NEW YORK — Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez could be poster children for the freshly graduated, eager young fashion student. Both 23, they’re living and working out of the same shabby-chic loft at the frenetic center of Koreatown and the Garment District. Having just arrived from a meeting with a potential backer, they refer to their perfectly rumpled button-down shirts as “businesswear.”

This story first appeared in the June 3, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Theirs is a story that’s now well known: As a gutsy Parsons sophomore, Hernandez slipped a note to Anna Wintour midflight from Miami, which led to an internship at Michael Kors and, subsequently, more contacts. McCollough, meanwhile, had scored a spot at Marc Jacobs. Before enrolling in Parsons, New Jersey-born McCollough, who describes himself as a “hippie boy who was into sewing,” studied glassblowing in San Francisco, while Hernandez was pre-med at the University of Miami.

With Kors and Jacobs, the two managed to get a complete practical education in the business of being a fashion designer. After a freelance stint together at United Bamboo, they decided to collaborate on their senior thesis for Parsons. The result was a well-produced, sophisticated collection of 15 looks that won them the Designer of the Year award at Parsons’ Senior Show. Kors donated all the fabric for their project.

Unlike most young designers, the pair shies away from the downtown, street-centric aesthetic, preferring to “create clothes for women, not kids,” says Hernandez. “Our collection is a reaction to people who are antifashion.”

And there’s certainly nothing antifashion about their line, named Proenza Schouler, a combination of their mothers’ maiden names. The mostly black and gray collection features classic silhouettes in superluxe fabrics like cashmere, angora and silk, and there’s even a fur from Pologeorgis. Their black-sequined camisole tops are complicated enough to be cool, but don’t look overdone. A gunmetal satin halter gets the tuxedo treatment with a black bow tie at the bustline. They pair both with sharp, skinny black trousers in wool, satin or cotton twill. An oversize Peter Pan collar updates a tiny wool felt jacket and goes asymmetric on a black satin top.

The collection caught the attention of CFDA executive director Peter Arnold, who judged the senior presentations. “Their clothes were so compelling to every single judge at the Parsons show,” says Arnold, whom the boys dubbed their “fairy godfather.” He introduced them to Donna Faircloth, the CFDA’s director of communications. She then sent them to Julie Gilhart, Barneys’ vice president of merchandising, who bought most of the collection for fall. The pieces will retail from $200 to $1,000.

Hernandez and McCollough look to the fashion canon for inspiration, especially Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. But their details remind some of a more current designer — Marc Jacobs. Gilhart, however, says, “I wouldn’t buy a collection that looks like Marc Junior. Lazaro and Jack have a well-balanced collection. There’s always a risk in buying from a young designer. But their look is really fresh. Basically, they have a lot of things that you need.”

Hernandez and McCollough will be featured in the “Future of Fashion” segment at the CFDA’s 40th anniversary tribute at the awards ceremony tonight, along with models Valery Prince and Oona Hart.

“We are starting with Eleanor Lambert and ending with Jack and Lazaro,” says Arnold. “They really symbolize the promise of American fashion.”

So what does it mean to be a young designer? “All the different forms [of clothing] have already been created. There is a whole vocabulary that already exists,” explains Hernandez. “It’s about tweaking that and making it new through the construction and details.” He adds, “It’s not about making a blouse with five sleeves.””

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