Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the designers behind the fashion label Proenza Schouler, have flown the coop. When we meet before their show, it is in a raw concrete space in the 17th Arrondissement of Paris rather than in their SoHo studio in New York. Next to a Levi’s store and a stone’s throw from Bloomingdales, their SoHo home base is quintessentially New York. And while their address in Paris recalls their usual show spaces — the galleries around New York’s arty Chelsea — you can glimpse the Arc de Triomphe from the end of the street. McCollough and Hernandez are not only Americans — they’re bringing a little piece of America to Paris, too.
This is Proenza Schouler’s first show in Paris since Hernandez and McCollough founded the brand in 2002. Hernandez, 38, and McCollough, 40, met while studying at Parsons School of Design in New York, and have called that city home ever since. (They’ve shown in places as classically New York as the Whitney Museum, the Met Brauer and even a gutted office space on Wall Street.) Their creative synergy is exceptional: They give quick-fire interviews in tandem, batting ideas back and forth and finishing each other’s sentences. Talking through their collection, they each grab at similar pieces — a dress in what appears to be jacquard, but is actually lace bonded to crepe; a feather-embroidered skirt; a squishy cubic mink bag; a low, heavily beaded pump inspired, they say, by the ones created by Roger Vivier for Dior in the 1960s. “They kind of make a crazy jingle when you put them on,” says McCollough; Hernandez obligingly shakes the shoe.
Why Paris, and why now? One answer is the impending launch of their first fragrance with the French cosmetics company L’Oréal, which is slated for early next year — and which they hope will kick Proenza Schouler into another level of global recognition. Maybe a pending Paris-based perfume launch is a bit too obvious (read: commercial) a motivation for showing on the other side of the Atlantic — at least for a designer to admit. Nevertheless, the duo allow that their near-constant trans-Atlantic commute over the past two years to refine the scent (which is still under wraps) allowed them to consider Paris as a place to show their collection. That was compounded earlier this year by an invitation from the Chambre Syndicale, the governing body of Paris haute couture week, to present as part of the official calendar.
More fundamentally, with this show, the designers are trying to challenge fashion conventions — namely scheduling. Ready-to-wear designers normally show fall clothes in February and spring clothes in September, and the clothes arrive in stores roughly six months later. But Proenza Schouler is presenting its spring/summer 2018 ready-to-wear collection during the fall/winter 2017 haute couture season. (Though the brand isn’t haute couture, the designers are taking advantage of the fact the members of the press are in Paris to attend the couture shows.)
What it means on a practical consumer level is that these clothes will be delivered earlier — hitting stores around November — and will stay available for longer. The brand will do away with the concept of precollections and will, from now on, create only two collections a year. “We’re consolidating pre and main into one collection,” says McCollough. “Precollection is when the bulk of the business is done — so why not show the things we pour our heart and soul into?”
Accordingly, this collection has been a labor of love: Rather than the six month lead time normally afforded a spring/summer collection, the designers and their team pulled this show together in just four. (They also transplanted their entire Manhattan staff to a Parisian atelier, which is no small feat.) Bigger, perhaps, than the shift of staff is the change in mind-set it represents for the designers. “We didn’t want to necessarily have a couture feel,” McCollough says of the collection — couture being fashion shorthand for anything embroidered, embellished or generally worked. Yet in this collection, there is a feathered jacket that took a week to make, while other pieces are created from hand-embroidered flowers, crocheted ribbon and devoré velvet bonded with chiffon. There’s lots of very French lace too — the color palette is dominated by black, white and rosé beige, the color of pink champagne. “There is always an element in every collection you do that’s more work or more embroidered or put together,” McCollough allows, standing in front of Proenza Schouler’s feathered jacket. “I mean, just coming here…” He stops, and Hernandez picks up. “It’s impossible not to be influenced or inspired by coming out here and knowing you’re doing a show in Paris,” he says. “And what came before us, what we looked at, everyone that we’ve ever been inspired by. Growing up, historically, contemporary, everything that’s interesting to us, happened here. So of course there’s that weight on you!” He smiles widely.
Cut to 48 hours later, and their runway show — which is held in the cloisters of a 19th-century high school that is still in use today — is already over. In one corner, Hernandez and McCollough are being mobbed by a crush of postshow well-wishers, including Glenda Bailey, the editor in chief of American Harper’s Bazaar, and Stefano Tonchi of W magazine. The New York designer Tory Burch leaps into the throng, dressed in a posy-print Proenza Schouler dress, and kisses the designers. “The Americans invade Paris!” she cries out. It certainly seems that way.