WWD CEO Summit: Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough

Proenza Schouler's designers talked about their decade in fashion and their talent for finding the right partners, both creative and financial.

WWD: When you started it was Valentino and then it was sold to Permira.
Yeah, it was a great relationship, but we got to the point a year or two ago where we were ready for investors who were here and who we could have the day-to-day with. With Permira being over in Italy, there was a bit too much separation. We were also interested in people who were on a completely other side of the business.
L.H.: Permira is a huge private-equity firm. When we signed on with Valentino, it was different ownership, and soon it was sold to this big private-equity firm. We were this fledgling fashion brand, they were like, “Who the hell are you guys? You’re in America.” There wasn’t this intimacy. Like Jack said, they helped us incredibly with Italian luxury manufacturing, which we had a hard time with. We were producing everything in New York at the time. Now 50 percent of our ready-to-wear is produced in Italy and 100 percent of our leather goods. That stemmed from that relationship.

WWD: Andrew Rosen has been in the business so long and knows it so well.
That’s when we started talking to Andrew and John Howard. Both have been so supportive and understand what we’re trying to do. We see Andrew all the time. He comes to see us, and we talk to him about what’s working. Now we have a board, which is the weirdest thing for us. We have a boardroom. We’re lucky to have Rose Marie Bravo. For those who don’t know, she was the ceo of Burberry for many years, and now she’s the head of our board.
J.M.: She turned Burberry from an umbrella and trenchcoat business to what it is today.

WWD: Let’s go back to fashion. We all know New York Fashion Week is extremely long and has its peaks and valleys. Your show has become one of the absolute editorial highlights, and you have increasingly pushed the editorial quotient, the fashion quotient. You’ve put to me in the context that now you have pre-collections that allow you to push the runway. Talk about that.
Before we didn’t have these pre-collections, and we didn’t have a commercial collection. We didn’t have the funds to develop these huge collections, so what we showed on the runway was what you were able to buy. We had to stay commercial in a way on a show level. We couldn’t push it too far so it could be salable. But it was pushed a little too far so it wasn’t all entirely commercial. Now as we develop the business, now that we have more funding, we can be more editorial, create the mood and have commercial collections to fuel the business.


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WWD: Psychologically for you as designers, what does it mean for you to have that separation, to have that outlet to do what you do on the runway?
It’s why we started to do what we’re doing. We went to art school, we were art kids. Fashion was a creative outlet, and we approached it as such in the beginning. It was only a couple of years into it we were like, “Oh, this is a business, too.” That became very important to us, and the whole pre-collection thing — every designer hates pre-collections. First of all, there’s no time. But at the end of the day, it’s a blessing in a way. Pre-collections have become a commercial endeavor. It’s based on sales. We work closely with merchandising. The shows allow us to dream and let us do what we do we do best. For us fashion is not just a business. It’s a dream. It’s a fantasy. It’s creativity.

WWD: It seems to me that all the brand building, and that idea doesn’t get in the forefront enough or get talked about enough. Ultimately, nobody needs any of it, so you have to sell that idea, that it is a dream.
People have a lot of what they need already. We’re in the business of inspiring people. Someone coming into our store, yeah, they have a million jackets, but this jacket speaks to them. It takes them to a place where they can dream. It’s an emotional thing.

WWD: A great deal of the fashion for you is on the surface. You have become virtually obsessed with fabric, and I know you develop all of your runway fabric in-house.
In the last couple years we’ve been obsessed with new fabrics, new textiles, things that don’t already exist, that are created from scratch. Especially in a day where things are getting knocked off left and right, it’s interesting to us that you can’t just buy it off a header. We have a couple of mills in the Como area of Italy, and we work with them on fabrics. We’ll say, “We like these yarns, but let’s put leather through it and photo-print it.” We’re obsessed with 2-D texture and innovation. It’s how we move these collections forward.
L.H.: At the end of the day, the human body has two arms, two legs and a torso. A lot of the shapes that can be worn have already been created. It’s not about three sleeves or three pant legs or anything like that. For us, it’s about the surface. That’s what the future of fashion is. It’s technology. How do we use technology to create new fashion? We found all these mills are upping their technological possibilities tenfold every year. We can create novel texture to create basically simple clothes out of.
J.M.: At the same time, we’re really interested in craft and old techniques. Like, last season we got this plasticized leather and sent it over to Madagascar and it was hand-crocheted together.

WWD: There are so many iterations of technology, so many areas of marketing. For your last collection, you referenced the randomness of the Internet. Talk about that.
I don’t know. We were just getting really into Twitter and Facebook. We got a stat yesterday that we’re the number-nine fashion company in the world with Twitter followers, out of all the Burberrys and Versaces out there. We’re the only sort of not-big-advertiser.

WWD: Do you do Twitter yourselves?
We have someone on staff. We’re too busy.
L.H.: I think you have to be in your 20s. We hired someone who’s, like, 20 years old to do it. She’s very savvy.


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