High heels can be the enemy of pristine floors — a reality not lost on the woman from whom Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez are renting a house in Los Angeles for a month. She e-mails them reminders of the floors’ sensitivity, and asks that any visitors not wear heels.
“Don’t worry. We have no friends coming over in heels,” said McCollough, who Zoomed in from the house for an appointment last week. Hernandez chimed in from Miami, where he was visiting family before heading west. “Literally nothing feels more wrong right now than a pair of high heels. You know what I mean?”
That sentiment became the baseline for their Proenza Schouler collection, which McCollough and Hernandez are releasing online today, in this never-ending spring 2021 season. As always, they designed the lineup at their house in the Berkshires, but without having done the kind of New York-based research that typically informs their work. So they started to draw with no preconceived notions save the obvious — that this process would be like no other. Independently as they sat across from each other at the table, pencils at the ready, they kept coming back to the notion of ease and effortless style, marked by a few tangible elements — they wanted length, because short feels like a party; they wanted loose, because life today has enough constraints, and they wanted to ground the clothes with flats for comfort, literal and symbolic. (They came up with divine padded slippers.)
They wanted to achieve that comfort, “not in the dumb sweatpants way, but so it’s still luxury, it’s still beautiful clothes, it’s still designer,” Hernandez said. And still clothes intended for the world to see. Unlike many others this season, the Proenza duo felt no compulsion to address work-from-home wear. By the time this collection ships in February, McCollough said, they expect people to be fed up with the screen-friendly getup of “cute top and nothing on the bottom,” and ready to leave the house. “Maybe in a more limited way than before, but I think people will want to get out there and feel less schlumpy and get dressed up again.” (Prescient, perhaps? He spoke before Monday’s Pfizer vaccine news broke.)
To telegraph that point, the designers commissioned photographer Daniel Shea to create a book that juxtaposes the clothes, worn by Saskia de Brauw and Binx Walton, against photographs of New York City, mostly architectural studies. They called the project “a love letter to New York at this very specific moment,” and penned it beautifully. They worked almost exclusively with fabrics left over from prior seasons; in some cases, they even have enough to cover production. “We have all these beautiful fabrics that we’ve loved in the past. Why are we always buying more?” Hernandez queried.
The result is a tight collection that projects serene optimism in the context of Proenza’s characteristic sophistication. The designers banished sharp edges in favor of silhouettes with ease, some retaining a crispness, others languid. The long lengths come in a variety of dresses silhouettes — lean cardigan, stretched to the floor; full-skirted jersey dress with ribbed bodice and billowing sleeves; a pair of allover sequined shirtdresses. Tailoring works the same mood, with roomy jackets and a classic trench atop trousers with hems that puddle.
Still, effortless doesn’t mean plain. The clothes display a great deal of design in both cut and detail. Cases in point: a shirred black leather top spliced with white insets over a softly pleated skirt printed in earthy tones; a long black dress with asymmetric neckline, sculptural sleeves and white topstitiching. McCollough and Hernandez also offer an alternative take on goddess dressing, in a color they don’t usually do — pale pink. They loosened the dress and cut it at the ankle, just short enough to show off those padded slippers. Comfy — yes, but without surrendering a smidgen of chic.