Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez

WWD: Please sum up the state of American fashion today.

Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez: American fashion definitely seems to be undergoing a big shift. People are trying to figure out what’s next. The younger generation of American designers seems to have also fractured, each going our own way, doing what feels right for each of us. Everyone seems to be trying to come up with ways to modernize the sometimes archaic system of fashion, whether that be see-now-buy-now, showing during pre-collection markets, which are when the bulk of sales actually occur on a wholesale level, and most importantly, how to reach the consumers directly, bypassing traditional media and retailers. It’s a complex question, and everyone is trying to do it their own way.

WWD: How does current American fashion compare with that of Paris, Milan and London?

J.M. and L.H.: The obvious answer is that the bigger European houses are owned by multibillion-dollar conglomerates. Designers seem to be free to focus on the creative side of things, whereas in the U.S., most designers own their own brands and are focused on building them independently without the synergies or financial capabilities of their European counterparts. This makes cutting through the noise all the more difficult in terms of opening retail locations, investing in communication tools, etc. Competing with the noise created by the merry-go-round of designer appointments backed by significant financial clout seems to get more difficult by the minute. For us, the answer has been to focus on what we do well and expand on that, tuning out the outside noise. There’s something to be said about being an independent brand still; the question now lies in finding a system in the U.S. that feels more modern and more closely aligned with the needs of a rapidly evolving, digitally focused world, perhaps even breaking with the European model altogether and finding a more entrepreneurial model.

WWD: Is the American fashion industry set up to compete and succeed at the luxury level?

J.M. and L.H.: “What does luxury mean today?” is the real question. When the most revered of European fashion houses makes the bulk of their sales on T-shirts, denim and sneakers, it begs the question of what does luxury really mean in today’s world. It definitely doesn’t have the same definition it once had. We believe it is more about “brand” these days than anything else. Within that, you can have traditional, true luxury product, but you could also have T-shirts and sneakers and the like. There is room for both in a modern fashion brand. Of course, you will always have the classic luxury brands doing what they do and doing it well. But a more modern approach, to us at least, is creating a brand that stands for something, means something, and out of that you can create a myriad of product categories that reflect those values, whether it be crocodile handbags or everyday sneakers. This big mix is what feels modern to us. The world is definitely moving, permanently we believe, in a more casual direction, and we as a brand have to respond to that and create vital product that fulfills those needs, imbuing it the entire time with the values that our brand stands for. This, to us, is a real opportunity for American brands as we don’t have to rely solely on the traditional spirit of European savior faire to make our mark. Supreme is a good example of what one can do here in America. They have almost single-handedly influenced an entire generation of fashion and are themselves, even though not a traditionally “luxury” brand, considered “fashion,” which these days seems to mean more.

WWD: Is this a good time to be a U.S.-based designer/brand?

J.M. and L.H.: It’s never about a good time versus a bad time. To us, it’s about a good idea versus a bad idea. Does it connect with the zeitgeist or does it not? It’s definitely not a time to play the fashion game in the same way the big European houses do. That will surely lead to failure as you simply can’t compete with those kinds of resources. It’s about finding your own independent path and doing it your own way. The digitally native American companies popping up are a good example of this.

WWD: Is creativity impacted by geography?

J.M. and L.H.: We would have to say no. So much creative culture is being exported from the U.S. There’s no reason fashion shouldn’t be a part of that. Hollywood and American musicians dominate the global conversation and so there’s no reason to believe that the same couldn’t be said of fashion if the right set of conditions would allow for that, and if we were to create a new system that trumps the archaic one most American houses are currently engaged with.

WWD: Do American designers and brands do enough together to strengthen the industry and/or the perception of the industry here?

J.M. and L.H.: Definitely, I think that we are stronger together. And perhaps instead of competing with each other, if we were to act as a kind of conglomerate, finding synergistic opportunities amongst ourselves, like brands under the umbrella of big European conglomerates do, big things could happen.

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