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BG Conversation: Proenza Schouler

Lazaro Hernandez is PROENZA; Jack McCollough is SCHOULER

Proenza SchoulerIt seems like just yesterday that I interviewed the designers in a funky Chinatown loft.  They had lived there until it morphed into their corporate headquarters. They found another place to sleep after Glenda Bailey showed up early and caught them in their underwear. Lazaro and Jack, who named the company after their moms’ maiden names, were just a few years out of school and were bright young things taking the fashion world by storm.
By Glenn O’Brien

GOB: You’ve been all over the place. You were in China.

JM: Yeah, we were in China. We just got back. We went to L.A., then we went to China, then we went to Milan. Then we just got back here.

LH: We went to Venice. That was great. It was one of those wraparound trips.

GOB: Are you big in China?

JM: We’re a pretty big niche over there.

LH: Yeah, I mean, China is really, really interesting. It’s like an interesting kind of market; it’s an interesting thing. Like you go there thinking that everyone is really into the bling thing, and they’re into the big major European brands. And there is an element of that, but those people got there so early that there’s sort of been a bit of backlash to that. Louis Vuitton is like Starbucks there, on every corner. So, there’s a whole movement toward more independent, sort of more niche designers, designers that are less everywhere. Which is good for us. So, we went out and had a fashion show there in Beijing.

JM: It was against one of the old walls of the Forbidden City. All Chinese models, which is interesting. Four of the models have the same name. Chen-Chen. That made fittings a little complicated. But it was good. It was cool to go out there and find out what people are liking out there. It’s so different culturally there, different from Europe as well.

GOB: I found Beijing kind of scary.

LH: It is scary.

JM: It was weird. We were living on the seventieth floor of this building the whole time. That was our hotel, where we were also doing all the fittings and all of our show prep, so we practically never left this skyscraper.

LH: You’d look out of the seventieth floor on all sides, and the city just goes on forever.

GOB: I was kind of horrified by driving to the The Great Wall, driving and driving and you’re still in the city. A few minutes of suburb and then you’re at the Great Wall.

JM: The city is just expanding and expanding. I was reading in the paper there that they are moving 250 million rural farmers closer to the cities to make the city megacities.

LH: And then from China we went straight to Venice. We saw the Biennale, which is awesome. I thought the main pavilion was really, really cool this year.

GOB: I’d like to see it. The curator [Massimiliano Gioni] of the New Museum curated it.

JM: It had a lot of outsider people and some things that were not even art. And then we came back, and we moved into Brooklyn. We’ve just been running. We’re in full show mode now. I feel like the show is right around the corner. We’re gearing up for that. Italy closes for a big chunk in August. So this is the crunch time month. Trying to get everything sorted with Italy before they shut down.

LH: We’re not very good at doing nothing.

GOB: Is Italy where everything of yours gets made?

JM: No, on a sample level, we make about fifty percent in Italy—tailored coats, dresses. And then in New York, we have an atelier here where we do softer pieces, simple embroideries here. It’s about half and half. It’s easier to do a well-constructed tailored shoulder in Italy. They know how to do that so well.

GOB: Where do all the amazing fabrics come from?

LH: We develop them, mostly from scratch. That’s the process that takes the longest. We’ll make a fabric, then it goes through three processes, like laser-cut, or printed, or discharged…

GOB: Do you work with the same mills all the time?

JM: Yeah, we’ve got two mills in particular that we work with all the time and develop most of our stuff with. They are in the Como area. They are more creative—anything you can imagine, they will weave for you. They are really into the challenge of it. And then there’s some other mills that are great for a basic poplin or a great cotton twill. Or a beautiful double-faced cashmere. We use these two factories in particular for special things.

LH: Where it gets complicated is all the pro-cesses that happen afterward. Now, making the fabric is kind of the easy part.

JM: We’ve been into more basic fabrics lately, and then doing these techniques on top of them.

LH: Like high-frequency cutting and thermal welding and molded clothes. We’re doing all these weird high-tech things these weeks.

JM: We’re exploring new printing techniques.

GOB: Like 3D printing?

JM: No, but we use that when we do shoes. For the development of heels—for shoe structure.

LH: That’s the next frontier. That’ll be really cool.

GOB: I guess if you can 3D print a human ear, you…

LH: Should be able to print a jacket sleeve! It’d be interesting, because it wouldn’t be woven. It’d be more like fibers coming together to create a texture. That’s something we’ve been exploring. The tech- nology isn’t there yet, and not in Italy.

BG Conversation: Proenza Schouler

GOB: So, how do you find out what’s possible?

JM: You just explore all these little factories that have special techniques. You can build a relationship with them and push them to try to take a step further. Usually, it’s something pretty basic that they do. If you teach them and train them, they can kind of evolve that idea.

GOB: These tweeds are amazing.

LH: Yeah, they’re cool, right? This is for the pre-collection market, for—so this is the easy, more commercial things we sell in stores. For the shows, we want to take you there. To another place. This piece is from the last show. We love woven leather. We wanted to do woven leather tweed. We explored it a lot.

JM: We wanted to do printed leather. We basically developed a tweed design, had it printed onto leather and cut it onto strips. We mixed in little perforated leather, like a bouclé kind of effect. Then we twisted it by hand. So, the whole thing is just leather.

LH: That yarn there—that’s perforated leather. So, when you cut it into strips, you twist it, it gets really flecky.

JM: Then it’s on a leather base that’s laser-cut with holes. You basically weave them through the holes. We love the combination of something that’s using new technologies, like laser-cutting and printed leathers, but also a hand element.

GOB: I would have never imagined from looking at it that this coat was made from leather, except for the lining.

JM: Often people don’t realize what things are made of at the shows.

GOB: There’s an amazing coat that looks half tweed, half painted.

JM: That’s a raffia tweed, also woven. We’re doing a lot of that more. So these days, instead of fabrics, we’re picking yarns. We’re going through the under level.

LH: We’re taking some Ettore Sottsass marble prints, having them woven in polyamine yarns. Then it’s all bonded to jersey on the insides; it gives you a roundness, so you don’t have to line it. You just pipe the insides. It’s bonded.

GOB: It’s beautiful.

LH: That’s what we really get off on these days. It’s the craft of it—pushing the boundaries on what can be done on a technical level.

JM: On a silhouette level, there are so many things that have been explored. You can only re- invent a silhouette so many times. And there are just certain shapes that look flattering on wom- en, and there’s certain shapes that don’t work. There are certain shapes that we’ve explored on a regular basis, so we’ve gotten really interested in the surface of things.

LH: We’re not going to reinvent the wheel in terms of shape. Shape has been done. There’s X amount of shapes that we respond to, and that’s it. So, surface and texture is where the possibilities are endless. Technique is something that is really fun for us.

JM: There’s also a fine line of not going too far. We’re really interested in people wearing this stuff, and it not being about showpieces that are technologically incredible that no one wants to touch them. It’s a weird balance to find.

LH: It has to maintain a humanity to it.

GOB: Your fall collection was so wearable. I felt like you really opened up your audience. It was classical.

LH: We’re interested in that; we’re interested in going back to a traditional idea of femininity in a way. Like a clichéd form of femininity, in a way, almost a fifties’ version of a woman but reinter- preted in a contemporary way, with textiles, materials and technology. Playing with the codes of femininity.

JM: We’re also interested in things that felt a little more quiet. The season before, that spring show felt like the furthest we could go with print and color.

LH: The Tumblr collection.

JM: We sort of want to get away from that—have a clean slate, something that felt a bit softer, while still exploring the textile thing. Something that felt a bit toned down.

GOB: It’s like more than meets the eye: Well, that was cool, then you feel it and pick it up and it’s something else.

LH: That was the subtext in this last fall collection. People nowadays are experiencing collections through the Internet. They are clicking, and they are seeing the graphic image. That’s why collections are so graphic these days. That’s what the collection was really about—people experiencing clothes now via image. We wanted this collection to be the opposite. We wanted it to look like something in person or passing. You see something that looks like a tweed jacket, and when you actually touch it, “Oh, shit, that’s leather?” So there’s a classicism and a facade, but, when you get close, it’s a completely different reality that you can’t experience through the Internet.

JM: So, it was a rebellion against the Internet, whereas the season before was embracing the Internet.

LH: We’re a little schizophrenic.

GOB: Yeah, but there are two of you, so that’s normal. The woven leather really transcends fashion, I think; it’s something you can wear for twenty years.

LH: These things aren’t trend-based. Things that are trendy are things that die. We’re interested in things that have quality, things that last, almost things that you collect, really.

GOB: It’s like you’re doing high-tech couture.

LH: That’s what couture could be these days. It’s not so much about the hand labor…

JM: Or fussy finishes. It’s more like what’s the newest technology to take it to the next place.

LH: I guess that’s what fashion is about, exploring ideas and expressing oneself in a very contemporary way. It’s about defining the moment. What is today about? What do we feel is relevant? What do we want to say about the moment we’re living in? Which is what the artists we respect also do; they respond to their moment.

JM: I feel that what we do is pretty autobiographical. Every collection is very much the moment that we were in at the time.

LH: Which is why we’re schizophrenic. We take one idea and take that to the maximum; we take it to the limit that we can possibly push it. Then when the collection is done …

JM: We just want the antithesis of that.

LH: You can’t go any further in that direction; you’ve gone there. You need to find another thing to explore. Which is why sometimes, we’re all over the place stylistically.

JM: We are getting more into the idea, though, of not having such a drastic shift, and maybe there’s more of a connection. Now, we are using these pre-collections that are in between to kind of thread them together.

LH: A lot of the artists that we respect are like Gerhard Richter—an artist whose work is so varied. I mean, you look at his body of work, and at first it may feel like a lot of people produced it, but there’s one sensibility to it.

JM: There’s a tightness to it. It feels like the same person. You can somehow feel the connection. GOB: Dealers want artists to have a signature style. But a good artist wants to change.

LH: They want to pigeonhole you. With a brand, they expect you to do the same thing over and over and over again. And we try to do that, but then our creativity and our passions pull us in different directions. That’s what we do and what people recognize from us. We just have to go with what we feel.

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