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03 “How do you twist French couture” by Proenza Schouler

“How do you twist French couture” by Proenza Schouler


Leaving behind the New York podiums, the American label Proenza Schouler showed on the Paris runways for the first time this July, as special guests in the haute couture calendar – a change in location that coincides with a change in strategy. For this début French show, principals Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez were inspired by the history of Parisian fashion, reworking all the clichés with an arty twist and a graceful unfamiliarity. Numéro met up with the dexterous duo.

Josie Miner Josie Miner
Josie Miner

Numéro: It’s often said that the New York fashion week is more commercial than the Paris one. Is this why you decided to show in Paris? Do you feel more at home in the European tradition?

Lazaro Hernandez: We don’t really identify with American fashion or European fashion. We kind of do what we love and what we know. In today’s world, I feel the boundaries between the fashion capitals are kind of breaking down. As for us, every designer we looked up to when we were growing up was European – Helmut Lang, Prada, Martin Margiela. So we were definitely very much influenced as students by European designers. But as Americans we definitely have the ease and the sportswear attitude. So we are kind of a mix of different parts of the world. We are Americans in the world that we live in today.


So why did you decide to move the show to Paris?

LH: We’ve been showing at New York fashion week for ten years now, and we wanted to challenge ourselves. It had become kind of commonplace for us to organize a show there every February and every September. We’ve always dreamt of showing in Paris, the world capital of fashion. And we’d been talking about the idea of merging our pre-collection and main collection. So it all came together quite organically. 


Do you feel that the four-show-a-year calendar has just become too much? Did you decide you wanted to be more focused?

LH: Yes. Recently the business of fashion has been focused on pre-collections. So you would go around the world and see that 75% of the clothes in stores are from the pre-collections. For us that became a problem, because we work so hard on our main collections, and we wanted them to be the bulk of what the buyers buy, and we wanted to see them in stores. So that was one of the main reasons why we decided to merge the pre- and main collections. We had a pre-collection team working independently, and us working on the main collections independently, so in the end it was like having two different design studios. It just didn’t make sense anymore. We wanted the whole team to be working together, doing one collection at the same time.

Jack Mccollough: So we decided to merge the collections, and to organize our shows during couture week, which is also when buyers are looking at pre-collections. By showing our ready-to-wear at that moment, we allow buyers to respect their calendar.

LH: It’s also because couture is a bit of a quieter week, and our friends always say that they love that week because there are fewer shows and the people who are there really are the right people, the good crowd.

JM: But it’s also a bit of a risk, because we’re showing ready-to-wear during the week when Chanel, Dior and historical houses are showing actual couture. We didn’t want to be considered alongside those big names; we never wanted people to think we were showing couture.


Did you nonetheless use the move as a pretext to explore techniques and savoir-faire that can only be found in Europe?

JM: Yes, we’ve been spending a lot more time in Paris these last two years, we’ve been doing a lot of research and found these ateliers that specialize in hand weaving and feather work and embroidery. So our time in Paris really was a trigger point for the spring/summer 2018 collection which we showed this July. In the past we pushed the technology side of things, but this time we decided to focus more on the craft. There’s always a balance in our collections – we don’t want them to feel too hand-worked or too futuristic. But this one is definitely more focused on traditional craft techniques. And when we started spending time in Paris we really dived into that world and started to explore it. 



“So we asked oursevles, ‘What are the codes of French couture?’ Corsetry, ruffles, flowers, lace, feathers... all these cliché codes. Sometimes we don’t even like those elements. But we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make them interesting? How can we make them feel new? How do we put them through our filter?’ An example would be, ‘How do you make corsetry fucked up and weird? How do you twist that idea and make it something that’s never been seen before?’” Lazaro Hernandez



Contemporary art is also a big inspiration for you if I’m not mistaken. I know you’re friends with Wade Guyton.

LH: Yes, Wade is a friend. And we also try not to look at too much fashion. When we work on a collection we try not to be influenced by what other people are doing. We try to focus on what we do. And we are really involved with the art world, lots of our friends are artists or curators or gallerists. That tends to be more of an influence on us than fashion per se. So yes, I guess that comes across in the work, and we’ve made collections inspired by different artists in the past, like Ron Nagle, Robert Morris and Piero Manzoni. 


Your spring/summer 2018 collection ironically accentuates the clichés of haute couture, such as feathers and lace…

LH: Sometimes we try to isolate cliché elements of the idea we’re exploring. So we asked ourselves, “What are the codes of French couture?” Corsetry, ruffles, flowers, lace, feathers… all these cliché codes. Sometimes we don’t even like those elements. But we asked ourselves, “How can we make them interesting? How can we make them feel new? How do we put them through our filter?” An example would be, “How do you make corsetry fucked up and weird? How do you twist that idea and make it something that’s never been seen before?” Put it on a coat, make it out of black leather, do elastic in the back… This is one of the ways we explored these classic, clichéd coats in order to turn them into something contemporary. 

JM: Once we had established that silhouette of bigger shoulders and smaller waists, we lengthened the skirts and started playing with proportions, as is our wont. Then we decided to add a ruf fle to the clothes, then a ruffle on the shoe, made out of patent leather to offset the softness of the ruffles and the feathers, to make it more twisted and contemporary. And then we explored jewellery – we had these bracelets in hand-blown glass from Venice, and we did glass earrings with feathers. We explored a more loaded silhouette this time.

LH: And we wanted the shoes to be flat with a classic pointed shape, but close to the ground, as if we had just cut the heels. In a way that feels more modern. A woman can walk fast. We cut the back of the shoe off and added a big rubber band to hold the foot – again the idea of breaking down a classic shape and adding something quite industrial. 


How did you choose the location for your show – the Lycée Jacques Decour, which added something very Parisian to the whole effect?

JM: In New York we used to show in a warehouse type of space, something with more of an industrial feeling. We started to look for something similar in Paris, but the architecture is so different there, these spaces were more decorated. So we started looking for other types of spaces, and we found this high school, which kind of reminded us of the space where we show in New York, since it’s quite decayed and dilapidated, but obviously with a very different feeling.

LH: We wanted a space where noone has ever shown before, and that’s harder to find in Paris, because there are so many shows. But our show producer found this space. And we wanted something very French. It was a sign of respect for France and Paris. Indeed the whole collection was an ode to French couture, to the history of French fashion, so we wanted the whole thing to be our interpretation of that world, expressed in our own language, which is very American and very much of our generation. We wanted to merge those two worlds into one and see what happened. 


And what about your next collection? Do you know where you’re heading with it?

LH: Yes, we’re now up in the country sketching it.

JM: We have a farm up here in the Berkshires where we design each collection. We’re halfway through the current one. We want to explore this idea of craft, but in a very different way this time. Maybe less couture – but craft will be a huge part of it.