of autobiographical passion project, and it very much still is. Our interests have always been in fashion and the cultural relevance that clothing has at any given moment in history. Our work is about reflecting the culture we live in through the lens of our lives in New York. We’re still the same kids we were then—we like to think—but a little older, a little wiser.
What was it like when Barneys made that first order—did you know how to produce a collection?
We had no idea what a production run entailed! We approached that collection as a Senior thesis collection, and designed, sewed, and did everything ourselves. There was never a conversation about producing it or of it being the beginnings of a real company. We were given incredible fabrics to work with from our internships at the time, and really had no idea where they had come from in the first place. It was all quite innocent and naive. The then-fashion director of Barneys chose us as “designer of the year” and invited us to Barneys in midtown to show the collection to the buying team, and subsequently we received an order for the collection (something like 50 pieces in total). We had to jump into action and pull favors from what felt like every single person we had ever met. Friends were staying up all night to help us sew the garments at our apartment while the two of us cut every single garment by hand. Those were exciting times we will never forget.
How has your relationship with Barneys evolved through the years? What makes the relationship special?
Our relationship with Barneys has intensified at every stage of our company’s growth. Barneys’ openness to pushing things forward—from advertising in unconventional ways to using their windows as a space for design and creativity and their mix of art and commerce—are all things we feel really connected to on both personal and professional levels. It’s a perfect home for the things that we create at Proenza Schouler.
Tell us a bit about your creative process. How do you get started on new collections—do you work from a single theme?
These days our collections are never about one single idea. Our collections are about living life and pulling things into the creative process throughout the course of an entire season—different elements that speak to us, and the values that we have established at Proenza Schouler. We tend to be a bit obsessed with art and are constantly looking at new things—subsequently these influences can be seen in the work we do every season. Perhaps more than anything, though, our collections are autobiographical and representative of how we are feeling or living at any given moment. We can sort of look back at any collection we’ve done and tell you where we were, what we saw around that time, and how it influenced the collection. It’s become a kind of diary in a way. The work we do is a reflection of the lives we lead, which we hope is connected in a way to the lives of the women we dress and are relevant to the things they are interested in—art, culture, and design.
Tell us about the themes and inspirations we will find in resort and SS17?
Pre-collections are always a kind of mid-point between the show preceding it and the show that is percolating and will be next. After a couple of seasons of grounded, sophisticated neutral colors and textures that, to us, reflected the sensibilities of the Dia artists that we had been obsessed with, we started to crave wild color again. After something more restrained and pure, what started to excite us was something with a bit more energy, something that felt more amped up. We were looking at images of artists like Carmen Herrera and Isa Genzken, both women and both at the top of their game, and somehow this fed into the collection’s energy.
We had also just come back from a trip to Kauai and somehow the island’s vibe infiltrated the collection’s floral print story. The idea of something a bit primitive was important to us, the starkness of extreme color blocking of shapes, of eschewing traditional closures and wrapping things and tying them into knots. It was all rather instinctual and developed during the fitting process. We have begun working directly on a live model with fabrics, surrounded by images of things we like at the moment and letting things evolve from them quite spontaneously. You never know what will come out of a fitting session and to us, that is terribly exciting. It’s been freeing, in a way, not to have a collection architecture in mind, but rather to do what we feel, what we believe in. Freedom is incredibly important to us.
You’ve become so known for your coveted bags. How do you continue to evolve them? Tell us about the inspiration for the bags in resort and SS17.
We have been working hard on the new family of PS bags. We had an unexpected and big success with our first family of bags, namely the PS1 and the PS11, which are still important to us and are styles we evolve and explore every single season. In the past few seasons, we have introduced the Hex and the Hava bags. These are an entirely new kind of bag for us, in that feel more of-the-moment, but also timeless. The Hex is a kind of bucket bag rendered simply out of three pieces of leather woven together to create its shape. The construction of the bag belies the intense craftsmanship involved. An artisan in Italy, where all of our bags are made, whipstitches each panel together by hand. The Hava bag comes in a few styles: a sleek top handle and a shoulder bag with an oversized, hollowed-out metal closure. The Hava features many of the same design signatures as the PS1: topstitching, painted edges, folded gusset construction, and custom hardware. Both the Hex and the Hava are handmade and incredibly sophisticated on a craftsmanship level, but they also feel very “today” in that they combine handwork with some of the newest leather technology and materials available in Italy. We are incredibly proud of these new bags, and are finding that women are really responding to them. All of our friends have started carrying them as their everyday bag, which, to us, is always good sign.
You’ve been working together for more than a decade. What are some of your distinct creative differences and how does that work in your collections?
Our work is about collaboration. It’s never about any of our own single ideas. If any one of us were to be doing this alone, the collection would look very different. If one of us wants to do white and the other black, we do neither; we do gray. Everything is 50/50.
What always unites you as creative partners?
Our deep respect and love for each other. After all these years we are finding that we are growing closer to one another instead of apart from each other. Could be that spending 24 hours a day with the same person can do this to someone.
What would surprise us about Proenza Schouler?
Perhaps that we mostly work alone in the woods in Massachusetts, where we have built a design studio. The city is more meetings and teamwork. When we’ve conceiving a collection and are trying to get into a vibe, we sometimes find the noise and constant socializing in New York deafening, so we have to retreat in order to really get into our heads and allow a collection to be born.
So much of your time must be devoted to all things Proenza. What do you do in your off time?
It’s difficult to draw, really, a line between where work ends and life begins. It’s all one big thing to us. Our work is about our lives and each is constantly feeding off the other. For better or worse, that’s how things are right now and where we feel most comfortable. Separating the two, or one of us from the other, is impossible.