Believe the Hype: Proenza Schouler’s New Venture in Streetwear
This week, Proenza Schouler’s brand-new extension line lands in stores. PSWL (Proenza Schouler White Label) has been billed as “elevated basics"—updated takes on jeans, tees, sweats, and rain gear. Its inaugural offering debuted with a series of images starring longtime PS muse Chloë Sevigny, photographed by her boyfriend, director Ricky Saiz.
“It started to feel wrong to us that we weren’t exploring these types of garments within the context of the collection,” designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez told Vogue. “We’ve always wanted to be a one-stop shopping destination for those who respond to the work we do, and without offering this other end of the spectrum as part of their shopping experience, it somehow, to us at least, felt incomplete. With PSWL we hope to have solved that.” Re-thinking established practices and finding new solutions has been the name of Proenza’s game this year.
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Most luxury labels produce four collections per year: fall, spring, resort (sometimes called “cruise”), and pre-fall. The latter two seasons are known as pre-collections. Unlike fall and spring, these offerings aren’t usually presented in a runway show. (Although, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, and Dior have recently tried one-upping each other with blockbuster pre-collection outings). While fall and spring collections arguably have more visibility, it’s these commercially minded pre-collections that sit on shop floors the longest, and make brands the most money.
Earlier this year, Proenza announced plans to consolidate mainline production, scrapping pre-collections. The brand will now work on two concepts each year, fall and spring, that will arrive in stores earlier and stay longer. “The biggest reason we wanted to do the calendar shift on a creative level was that we're pouring our heart and soul into these show collections, but then they deliver and sit on the floor for three or four weeks, then they go on sale,” McCullough told Business of Fashion. “The pre-collection is delivering and sitting on the floor for three or four months.”
This decision presented another issue: fall and spring must be shown in alignment with these new delivery dates. The solution? Present not in its longtime home, New York, but earlier, in Paris, on the couture calendar. Proenza isn’t haute couture, but the label’s emphasis on construction techniques and custom textile development isn’t terribly out-of-step with the highly specialized craftsmanship couture involves. Paris affords the duo access to some of the world’s best ateliers and artisans, as well as the league of elite editors, buyers, and clientele couture shows attract.
However, Proenza is not the first brand to experiment with scheduling shifts. In early 2016, Public School announced that it would not only combine its men’s and womenswear shows on a gender-unified runway (a verdict Burberry, Gucci, and Vetements reached, too), but present this work off the NYFW schedule, in closer alignment with the men’s calendar. The idea: “Collection 1,” to be presented in January, would unite resort and spring. “Collection 2,” to be presented in June, would unite pre-fall and fall.
Production and show shifts seem to be works in progress, though. In September, during NYFW, Public School presented a Spring 2018 collection of exclusively womenswear looks. Presumably, a men’s collection will follow in January. It might be a little messy, but brands are indeed taking steps to determine what is best for their designers, their teams, and their customers.
To that point: what of PSWL? Some—including Nicole Phelps, who broke the news—see a basics extension as “a bit late to the party.” Sure, but I think it’s quite a smart move. Eliminating pre-collections allows Hernandez and McCullough to focus their time and resources on developing mainline collections and concepts. PSWL (which, as we’ll touch on later, has a looser, more collaborative philosophy) supplements that pre-collection revenue. Isn’t the market saturated with upscale jeans and tees? Yes. But if you’re a faithful Proenza customer (of which there are many) you want Proenza’s take, you want Proenza’s fit.
With a new CEO (Judd Crane, formerly director of womenswear and accessories at Selfridges) and a much-hyped perfume set to launch in 2018, both PSWL and Paris seem like a smart, logical moves for Proenza, now 15-years-old. And yet, I can’t help but feel a little heartsick that Proenza isn’t showing in New York anymore (even if its designers still live and work here). Altuzarra and Thom Browne recently decamped for Paris, too. But something about Proenza’s absence is more of a blow to New York fashion. Perhaps because these people are our people.
Hernandez and McCullough met the night before their first day at Parsons, at a club in SoHo. “Only to later find that they were not just classmates, but enrolled in the exact same schedule,” explains Pret-a-Reporter. The duo began dating in their junior year, and boldly broke from Parsons tradition when they created a collaborative senior thesis collection. "Whether it was the color of a car on the street or a detail in an exhibition, we just saw the same stuff in the same way. Because of that, our work was becoming similar and so it made sense for us to join forces and present a single collection," McCullough told British Vogue.
Hernandez, then a Michael Kors intern, had access to surplus fabrics from the designer’s sample room. McCullough made critical factory contacts as a Marc Jacobs intern. “You're supposed to make all of your own garments, but we sort of outsourced,” Hernandez confessed. “The teachers didn't know but some of the students did and there was a little drama. They all hated us!” (Especially considering the duo put together a 16-look range, rather than the eight looks solo-students present). Despite the drama, they graduated with Designer of the Year.
Hernandez and McCullough even tried to work for another company as a collective brain. Like an infinitely more glamorous version of that Always Sunny episode where Mac and Charlie join forces for a mailroom job, the duo applied for a senior designer opening at Narciso Rodriguez. "Narciso said, 'I don't understand. I have to hire both you guys?' And we said, 'Yes, but two salaries. We're like one very expensive person.' We knew then that getting a job wouldn't work.” Good thing Julie Gilhart famously bought their entire Parsons thesis collection for Barney’s the following year.
Since then, Proenza has grown tremendously as a global business. Hernandez and McCullough nabbed the Swarovski Award for Ready-to-Wear in 2003, the year Proenza officially landed at Barneys, and the inaugural CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund award in 2004. They picked up their first CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year in 2007, the same year the Valentino Fashion Group bought a 45% stake in Proenza Schouler. By 2009, they’d introduced a shoe line (licensed through Giuseppe Zanotti), launched their first handbag, the PS1 (an anti-it bag that immediately became an it-bag), and earned a CFDA Accessory Designer of the Year Award for their troubles.
All the while, Proenza never sacrificed its authentic art world cool or its unique sense of humor. Collections inspired by Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Joseph Beuys, and Helen Frankenthaler have been presented in iconic venues including the Whitney Museum. Runway shows often feature fresh music choices—from Washed Out’s breezy bedroom pop to The Fly Girlz’s little-known banger “Born 2 B Fly.” In 2010, Hernandez and McCullough teamed with Harmony Korine, a provocative iconoclast, to create their first-ever fashion film, “Act Da Fool”. Following this film came Jeanette Hayes’s “Pretty, Paid, Proenza,” a video spliced with Spongebob and Simpsons clips, soundtracked by rapper Katie Got Bandz. Another, “Desert Tide,” features Proenza-clad GIF girls dancing next to a purple dolphin jumping out of a crater. The brand has pursued some daring artistic collaborations.
Proenza’s visual direction has taken a different path in the past five years. These days, its go-to video collaborators are Harley Weir and Jen Brill, who have created a series of playful and poetic films like “Legs Are Not Doors,” “PS I Love You (Ithigi Lithigove Yithigou)”, and a benefit project for Planned Parenthood.
Whether it’s Weir’s dreamy sequences or Korine’s nightmarish visions, there is a kind of creative trust embedded in Proenza (itself a collaborative union, after all). This strand of its DNA is what’s shaping PSWL. “We have things coming up with Marc Hundley, Mark Gonzales, Jen Brill, and Chloë, among others,” the designers tell Vogue. “It’s more of a creative dialogue with the different people in our life, rather than an introspective and totally personal exercise as the runway collections can sometimes be. The entire thing is less precious, more casual, and freer.”
This spirit is also what feels the most New York. Though the duo has long outgrown the New-York-wunderkind narrative that seems to follow them (so has Alexander Wang, who launched his line seven years after PS, for that matter!) there is something to be said for the independent spirit and community they cultivate. “Maybe it's not forever,” Hernandez said of showing in Paris. “We might do that for a couple of seasons, come back to New York, who knows?” Here’s hoping.