By  on April 4, 2006

NEW YORK — Proenza Schouler is staffing up.

Four years after founding the label, 27-year-old designers Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough are boosting their team to position the label for further growth. The timing is prime, considering they are in the running, along with Marc Jacobs and Calvin Klein Collection's Francisco Costa, for this year's Womenswear Designer of the Year award to be presented by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

The duo recently tapped Elyse Nemerever as sales and marketing director and Trevor Ballin as a designer. Both are newly created posts within the company.

Nemerever joined from Eskandar, where she was a senior vice president and headed the wholesale division. Prior to that, she was in senior buying positions at Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

"She knows the stores and understands what buyers are looking for," Hernandez said. "She knows how to merchandise a collection and can analyze the sales and tell us where to fill in the missing pieces."

Ballin, meanwhile, joined from Forth & Towne, the new division of Gap Inc., where he was senior director of design. Before that, he worked with Isaac Mizrahi on the Target and custom-made collections, and earlier was a senior designer at Michael Kors Collection. Ballin will help Proenza Schouler improve their calendar to ensure timely sourcing, fabric orders, design and production. "Trevor comes from very structured companies and can help us work toward a good calendar," McCollough explained.

"As we are expanding our business in Europe, and we started working with Italian manufacturers, we have to push the calendar ahead of time," Hernandez said.

Last February, the duo was forced to reschedule its show from the Monday to the Thursday of New York Fashion Week because samples hadn't come in on time from Italy.

"We had assumed we could give the specs at the same time as we would to New York manufacturers," Hernandez noted. Ballin added: "Getting them on the right calendar will help iron out those kinks."

Shirley Cook, the pair's business partner, said the two hires represent a big step for the company, which is in its ninth season this fall, "as they will be bringing experience and professionalism with them — something that is important to a young, growing company. In the past two years, the business has grown considerably more than we have projected. We estimate an annual growth of 20 percent and have far and beyond exceeded this each season."In just four years, Hernandez and McCollough have collected Swarovski's Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear at the 2003 CFDA Fashion Awards and taken home the top honors in the first CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2004. The label launched a shoe collection in a license with Italian manufacturer Iris two years ago. The experience has given them the appetite for a new venture, they said.

"We are hoping to launch handbags for next fall," McCollough said. "That's the next step, but we're not going to do it until we know we will get it right."

In July, the company plans to unveil its first pre-spring collection to the trade. "We are working to be ahead of the calendar to get us to a point to have time to create pre-fall and resort collections," McCollough said.

In recent months, there has been speculation about the duo mulling a deal to create a collection for Target's Go International program, which launched in February with a capsule collection by London designer Luella Bartley. Addressing the rumors, McCollough said: "As of now, we are focused on Proenza Schouler. We're not working on any secondary lines or working for other people." (Last year, the duo designed a limited-edition watch for Movado.)

Hernandez added that if any brand offered them a deal that "would help our own business, we would entertain it."

For the fall season, its most successfully booked to date, the line will be distributed in over 100 doors worldwide.

"Proenza Schouler has been a big party, but this year, it's become a proper business, with an actual structure," Hernandez said, adding with a smile, "We're growing up."

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