Lint-rolling in the Buff: The Early Days of PROENZA SCHOULER

Everyone has to start somewhere. For example, Barneys New York founder Barney Pressman funded his first store in 1923 with the $500 he raised by pawning his wife’s engagement ring. In this column, we talk with the fashion industry’s luminaries about how they got their businesses off the ground. In other words: the Big Bang, or how it all began.

Today we’re getting the straight story from Proenza Schouler‘s Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, who sold their first collection to Barneys while they were still students at Parsons School of Design. Since launching their business in 2002, Mr. Hernandez and Mr. McCollough have continued to push the envelope, mixing impeccable tailoring with forward-looking design.

These days, Proenza Schouler is a well-oiled machine, but as the designers confess below, they’ve had their share of half-naked mishaps along the way. Haven’t we all?


Shibori Shift Dress

Barneys New York: Starting a fashion business is no small feat. Are there any any stories that stand out from your early days?

Proenza Schouler: One that still makes us laugh is the time when we were still living in our studio, and some big important magazine was coming to see the collection for the first time. We were such messes back then and hadn’t realized the clocks had changed an hour back. It was early morning and we were doing the final lint-rolling still in our pajamas (read: underwear!) thinking we were totally on time, when the elevator door opened and the editor-in-chief of the magazine walked in. There we were, lint-rolling half-naked. We were mortified.

BNY: Hopefully the editor didn’t hold it against you.

PS: She still reminds us about it every time we see her. We have made it a point to wear a watch ever since.

BNY: So now that you’re fully clothed and wearing watches, do you feel that you’ve “arrived”?

PS: One never really feels “arrived.” At least, we don’t. We thank our lucky stars every day to be able to do what we do and know that the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is the work, so that’s all we really focus on. The goal is to get better and better and push harder and harder. Feeling arrived would be rather defeating, we think.

BNY: How did you get where you are today? Who helped you along the  way?

Laser Cut Bootie

PS: We are here today because of Barneys, whose team came to our senior year fashion show while we were still in school. We lugged all of our final samples to the Barneys office and brought our most “model-y” friend to model the collection. A couple of weeks later, there was an email with an order for the New York store. Barneys wanted not only the original samples, but multiples of each. We can’t even describe what that day felt like.

BNY: And then you had your work cut out for you.

PS: We were all of a sudden in business, and had to figure out how to deliver. Then Barneys asked for another collection, so that’s where it all started. It’s been a few years and luckily Barneys has stuck it through with us.

BNY: Other than Barneys, who else has been fundamental to your success?

PS: The list goes on and on, but the one person who stands out is Shirley Cook, our CEO. Without her, there wouldn’t be a Proenza Schouler.

- Tory Hoen

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