• Proenza Schouler •
About this issue
When Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough first approached me about contributing to this volume, they said with real excitement and a smidge of pride that they were the first American designers to have been given the guest editorship of A Magazine. I remember thinking two things:
(1) Terrific and well-deserved, because there is no question that Proenza Schouler, the label they founded in 2002, has both brilliantly articulated a way of dressing that is relevant to its times while always challenging its designers to go farther and further in their aesthetic aspirations. Lazaro and Jack know well who they are (this is evident in the provocative fashion portfolios that follow which, although produced by a wide range of talented photographers and stylists, consistently say Proenza Schouler) and, I think, also have an inkling of who they are rather thoughtfully becoming.
(2) First American designers? This matters to them? Really??
When we speak of identity, in the world of fashion in particular, nationalism has long been a discredited and outdated template. There was a time – maybe 20 years ago, maybe longer – when one spoke of Belgian designers, a certain idea of a look and business came to mind, ditto the Japanese, the French, the Italians, the Brits. The Americans, of course, worked conceptually and often physically in the shadow of Seventh Avenue, with all that geographic reference implied: wearable sportswear, diffused from Paris party clothes and a can-do commerciality. The truth, of course, was far more varied and subtle than that – Geoffrey Beene, Isabel Toledo and Marc Jacobs, to list only a few – but the concept of a national character in the matter of design persisted regardless.
But this is not the style world that Proenza Schouler was established within. By the time Jack and Lazaro were possibly in junior high, everything had changed. Helmut Lang had set up to New York; Jacobs, Michael Kors and Narciso Rodriguez were working in Europe; somewhere in Hollywood, Rick Owens was distressing leather jackets and starting a journey that would bring him to Paris. What defined an American designer? Lord knows. Certainly not the business of production, which was shifting inevitably and irrevocably overseas; or the business of image-making, which more often than not fell to an international cast of editors and photographers.
When the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Prize was launched in 2004 – to help emerging American-based designers grow and secure their businesses through funding and mentoring by industry leaders – it was, therefore, almost a radical intervention and a distinctly nationalistic one. The objective was to ensure the vitality of the New York fashion scene, and the first winner was Proenza Schouler. As a judge for that prize, I remember the clarity and vision Lazaro and Jack showed at the outset of their careers. Sure they made clothes that spoke with an “American” voice – trousers cut straight like jeans, piped tank tops and (later) baseball jackets – but there was nothing local about what they were up to in terms of look or make. The judging panel understood this and offered them a year’s mentorship with Rosemary Bravo, then at Burberry. So they were fortunate enough to seek the advice of an American working at a British company, who would help them to source production abroad, undertake strategic projects and consultancies with American and Italian companies, and eventually court and acquire European funding. They won a domestic award that gave them global access.
Here’s the point: we are at a time when designers, particularly younger designers whose brands have emerged in this decade, rightly see themselves as part of a fluid international community that speaks to each other across the borders and boundaries of statehood.
And yet we have been gifted with this volume that is pronouncedly American, from its invocation of Abraham Lincoln to its rapturous appreciation of Donald Judd’s Marfa and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. There are Roe Etheridge’s darkly compelling images of the designers’ farm in the Berkshires which offer a vision of transcendental grace. There is an exploration of the canonical works of Land Art created in this country in the last half century. In these pages, the jaw-dropping majesty of the American landscape is celebrated unironically and yet without cliché.
What is so special, and so unexpected, is that Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough have chosen to take their American-ness, this national designation, as an asset, a resource, something that does not dictate their identity as designers but instead enhances it. Like the land artists they so admire, they are looking at their country with resourceful, refined eyes. And they know that fashion is, of course, an incursion onto a landscape, sometimes transient, sometimes permanent, and that the mere truth of that carries with it enormous responsibility and glorious opportunity. Read on.