It has been nearly nine years since Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez-both 23 and fresh out of design school at Parsons The New School for Design, where they met and worked together as classmates-set up a womenswear label incorporating their mothers' maiden names. Their almost instantaneous rise through the realms of the fashion world as Proenza Schouler-seemingly so unscripted that they hardly had a business model when they began-is the stuff of lightning New York success stories.
In the early 2000s, with many of the city's top designers either retiring or fading out, the hunt was on for fresh, untapped talent, and Proenza Schouler had plenty of it. But as the decade wore on, something exquisite happened: The design duo wasn't merely filling some vacant fashion niche. McCollough and Hernandez were creating a fully articulated, utterly unexpected sense of style for a young, urban, 21st-century woman. The designers referenced the past with certain shapes and layers-grunge, the 1960s-but didn't get stuck in it. This woman walked with a street-tough, masculine gait. She was almost a veteran of raves and goth clubs, but was still new in the city and up for going out.
Proenza Schouler have become masters of precise, militaristic silhouettes that allow for radical plays of color and texture. The hues and prints are electric, the fabrics veer from thick and aggressive to fragile and surprisingly soft. For their Spring 2011 collection, they continued their evolution but added a feminine polish that suggested this art girl of their dreams could also be competent enough to be serious and dependable-an acid-house mix of knits, tweeds, and chiffon.
Now both 32, McCollough and Hernandez should finally be set free from their depiction as upstart fashion kids taking on the establishment. They've graduated to become the leaders of the charge. Still a couple, in and out of the studio, the two spend as much time in New York these days as they do either traveling for inspiration or hiding out upstate on their farm. Unsurprisingly, one of their favorite women to dress is Chloë Sevigny, who just returned to New York after wrapping the final season of Big Love and visited the guys in their studio in SoHo. But before any questions on life as designers, she wanted the lowdown on how Jojo, Hernandez's miniature Pinscher, briefly went missing, only to have Sevigny come to the rescue, 2,000 miles away.
CHLOË SEVIGNY: I want to hear the crazy story about you losing your dog.
LAZARO HERNANDEZ: It's actually an amazing story. I was here alone, eight o'clock at night. I had my bags. I was going to Italy the next morning. I grabbed my dog and my bags and I'm waiting for the elevator but it doesn't come. It's taking forever so I'm like, "Fuck. What's going on?" And I had to take a piss. So I run to the bathroom to pee, and I come back to the front, and the dog is gone. I have no idea where he is. I'm like, "He must have taken the elevator. He must be in the lobby."
SEVIGNY: He just pressed the button.
HERNANDEZ: I press the elevator again. It takes another 10 minutes for it to come. The elevator door opens. It's packed, packed, packed with people-Dan [Colen] and Nate [Lowman].
SEVIGNY: All the art stars.
HERNANDEZ: They're all there. They're like, "Hey, Lazaro." I'm like, "Hey. It's my building. I'm going home. I lost my dog."
SEVIGNY: You guys don't understand the significance of the Swiss Institute, which is in your building. It has great shows, FYI.
HERNANDEZ: Well, I get to the lobby and there are hundreds of people. There's a line down to Broome Street. I asked some guy, "Have you seen a dog?" He's like, "Oh, yeah. Someone left a dog in the elevator. I don't know where he went. He's somewhere in the building." I have no idea it's Harmony [Korine]'s or Rita [Ackermann]'s opening. So I go to the Swiss Institute and it's packed with hundreds of people. My dog weighs five pounds! I'm freaking out.
SEVIGNY: Someone stepped on him.
HERNANDEZ: More like, someone stole him. One of these fucking hipsters stole my dog.
SEVIGNY: Does he have a collar on?
HERNANDEZ: Nothing. No!
SEVIGNY: Well, that's an irresponsible owner.
HERNANDEZ: I'm at this party. I start bumping into Harmony and Terry [Richardson] and all these people. I'm thrown into this party environment and I'm just looking for my dog. I'm really scared. All of a sudden you call me. I thought you were at the party and you had seen me or something. I thought, Oh, Chloë must be here. I picked up, and you said, "Did you lose your dog?"
JACK McCOLLOUGH: So who the hell called you, Chloë, about Jojo?
SEVIGNY: My friend Sid, who I grew up with. We were club kids together in high school. I used to sleep at his house. I don't know how he knew it was your dog.
HERNANDEZ: Me neither! That's the weirdest thing! I saw him 10 years ago. I haven't seen him in years! But two minutes after we hung up, Sidney's in the corner holding my dog.
McCOLLOUGH: Thank god he spotted him.
SEVIGNY: I figured you guys lived in the same building. I didn't know you were at a party. I was in L.A. at the time.
HERNANDEZ: You saved me. It would have been a disaster.
SEVIGNY: So, for the record, I want to get the
pronunciation of Proenza Schouler down right.
McCOLLOUGH: It's Proenza Schouler. So many people still say Shooler.
SEVIGNY: It's Schouler, as in late for school. I think people think Shooler is more sophisticated that Skooler.
HERNANDEZ: It's like saying Donna Ka-Ran [laughs]. That's like how my parents said it.
SEVIGNY: My manager, who I've been with for almost 20 years, still mispronounces my last name. He says Seven-yay.
HERNANDEZ: How do you pronounce your last name properly?
SEVIGNY: Seven-e. Like, number seven, letter e.
SEVIGNY: We both have such a burden to bear with these names. I was wondering, having this homage to your mother's names as your design name, do you feel any sort of responsibility to your family when doing your work?
McCOLLOUGH: The whole reason why we even picked that name in the first place was that when we started, Barneys had just bought our collection and we didn't have a name. We thought, Hernandez McCollough? [laughs] Doesn't sound so high end, does it?
HERNANDEZ: Proenza Schouler is better. I actually regret it.
McCOLLOUGH: Yeah. One of our biggest regrets is the name of our company.
McCOLLOUGH: It's like alphabet soup. There are so many letters. Even coming up with a font was a mission. We had to do these fine, little letters. We couldn't do strong, bold letters because it would be, like, out to here.
SEVIGNY: I like the initials P.S. Those are my brother's initials.
McCOLLOUGH: We like P.S., too, but Paul Smith has taken it. It's trademarked.
SEVIGNY: Well, they're beautiful names. And I know you keep your business in the family, because you've been working with my friend Shirley [Cook, Proenza Schouler's CEO], since day one.
McCOLLOUGH: Shirley was a friend of a friend from school. She was working at Helmut Lang doing PR. We started this business and it was just the two of us at the time. We had all these receipts and we didn't know how to file them. Shirley would come over and help us organize the part of running a business that we were clueless about.
HERNANDEZ: Are you good with that kind of stuff?
SEVIGNY: No, terrible.
McCOLLOUGH: Numbers and receipts and budgets.
SEVIGNY: But now Shirley's been dating your brother for years.
McCOLLOUGH: Yeah. They've been together six years.
SEVIGNY: What if they get married?
HERNANDEZ: Or what if they break up? That's even worse. [laughs] If they get married, it's fine. It's still the family.
McCOLLOUGH: It could get messy. But you know, all relationships can potentially get really messy.
HERNANDEZ: Like Jack and I could break up and then what would happen? Hmm.
McCOLLOUGH: Whoa! What are you insinuating? I don't need you. [Hernandez laughs]
SEVIGNY: He can read the menu, but he can't order anything off of it.
HERNANDEZ: Those are all ifs. You gotta just . . .
McCOLLOUGH: . . . move forward.
t’s not about creating a jacket with three sleeves. It’s not about inventing a new silhouette. For us, it’s about surface. We are really interested in the surface more than anything.—Lazaro Hernandez
SEVIGNY: In terms of your business, the production is so big. What is it like having grown so much? Now you're this lifeline to so many people and are in charge of keeping a business afloat. Is there a lot more stress?
McCOLLOUGH: There's definitely more stress. If anything, the biggest stress these days are these pre-collections. They eat up so much of our time. We don't have a design director, so Lazaro and I, for the most part, do everything ourselves on a design level. HERNANDEZ: Like, 90 percent of what you see.
McCOLLOUGH: We just finished this pre-fall collection on Saturday, and we have three weeks to start prepping the show for Fall/Winter.
SEVIGNY: Why do you have to do these mini-collections?
HERNANDEZ: It's the bread and butter.
McCOLLOUGH: Because it's become just a huge part of the business. I think the pre-collections are about 60 percent of the business.
SEVIGNY: Wow. Because they're more commercial?
McCOLLOUGH: They're more commercial, and they're better priced. They ship a month to two months before the collection ships, but they go on sale the same time the collection goes on sale. So, they've got a longer shelf life, so you have better sell-throughs.
HERNANDEZ: Shows these days have become . . .
McCOLLOUGH: . . . couture, in a way. The pre-collections are, like, ready-to-wear.
HERNANDEZ: The shows are more about creativity, or the purity of the brand. For us it's a creative exercise. It's more extreme. Pre-collections are more democratic.
SEVIGNY: So how do you deal with assigning tasks?
HERNANDEZ: We've always been really vocal about the fact that it's a collaboration. Proenza Schouler is not just Jack and myself.
SEVIGNY: But clothing-wise it's just you.
HERNANDEZ: Clothing-wise it's just us two.
SEVIGNY: There are so many designers who farm out their designs.
McCOLLOUGH: Their stylists end up designing the collection, of course. Everyone's process is so different.
HERNANDEZ: It's so interesting to us, "process."
McCOLLOUGH: We're always curious about other people's processes because we started straight out of school. We had some internships along the way, but we never really worked for anybody else. So we just kind of had to make up our process.
SEVIGNY: Does the process change each season?
HERNANDEZ: Not really. The minutiae of the process changes, but I think from an outside perspective, it's pretty standard.
SEVIGNY: What about the initial idea? That must be different each season: A piece of fabric or a painting. A photo or a dress you want to tweak. What is it generally for you?
SEVIGNY: Travel? You mean in terms of the fabrics, the patterns, or the vibes?
HERNANDEZ: Vibes! Vibes! Like our spring collection. We went to India and did all this research and found all these crazy neon colors, and these long saris. We didn't do an Indian collection, but we saw something completely foreign to us, and we took the abstract elements of color, length, the idea of wrapping, this femininity. These ladies look so polished. We want to make something polished. So these random things slowly jump to something concrete.
McCOLLOUGH: Our strongest collections take many abstract ideas and bring them together in a way that hopefully doesn't look specifically like one thing-or something thematic.
SEVIGNY: I remember those dresses based on Cy Twombly.
McCOLLOUGH: That dress you wore, Chloë, to the CFDA. That was ages ago.
HERNANDEZ: That was very Design 101. It was Rothko and Twombly. I think we went to the Moma. That was before we could travel.
McCOLLOUGH: Also Joseph Beuys.
HERNANDEZ: We were in an art phase. But now it's more travel. Like with last spring, we went to Tahiti and that inspired the underwater motif.
McCOLLOUGH: We were in Bora Bora and had an underwater camera. We were snorkeling and just shooting pictures. We're starting to plan another little trip for after the shows.
SEVIGNY: I've noticed that from collection to collection, you flip back and forth between a girly silhouette and a more ladylike polish. How is that dictated?
McCOLLOUGH: That's us being totally schizophrenic. Usually every season, what we do is a complete reaction to the season we did before. We're exploring. Your head gets into a certain world, and when you're done with it, the last thing you want to do is continue in that world.
SEVIGNY: So you never want to do another corset top.
HERNANDEZ: Exactly! [laughs]
McCOLLOUGH: You know it's time to retire when we start referencing our old collections.
SEVIGNY: I've always found that I can wear your stuff from season to season.
McCOLLOUGH: That's what we've always loved about girls like you. You're not going to dress in a head-to-toe total look. You'll take pieces and always wear them in your own way, which is cool for us.
SEVIGNY: So your choices have nothing to do with sales?
McCOLLOUGH: Nothing. If anything, we're anti-sales.
HERNANDEZ: We're really bad about that. We tend to think, "What does my woman want for next season? What does she need? What does her closet lack? What has never crossed her mind?" It's never, "Oh maybe she has enough short skirts made by us, now we need to do longer." That's beside the point.
SEVIGNY: What's the part of designing that you like the most?
McCOLLOUGH: I think the beginning part. The beginning and the end are always the most exciting. Like when we're up at our house sketching our faces off for 12 hours a day for 10 days in a row.
SEVIGNY: What about editing?
McCOLLOUGH: That's where a stylist is the most beneficial, when it's like this . . .
HERNANDEZ: . . . tie-breaker. But what's cool about us, if I want black and Jack wants white, we won't do either. We'll do gray.
SEVIGNY: You have to find a middle ground?
HERNANDEZ: We have to find something in-between what we both want. It's hard. But Proenza Schouler wouldn't look the way it does if it were me by myself or Jack by himself. We do gray because I like white or he likes black. But none of us really likes gray, in a weird, metaphorical way.
SEVIGNY: Do you feel a healthy competitiveness with other designers?
SEVIGNY: Because I love going to parties with you guys and you are friends with Joseph [Altuzzara] and Alex [Wang] and everyone's all pal-sy. For me, as an actress, I could be like, "Please-She got that role? I'm so jealous."
HERNANDEZ: I think in the very beginning when we were trying to break through, we reacted to people who had already broken through a bit with something like, "I hate him!" But now we feel more like there's room for everyone. Everyone does something different. All the young designers now are doing something interesting.
McCOLLOUGH: There can be some crossover in places, absolutely. But for the most part, when people are doing well, they have their own thing going on. Who do you feel competitive with, Chloë?
SEVIGNY: I'm not going to name names! Just like you're not going to name names! But it's not like I'm envious of other actresses. I'm more envious of opportunities. Like, "Oh, I wish I had got that chance." Anyway, to change the subject, you guys don't have ads in magazines.
HERNANDEZ: We do! It just came out today!
SEVIGNY: First one? Because I was going to ask, what would have been your dream ad? But I guess you just created it.
McCOLLOUGH: We just did our dream ad! Willy Vanderperre shot it. It's on these new girls: Melissa Tammerijn and Julia Nobis. Do you want to see? We'll show you. [opens computer]
SEVIGNY: Wow. I know you've done different projects before to accompany the collections, like the film with Harmony Korine. But this is your own vision rather than turning it over to someone. Beautiful! It's a little lesbionic.
McCOLLOUGH: We were looking at old David Hamilton photographs.
SEVIGNY: I love David Hamilton. Speaking of accessories and footwear, I think you guys should make a practical boot for winter.
McCOLLOUGH: We just did one!
SEVIGNY: Because I see all these girls walking around and I was going to ask what you would recommend. I have these Sorels and they're cute, but I feel like a Hobbit. [Hernandez and McCollough laugh] I can never find a boot that is actually functional in the snowy New York streets. Someone's gotta do it, and you're the ones to do it! I'm talking about really practical.
McCOLLOUGH: Yeah, we can do a version.
SEVIGNY: Because I find your clothes more wearable than a lot of other designers. It's just easy.
McCOLLOUGH: Yeah, there aren't three-sleeved pieces.
HERNANDEZ: For us it's not about creating a jacket with three sleeves. It's not about inventing a new silhouette. For us, it's about surface. We are really interested in the surface more than anything. That's what feels relevant to us-like developing textiles, the two-dimensional aspect of things. We find that interesting.
McCOLLOUGH: That's our biggest thing right now. We develop all of our fabrics from scratch. We're really off embroideries. We're much more into developing these textiles. You can do anything lately.
SEVIGNY: You always go back to fluorescents. Is it an influence from rave culture or Body Glove, or simply being a child of the '80s? We were just bright and happy people. [laughs]
McCOLLOUGH: I think all those colors are super-nostalgic of our childhood.
SEVIGNY: I want to see you incorporate more Grateful Dead styles.
McCOLLOUGH: I know! We've toyed around with going there.
SEVIGNY: Or even more ethnic, Guatemalan-type things.
McCOLLOUGH: We're exploring Liberty prints, but a different take on them.
HERNANDEZ: They're all based on these blankets that we found. We just came from the Southwest.
McCOLLOUGH: We did a 10-day road trip.
HERNANDEZ: The next show will be based on this trip we took. We went researching Native American cultures-Navajo Nation-and we went to Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico.
SEVIGNY: You just got in a car and drove around?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah. We went to Wyoming; we went to Yellowstone.
SEVIGNY: How do you take these long trips when you have all these pre-collections?
McCOLLOUGH: We gotta do it. We'd go insane if we didn't step back.
HERNANDEZ: It's part of the process. People say New York is really inspiring and stuff, but for us, New York is a place to get shit done. Leaving the city and exploring things outside of the city is really inspiring.
McCOLLOUGH: We go upstate and sketch these collections. There are no phones ringing. There's no internet really. We're just in our heads and we can actually think. But you get time off too, don't you?
SEVIGNY: Now I have time off.
McCOLLOUGH: I'm envious of actors. You shoot a movie or you do a season of Big Love, and then you're on hiatus and you have a bunch of free time.
SEVIGNY: Then you get busy with other movies. Plus I don't have any friends with money to travel. Although me and Natasha [Lyonne] were thinking of going to Machu Picchu.
HERNANDEZ: I would love to go to Machu Picchu.
SEVIGNY: The biggest life-changing trips for me have been when I almost lost my life. Like my brother and I went on a sailing trip and I almost died. Or we went camping and I almost got stuck on the mountain. I want to learn some survival skills. I'm thinking about doing Outward Bound.
McCOLLOUGH: I did Outward Bound! When I was a kid.
SEVIGNY: I knew you had a little wasp-y childhood. [all laugh] Usually, Outward Bound was for the delinquents, which I'm assuming you were a little bit.
McCOLLOUGH: A little bit of a delinquent. A little bit. I was sent away on Outward Bound in the ninth grade. It was to the [Great] Smoky Mountains. My solo was three days long. They don't even give you a proper tent. You just have a tarp that you have to drape across two trees. And you have, like, a bag of nuts and raisins. When my mom picked me up from the airport she was crying because I was so skinny.
SEVIGNY: That might be a good weight-loss program.
McCOLLOUGH: [laughs] Yeah, it's the amazing, amazing weight-loss program.
SEVIGNY: Do you guys have green thumbs because of your place upstate?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, a flower and vegetable garden. We have a farm, with animals, and they're sheared every year. We were talking the other day about how it would be cool to take that wool and spin it into yarn and make sweaters. We've been thinking about that lately-something a little more local.
McCOLLOUGH: Because we're not in this forever. We're not going to have the longevity of Karl Lagerfeld, who's doing this stuff at his age.
SEVIGNY: Never say never.
HERNANDEZ: We respect people who have the stamina.
SEVIGNY: So are you going to become like Helmut Lang and do fine art?
McCOLLOUGH: His career is kind of genius.
HERNANDEZ: Helmut Lang's our hero.
McCOLLOUGH: He stopped at his peak, you know?
SEVIGNY: But that wasn't exactly because he wanted to.
HERNANDEZ: I think, probably, in retrospect, that served him well. For our generation, he's like god. He stepped down and left everyone wanting more.
SEVIGNY: I have to say, one of the things I like about your clothes is that they aren't too girly. That's why I like your ps1 bag. There's a tougher school-girl sense to it.
HERNANDEZ: It's based on a boy's bag. We tend to respond a lot to men's clothes. We might prefer a jacket to a dress. You give us a piece of chiffon, we're like . . .
SEVIGNY: [laughs] Well, the chiffon pieces in the ads are beautiful.
HERNANDEZ: We're getting a little bit more comfortable with it. Give us a heavy piece of wool.
McCOLLOUGH: It's because we're so drawing based. It's easier to draw something flat and two-dimensional than something softer and flowing.
SEVIGNY: Whose drawings are these? [Sevigny picks up drawings on the table]
HERNANDEZ: That's Jack's. That's mine.
SEVIGNY: It looks like the same person drew these.
McCOLLOUGH: We draw very similarly.
HERNANDEZ: That's Jack's. That's mine. That's mine; Jack's; mine; Jack's. Do you know how you can tell? My drawings look right, his look left. Because he's right-handed and I'm left-handed.
Click here to see the Fall/Winter 2011 collection.
Chloë Sevigny is an Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress and a fashion designer. She can currently be seen on the HBO series Big Love.