The strange circumstances of 2020 have brought into the open a fact of designer fashion: Customers of that world don’t take a disposable mentality to shopping. When you lay out considerable cash for something, you expect to have it and wear it for a while, and usually, you want it to integrate seamlessly into your wardrobe. Designers know that, too, they always have; it just hasn’t always been apparent from their runways. Now, many are changing the way they approach their collections to highlight that reality.

For Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, that has meant a shift fueled as much by maturity as current market circumstances. Once upon a time, the designers sought to wow with each collection — intense, digitized imagery; exquisite artisanal flourish — their primary concern more about pushing themselves creatively and impressing the editors’ set than about designing alluring clothes that would translate well to practical applications.

That no longer flies. Now the duo is focused fully on the needs of their customers, women who expect clothes that speak to their real-world wardrobe needs. That means chic, versatility, cohesion and integration from one season to the next — in clothes that make sense for now. That said, Hernandez and McCollough believe firmly that women want fashion back in their lives. “The theme of ease is important, but we also have complete sweatpant fatigue,” said McCollough in a Zoom call last week. “We wanted this collection to also celebrate the joy of dressing up, which I think everyone is looking forward to.”

Hear, hear! The Proenza pre-fall collection works those parameters beautifully. Its primary element of “new” comes in subtle reference to the brand’s past — discreet injections of “the hand.” Back when, McCollough and Hernandez worked the artisanal motif with exuberance, but retreated from it when taking the brand in a more pragmatic direction. Now they’ve reawakened that brand code, but with greater control. Fringing, crochet, tie-dye and hand-woven tweed appear as deftly inserted treatments rather than major artful statements. Crocheted bodice work with a hint of Seventies anchors a pair of evening columns; knit dresses and skirts open into deep fringed hems; unfettered, A-line dresses are cut with deep V-necklines, revealing tweed bras.

These elements heighten the interest of a streamlined, meticulously considered collection. A bias-cut pantsuit in technical stretch gabardine features mismatched buttons that temper the elegance with nonchalance. Knits, languid crepe and jersey figure prominently for a range of appealing dresses. And McCollough and Hernandez continue their use of dead stock fabrics, with a bold black-and-white chevron blanket in double-faced cashmere tossed over a top and trousers. Yet the designers haven’t gone all soft. They love the sharp look of leather, and show it variously in a crisp coat and loose, pintucked dresses. The overall takeaway is of a collection of easy-to-wear clothes with an attitude of urbane ease.

Hernandez and McCollough’s more grounded approach isn’t a pre-season-only direction. With little more than a month to go, the designers are focused on fall 2021 and considering how to present in lieu of a live show. While they miss the runway experience, they find the hiatus from it freeing. “We’re less concerned with the revolution of a new idea, or, isn’t this the craziest fabric you’ve ever seen in your life, or getting caught up in a theme or the presentation,” said Hernandez. “It’s clothes for wearing that feel interesting, that feel new for now, that you can have a relationship with now. That’s what’s important.”

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