It has been nine years since Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCulloch started their steadily successful women's-wear label Proenza Schouler, yet people still trip up on its pronunciation. So all together now: PRO-en-ZA SKOOL-er.
With that out of the way, congratulations are in order as the designers recently won the most important award in American fashion: women's-wear designer of the year from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Hernandez and McCulloch, both in their early 30s, first met in 1998 at Parsons School of Design, where they worked together on their thesis project, a collection that Barneys New York purchased in its entirety.
Their early signatures, assertive bustiers and tailored sexy silhouettes, have given way to explorations in fabric and pattern, gradually expressing a more nuanced but consistently feminine confidence. With the introduction of accessories three years ago, specifically the slouchy PS1 satchel, they rebelled against flashy logos and gewgaws to create an It bag that has remained coveted well past the usual seasonal cycle.
The designers, also a duo outside of work, interrupted an eight-day stretch of sketching their spring 2012 collection at their country home in Massachusetts to visit the Room at the Bay just days before their CFDA win. Left-handed, Hernandez even showed off the calluses on his fingers - a proud sign of the suffering that goes into conceiving such exceptional fashion.
You have already won four CFDA awards. Does the novelty wear off?
McCulloch:If anything, it gets more stressful.
But you're probably at the stage where you don't have to prove yourself any more.
Hernandez: I think you have to prove yourself every single season. You're only as good as your last collection or two. You always have to have a healthy respect for that and step it up.
Your earlier collections were often inspired by art but now it seems you draw inspiration from travel. If you could fly anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?
M: We've been talking about going to Bhutan and the Himalayas.
But you don't choose your destinations based on where you think you'll be inspired, do you?
M: No, no. Last spring we went to India and we did that tweedy collection [spring 2011]and it didn't look Indian, other than the colours. We weren't doing saris. Sometimes it's a really abstract idea that we'll take from a trip.
What do you think has changed for new designers?
M: There are just so many young designers now. And I think there's a lot more noise than there's ever been. So it's harder to stand out.
Would you have wanted to enter the industry today?
You're in hundreds of stores but you haven't opened a single Proenza Schouler standalone store. Why?
H: We're working on it. [Laughs]
What about a fragrance?
M: Eventually. After the store, maybe.
H: These are all things - like men's wear also - that are obviously possible at any future time.
How much consideration do you put into what you wear?
H: None. Look at us!
M: We're kind of dressed up right now.
In another interview, I read that you think about your collections based on what a woman still needs. What do women still need?
H: We don't actually think about it in practical terms like that. It's more like what does she need this season as far as what we're attracted to and what makes us dream. There's always something to inspire.
Then there's the matter of need versus want.
H: You always want new fashion. It's not like a toothbrush.
Yeah, that you need to replace every few months. Actually, the life cycle of a toothbrush is a good measure; when it gets old, it's time to by new clothes.
H: Ha! Exactly.
You are only in your early 30s and could keep going indefinitely. How much longer do you want to do this?
M: It's hard to comment on that. We have a very specific exit strategy.
M: Nah, who knows. You can always plan where you think your life is going to go but I don't think you can really plan your future. But we don't want to do this forever.
H: For us, fashion is just one dimension.
This interview has been condensed and edited.Report Typo/Error
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