American fashion is experiencing a period of reckoning, particularly the many brands born in the heady fashion swirl of the late Nineties and through the Aughts. Among the most prominent: Proenza Schouler, the design duo of Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, who are now no longer glamour start-up kids but established designers in survival-growth mode.
A year ago, McCollough and Hernandez decamped from New York to show in Paris, which heightened their ongoing interest in artisanal craft. Their spring homecoming marked a sharp shift in that mind-set. The collection they showed on Monday was something of a shocker, an exploration of silhouette and surface texture in three basic materials: denim, cotton shirting and a touch of leather.
“Coming back to New York for us, it’s like, what is American fashion? What feels relevant now? What do our friends want to wear, and what feels real?” Hernandez said during a preview.
Offered McCollough, “We wanted to maybe move away from something that feels a little more special occasion and go into something that feels a little more everyday.”
Translation: Embroideries and feathers are swell, but these guys want to sell. Inspired by the response to their lower-priced PSWL line — their friends want to wear it — they decided to go deep with denim for their spring collection. They sourced it from Japan — “they make the best quality,” said Hernandez, but the various treatments, the washing and tie-dying, as well as the sample-making, were done in the U.S., mostly Los Angeles. With PSWL, they’d started learning about denim. “It’s its own world,” McCollough said.
Now it’s part of their world. As fascinated as they’d become with decorative flourishes, McCollough and Hernandez have always given equal attention to cut and silhouette. This was no jeans-and-shirt lineup, but a well-considered exploration of workable volume. The roomy cuts came in mannish, sloped-shoulder jackets; slightly twisted A-line skirts and wide trousers. There were also appealing, exaggerated dropped-torso dresses and big half-and-half shirts, each side with a different finish, literally halves of two shirts sewn together. And if it grew a bit repetitive, it mostly succeeded in working the interesting side of undone. Yet the designers offered a more polished side as well. Pristine short jackets in unwashed denim over skirts or trousers made for fresh takes on the suit, while a pair of dresses with torso cutouts, one featuring a poufed peplum, will work for most evening events this side of the red carpet.
The designers didn’t leave Europe behind completely, enlisting a favorite artist, Isa Genzken, to do an installation with their clothes. While its impact was tempered a bit by its location in a tight space near the show’s entry, the grounded look of the artist’s five mannequins foreshadowed the show’s “everyday” course.
It’s an interesting course, its destination ultimately unknown. But McCollough and Hernandez are smart to smell the culture’s casual coffee without drowning in its more extreme manifestations of street and sport. For spring, they’re off to a strong start, having adjusted — but not lost — their signature codes of cut and form to better address today’s off-the-runway reality.