Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, the designer duo behind Proenza Schouler, have been long been accustomed to taking risks, from the first moment Hernandez slipped an editor a note during a shared flight that helped him land an internship at Michael Kors back in 2000. McCollough and Hernandez knew early on what their mission would be – namely, dressing real women in quirky, interesting high-fashion that opted for the unique and off-kilter rather than the perfect and polished. In an exclusive interview with Savoir Flair, McCollough and Hernandez share the ins and outs of their friendship and partnership together over the past 12 years. When the burden of a business is equally shared, you can bet that it takes an intense amount of communication, compromise, and compassion to achieve the kind of risky and rewarding results that Proenza Schouler produces each season.
Read on for insight into their working relationship, the challenges they encounter when designing collections, and the influence that technology has had in the development of their aesthetic.
Proenza Schouler was founded in 2002, but you’ve known each other since your university years at Parsons The New School for Design. How did you end up working together?
We actually met in a club the summer before our freshman year and were then coincidentally placed in the same section our first semester. We became fast friends and have been working together ever since.
You’ve been working together for more than 10 years. Do you ever get tired of each other?
We have been working with each other for so long that we usually know what the other is thinking. There are, of course, occasions where we argue and butt heads, but that tension always leads to the most creative collections.
We have been working with each other for so long that we usually know what the other is thinking.
Are you always going to be designing for the target market that you have now – young, 20-something women – or do you want the brand’s aesthetic to grow old with you?
We do not design for any particular age group or one type of woman. For us, regardless of her age, the Proenza Schouler woman is someone who is sophisticated and elegant, but also a little undone. Even when we cast models for our shows, we think it’s important to think more about her as a character. We like working with women of different ages and life experiences.
You make clothes and accessories for today’s generation. How do you evolve and look for the next cool thing?
We don’t really look at trends or reference fashion history in that way. Our research is usually a combination of a lot of different ideas and is a reflection of our own lives and experiences. It’s quite personal. When we designed our first handbag, the PS1, we actually designed it as an ‘anti-It’ bag. We wanted it to be stripped of logos and hardware so that it could transcend seasons.
Do you decide on everything together? Was there ever an incident where one of you wasn’t around and had to decide on something important without consulting the other?
We are constantly asking each other’s opinions. We think alike in some ways and differently in others. We complement each other. We are both interested in different things and both have different strengths and weaknesses, so we always try to support one another.
So there has never been a moment when one of you thought, ‘Oh, I could do this on my own…’?
No! Absolutely not.
What is your ultimate goal as designers? Why do you choose to design and create clothes?
We both wound up working in fashion, but neither of us originally planned it that way. Creatively, we continue to challenge ourselves and experiment with what we do. We try to push each collection to the next level.
The success you’ve achieved in such a short time is incredible. Is there still pressure on you to succeed?
I guess we think of the feeling of being successful as kind of retrospective in nature. When you’re in it, you don’t “feel” successful. You kind of have tunnel vision. But we work hard and are passionate about what we do. The success that we have is a translation of our hard work and effort. We are so fortunate to have an amazing team; without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.
The success that we have is a translation of our hard work and effort.
What are the new challenges that you encounter now?
It is a really exciting time for us. We launched our first swimwear collection for Pre-Spring 2015 and are really excited about it. We are also trying to focus on retail expansion and have been growing really rapidly in Asia, where we opened three stores this year.
When you were experiencing all these problems and challenges as new designers, did you ever think of quitting and pursuing a different career?
Success comes with hard work. Of course there are moments where we get frustrated, but it’s important to never lose sight of your dreams.
The Internet and technology are something that the brand has embraced, well ahead of all the others. How tech-savvy are you both?
It’s quite funny because we’re actually pretty analog when it comes to our creative process. We’re pencil and paper people and we both sketch the entire collection by hand each season. But a lot of young people on our team are really into computers and are geniuses when it comes to all things tech. When it comes to fabric development, it’s so amazing how much you can do with technology today.
On a last note, what are your relationships with your mothers like?
We are really close to our moms and are always inspired by them.
Do they come and attend your shows?
Yes! They try to come every season.