When you walk into a fashion show — not just any show, but that of New York’s much-adored, cool designing duo — to find the runway carpeted with a brown rec room rug, it can only mean one thing: irony. To some degree that played into Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez’s spring collection for Proenza Schouler. Their inspirations included Fifties car interiors; Googie architecture, and the work of Morris Lapidus, the architect behind Miami’s Deco crown jewel, the Fontainebleau hotel. “You know, all that questionable-taste architecture,” said Hernandez during a preview, leading one to believe they had a so-tacky-it’s-chic trick up their sleeves. That turned out to be a gross underestimation — thank god.

Even with a look at a smattering of key pieces — spongy, snug cropped sweaters and a cobalt A-line skirt in papery eel skin that formed one-half of one of the lineup’s best looks — which indicated the collection was to be a serious, sophisticated affair, the show in full came as a wonderful surprise. McCollough and Hernandez worked their throwback references with originality, precision and expert craftsmanship. They didn’t shy away from the so-called bad-taste elements, like tiger-print car interiors and the orange, green and gold palette that has been considered an anathema since it fell out of fashion in the late Seventies. Rather, it was all masterfully handled on slim, retro-modern shapes that had sex appeal and grace.

The gut of the collection was an intersection of pinup and sultry secretary. Bustier tops were paired with mean pencil skirts in a mash-up of neon and tropical prints. Yet there was a crafty undercurrent throughout. The main shoe was a platform clog, hand-painted like wood veneer, with a peep-toe and square stub heel. And raffia was woven into color-blocked knits and remarkable dresses that had cutout maillot tops and wide-weave cage skirts. For the finale, the designers embroidered vaguely Hawaiian florals on tulle dresses with open backs and narrow skirts. It might have been the first time a banana-leaf print was seductive.

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