Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez talked about the process of putting together their spring 2021 collection at a time when no one knew where the world would be six months later.
Sitting down to work on it last April, they were faced with a blank wall and needed to figure out the best way to move forward.
In a conversation with Samira Nasr, the new editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar on Monday as part of IMG’s NYFW: BTS series, the designers talked about their design approach, what it’s like not having a show for the first time in their career, and how designing a collection without a show is a different, and welcome, experience. They plan to show their spring collection in mid-to-late October.
Nasr has been friendly with the designers for 18 years, ever since she styled their portrait for their senior year thesis collection when they were “rising designers” at Parsons School of Design.
The trio kicked off the conversation talking about what New York City has endured since that time, and what it is about New York that keeps people going.
“For us, the work that we do is autobiographical. We always have something to say about the moment that we live in. Since the very beginning, every collection has always been a reaction to something we’ve seen, something we’ve done, someone we’ve met, a trip that we’ve taken…,” said Hernandez.
“No matter where the world is or what’s happening, and the highs and lows, there’s always something to look at and be inspired by or to pull from, and we just sort of create out of the feeling of the moment,” he said.
McCollough added that’s always been their approach ever since they didn’t join a heritage brand after graduating from school. “We’ve been making it up from scratch since we’ve gone along. We’ve been around for a while, but we’re a relatively new brand in the grand scheme of things,” said McCollough.
McCollough said their job, as well as Nasr’s, is predicting what people will be into six months from now.
“Our job is to forecast where the world’s going to be at that moment,” said McCollough. He recalled when they were sitting down in their studio in the Berkshires and trying to figure out what would be next, “never has our world or the future at least been more unclear.”
“We just sat down with our pencils and our paper, and wanted to focus on something that felt completely optimistic,” said McCollough.
According to Hernandez, they usually have a process for every collection, which involves research, building boards, finding vintage and doing looks with vintage clothes, and then they go to their studio in the woods, and draw. “This season, the calendar was such that we had to draw April 16. Our life is super-scheduled like that. April 16 came and we had a studio with white walls. We had no research, nothing.”
So they sat down, picked up a pencil and just drew for 10 days. “It was mood and feeling, it was pure imagination, which was kind of freeing,” said Hernandez.
For Nasr, everything at Harper’s Bazaar has taken place on Zoom. “I’m limited by the screen. I’m craving humanity, and a tactile experience. I want to feel the warmth of humanity, the warmth of possibility and a tactile experience. Fabrics can give me that comfort.”
McCollough asked Nasr what’s been her approach since starting at Harper’s Bazaar as editor in chief in June. “I’m editor in chief in my apartment. I tell my seven-year-old son, ‘Do you know what I do?’ And he’ll say, ‘yes, please get me my cereal.’”
“I’m working with a team of people I don’t really know, except for a few obviously. You’re trying to connect. But it’s also a great exercise, and it’s forcing me to think about how we connect with our readers,” she said. “How do you anticipate what people will need and what they’ll respond to in that moment?”
McCollough believes that now is a perfect time to be shuffling the deck. “Obviously it’s been horrible what’s been going on, but the same time, sometimes it takes a forced change for things to evolve to a new place. I’m curious to see how New York evolves with this kind of forced change and all this movement that’s happening now. This city is going to become this very different place.”
In fact, after major events like these, big fashion moments occurred, such as the flappers after the First World War, and the New Look after the Second World War, said Hernandez. After Sept. 11, a new generation of designers emerged, added McCollough.
Nasr said she hopes this is an opportunity for creatives to come back to New York City because it’s been a place for big business.
McCollough recalled when he first came to New York, he felt that energy, but over the years and decades went on, it was lost and it felt like money was taking over the city, and certain people got pushed out. Hernandez added that kids in their 20s have moved to Bushwick in Brooklyn, and are doing their thing, and they’re not in Manhattan like they used to be.
“I feel that this moment calls for a very deliberate awareness of how we’re going to support each other and how we’re going to get through this,” said Nasr. “I don’t think we can take it for granted….We have to support our American designers, we have to be part of everyone being lifted out of this. These are unprecedented times, there are no road maps for this.”
Whereas normally they keep to themselves, Hernandez said from the beginning of COVID-19, they were talking with a lot of international designers and exchanging ideas, Zooming, and discussing what was working for them, and whether they’re doing a show. “We all kind of exchanged notes for the first time,” said Hernandez. “We also had a WhatsApp with all the American designers,” added McCollough.
Nasr said she started a WhatsApp chat for Black in Fashion, with designers, creatives, makeup artists and photographers around the globe, and a lot of initiatives came out of that.
According to Hernandez, clothes used to be about the new silhouette, color or bag. “And now fashion is so much more layered. There’s a social component to it. Your brand has to stand for something,” said Hernandez.
“It’s not enough to be a cute look,” added McCollough.
McCollough said when he spends his money on things he wants it to stand for something beyond the thing that he’s buying. He has always felt that fashion “is just a reflection of the times we’re living in.”
“It’s interesting to watch it adapt in these moments. It’s changed a lot,” he said.
For example, Hernandez said, there are so many more people and more voices. In the beginning when he began, he said fashion was really closed. Then a new generation happened.
“I feel when we started, fashion was about exclusivity. It was like I have this thing that you want that you can’t have. It’s really shifted in a major way,” said McCollough.
Nasr said it feels like this is a time where doors and things that haven’t been available to all people are now becoming available and rules are being broken, and more people have a seat at the table.
Hernandez added as a designer, you can get lost if you’re not specific with your point of view and know who you’re talking to and who your woman is. In his opinion, when they started out they were all over the place, into the mid-century couture one season and the Hawaiian vibe another season.
But Nasr respectively disagreed. “I feel I knew who the woman was. I feel you had that clarity early on, and that’s really hard to have.”
McCollough said his customer has matured, as they’ve matured.
“As more and more designers come out, there’s even more noise,” said McCollough. There used to be 50 designers and now there are 500 to 600 designers. “There’s more noise than ever. If you don’t have a really clear point of view, you can get lost in a sea of designers,” said McCollough.
This was the first time when they designed the spring collection, they didn’t have a runway show in mind. “Sometimes we design things for show that we think it will grab people’s attention but may not be the most wearable. It’s been really freeing not to think about having a show,” said McCollough.
Hernandez agreed and said it’s a completely different approach, without having to think about the hair and the makeup. “This is about clothes we thought were cool,” he said.
McCollough said he was excited to see Nasr’s first issue of Bazaar in November and her full vision in March.
“I feel certain pressures with November. I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support, and there’s this element of ‘what is she going to do?’ As my brother reminded me yesterday, ‘it’s a starting point. Just start and make sure you believe in everything you’re putting in there.’ That alleviates a lot of pressure,” said Nasr.
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