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12 Things We Learned at the Proenza Schouler ICA Conversation

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Proenza Schouler has never been a conventional label in its eleven-year existence. Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez are the collective genius behind the brand, with their mothers' maiden names as the moniker. Fresh out of Parsons, the two young designers had their first collection immediately picked up by Barneys, a notable feat setting the stage for both retail and critical acclaim in their careers. Since then, they've released the now iconic PS1 bag, always intended as the "Anti-It Bag" but quickly becoming just that, a hot ticket item. Their first store opened in New York's Upper East Side—an unexpected move for a downtown darling, though they are preparing to open a second store in SoHo store this season.

While Jack and Lazaro can thank Louis for being one of the first retailers to pick up their brand, the boys also have another link to the Bay State: a one hundred acre studio in the Berkshires. Last night, McCollough and Hernandez took the stage at the Institute of Contemporary Art for a conversation with curator Helen Molesworth. Here are some gems from their laugh-filled discussion.

1. Neither designer comes from a fashion background. Lazaro was pre-med, to which Molesworth sarcastically joked "I bet your parents were very happy." Jack wanted to do glassblowing and painting, to which she replied "You parents probably are really happy."

2. Jack describes their aesthetic as understated beauty: "Not polished, sort of flawed, with a quality of sophistication."

3. On working together, Jack notes: "We can be like one brain at times. Seasons where we clash the most are usually the strongest because it's not a one dimensional vision. We have to figure out how to meld two opposing things into one idea." Lazaro adds "We always say that if I want to do black, and he wants to do white, we'll always end up doing grey." Molesworth quips "So that's why we're all wearing gray this season?"

4. The designers start collections by deciding silhouettes and feelings and then start plugging in the fabrics. The company works with a couple of mills around Como, Italy, where many of their innovative fabrics are made. Jack says "We have been trying to push materiality. We really love to get involved with developing fabrics from scratch. Silhouette you can only take so far."

5. On what they consider contemporary, Lazaro explains: "Our whole company is based on the idea of contemporary culture today. In that, silhouette has been done, so what's truly modern is technology. With it we're able to create these insane textiles that you couldn't do ten years ago. Materials that never existed before, that are completely of 2013. Computers and looms existed, now they've merged." Referencing a mannequin on stage that showcased a white jacket, the boys note that to emulate the texture of fallen snow they made a fabric using shredded tulle that was then woven as yarn.

6. On the industry's accelerated time schedule: The duo uses pre-collection (Lazaro says that is where business is done) for commercial reasons, playing off of what was successful in last collection, while the collections themselves are good for fantasy and creativity. "We envy some of our artist friends who can take a year off," said Lazaro.

7. The Proenza Schouler girl was described as having something discreet, nonchalant, and undone about her. "She has messy hair, but clean clothes," jokes Jack. Lazaro calls her their "imaginary sister."

8. Molesworth asked about the possibility of designing menswear, to which Lazaro replied, "Menswear would be based on reality somehow, which is fine, but wouldn't be so fun." Jack continues, "Because we're removed from [womenswear] in a certain way we can fantasize about it."

9. She also asks if they have ever been starstruck over celebrities, and the duo claims they aren't usually starstruck—with the exceptions of David Bowie, Bill Clinton, and Oprah. They joke that the latter two have surprisingly large heads, to which the audience laughs.

10. On the concept of an "It Bag" and why the PS1 wasn't intended as one, Jack reminiscences: "When we put out the bag everything was covered in chains and buckles and locks and keys and mirrors and logos and all this crap. We were really interested in something that felt recognizable in a way. Something that gets better with age." Lazaro adds "We wanted it to be classic, like you always had it."

11. The duo's first collection, right out of Parsons and bought in its entirety by Barneys, was made using fabrics from Lazaro while he interned at Michael Kors and a New York factory space from Marc Jacobs, where Jack was interning.

12. Lazaro shared his first encounter with Vogue EIC Anna Wintour, back when he was just a student traveling with his mom. They were on Wintour's flight, where she sat up in first class and Lazaro sat toward the back. He wrote her a note on a napkin, bravely walked up to her seat and placed it under her drink. She ignored him, even after tapping her on the shoulder. Two weeks later, Lazaro received a call from Michael Kors, who said Wintour gave him a letter from a kid on the plane and that Kors should hire him as an intern. The rest is history. Moral of the story: Grow some balls and go for it.
· Whoa! Jay Z Has a Barneys Collab With 6 Huge Designers [Racked Boston]
· 10 Things We Learned About Jason Wu at His ICA Talk [Racked Boston]
· Proenza Schouler [Official Site]

Institute of Contemporary Art

100 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA 02210