The Proenza Schouler boys are delving into new territory this season – which, by the way, marks the brand’s 20th anniversary (yes… time flies). Arca, the trans musician from Venezuela, opened their show in a loose black tank whose hem was pulled over one shoulder, revealing white silk fringe over her bare midriff and a bubble skirt. From there Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez explored Latin flourishes, like flamenco ruffles peeking from the hems of generously cut bell-bottoms, polka dots of varying sizes decorating twist-front dresses, and piped bell sleeves that extended past the knees. In the past, they’ve tended to cite travel adventures or their tight circle of girlfriends as influences. But after the show, Hernandez wanted to talk about his roots. “I leaned into my Latin identity; I’m Cuban,” he said. The models wore their hair slicked back wet, and their skin was dewy. They looked as if they just stepped off a dance floor or climbed out of the sea. With videos of waterfalls projected onto the marble walls of the venue, the collection felt closer to nature than last season’s chic austerity. Crochet separates, nipple-freeing sheer lace shirts and dresses, and compact knit pieces that seemed to take their cues from swimwear looked like the work of designers who’d like to hold onto a summer feeling for as long as they can. “We’re just talking about the idea of energy, of joy, of sensuality; these things that sometimes we feel are lost in our lives, to be honest, and we’re trying to find a way to get them back,” McCollough said. Twenty years is no small milestone. How do you sustain energy and joy when you’ve been at something that long? The designers tapped into it this season by working with a community of weavers in Bolivia. “We did it all via email and conversations over the phone,” said Hernandez. “We were able to make four pieces with them and employ them for six months. They were so happy.”
Collage by Edward Kanarecki. Don’t forget to follow Design & Culture by Ed on Instagram!
In the pre-seasons, the Proenza Schouler duo leans into experimentation. A scroll through Resort 2023 images makes it clear that Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough are strongly attracted to texture and hand-feel. In addition to the innovative spongy sequin knit (“The sequins are baked into the actual yarn itself, so when you knit it up, they’re all embedded. It looks like Lurex, but it’s a beautiful, piece of knitwear“), they used silk velvet for slip dresses and matching sets, a three-dimensional ribbed knit for coordinating cardigans and flares, and a short hair shearling on a belted coat. The saturated colors of the velvet and shearling especially added to their appeal. After texture, their other preoccupation here was shape. It’s tempting to see 1940s proportions in nipped-waist jackets and full skirts whose sculptural hems were reinforced with horsehair. The track pants and frilly ankle socks paired with a different nipped jacket are another, cheekier way to go about it. On the subject of shape, they revisited the corset tops that were the building blocks of their earliest collection. “Old Proenza vibes,” Hernandez said, but updated in suiting fabric for a touch of surprise. And that’s the direction the designers should continue to embrace.
Here we go – it’s New York Fashion Week, the most IRL one since the start of pandemic. This season it’s opened by a very New York collection, coming from Proenza Schouler. And this isn’t just another line-up, but a collection that celebrates Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough‘s 20th year in business. Take a look back at the Parsons graduation collection that started it all for them in 2003, and you will notice that much has changed in the intervening decades. The brand had its ups and downs throughout the years, and for a couple of seasons now it consequently heads towards a sort of sophisticated, yet aesthetically minimalist formality. “Comfort” and “ease” are fashion’s buzzwords of the moment, relics of a lockdown that remain even as the emergence we’ve been hoping for starts to take shape. The corseted silhouettes that were the first Proenza Schouler signature, however, have been completely rethought for today, constructed from machines that knit in circles, allowing for a seamless, molded look. Can a strapless dress with volume evocative of 18th-century panniers really feel effortless? Yes, if it’s in sculpted knitwear with a circular bias-cut skirt. Hernandez and McCollough gave their tailoring the same waisted look by accessorizing suits with torso-spanning body shapers, or by cutting jackets and coats to wrap across the midriff and button off to the side, the cloth equivalent of a firm hug. If this outing was a reappraisal of their past, it wasn’t reliant on it. A loose-fitting shirtdress with a fluid looped hem stood out for its color, a vibrant purple that they’ve avoided before. The animal print is another new indulgence – here it was deliberately glitched, as if the color didn’t take in the folds and creases of the fabric as it went through the machine.
It’s a strong collection coming from the Proenza boys, yet I just can’t get rid of the impression I constantly have with them since a couple of seasons. The brand had its Phoebe Philo’s Céline phase, then a New Bottega obsession, and now… The Row era? That’s the thing – in the beginning of Proenza Schouler, the brand was so distinct you just couldn’t mistake it with any other brand. Now, it echoes those brands-of-the-moment that emphasize the less is more rule in the most refined and luxurious ways. Is it really what the brand stands for? Does it have to fill that (heavily oversaturated) niche? If there’s one thing to reflect on while celebrating the anniversary, then it’s retrieving the label’s real, authentic voice.
“These are urban clothes for intelligent women of today, like all our collections,” said Proenza Schouler‘s Lazaro Hernandez, “but there are frivolous elements.” For pre-fall 2022, the frivolity came in the form of ostrich feathers trimming the hem of bike shorts and full-leg pants, and beaded crochet bisecting a bubble-hem, halter-neck dress. Hernandez and Jack McCollough also worked with animal print, a motif they’ve more or less avoided until now, thinking it too obvious. One pretty draped dress in white was built with a leopard underlayer visible at the cuffs, hem, and unbuttoned sleeves, like a game of peekaboo. The intelligence and urbanity came via their exploration of silhouette. Pre-lockdown, their jackets were oversized, often with pronounced, masculine shoulders. Post-lockdown, their tailoring has grown narrower, partly out of instinct and partly as a result of client feedback. A bi-stretch crepe jacket buttons high and off-center, hugging the torso, and the matching pants are leggings-slim with zips at the back of the ankles to create kick-flare shapes. A tuxedo jacket worn with a shibori-treated turtleneck and big, fluid blue velvet pants has a swaggering ease. Elsewhere they managed the neat feat of making a white shirtdress feel languid by cutting it loose and adding ruching to the hips. Two other dresses conjured a similar dressed-but-effortless mood for evening; an emerald green knit style was gathered with a jeweled brooch at the waist, and a white sequined column was belted in front with a dramatic, look-at-her cape in back.
Proenza Schouler radiates with a laid-back, easy-going, summer-ish energy this season. There’s a reason why. Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough made Kauai their “home-office” during a period of pandemic time – it’s their favourite destination that they call their “sanctuary.” The island vibe influenced their new collection, which mixed scuba and surfing motifs, a color palette plucked from nature, and a few handmade leis from Maui with their more urban fare. Backstage after their Little Island show, they clarified that Hawaii wasn’t a literal reference, but rather a starting point for the collection’s ambience. Most of all, “they’re joyful clothes to step out in the world again.” There were suits, but they come in vivid shades of coral or orange cotton jacquard. Basic black, meanwhile, isn’t so basic when suit bottoms are cut tight like bicycle shorts with swingy fringe below the hems. A pair of block-printed floral dresses with looped hems had verve; the designers pointed out that the prints were the same on the front and back of the fabric rather than being reversed, a complicated technique to pull off. The point of the collection was not to look complicated – who needs too much sophistication after the tumultuous times? The gowns, in gorgeous acid colors, were made from fine gauze jersey, perfect for beach strolling. “They stretch and move, we all want to be comfortable.” This was one of the best Proenza Schouler collections in seasons, even though some Phoebe-Philo-Célinisms can’t be ruled out of their vocabulary.