On an oppressively humid evening in July, Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, the designers behind Proenza Schouler, were discussing the future of a cactus. The question at hand was where the spiky cylindrical blob should go inside their first retail store, located on the fashion gold coast of Manhattan’s upper Madison Avenue. Designed by the British architect David Adjaye, the boutique was set to have its grand opening the following morning, marking the most assertive commercial leap yet for a company that has quickly grown into one of the most distinguished American fashion brands. McCollough and Hernandez, both 34, had been in the store most of the day, tasking themselves with the sort of menial jobs most professionals of their stature prefer to outsource to a team of minions: unpacking boxes, hanging clothes, assessing the placement of clothes, reassessing said placements. Now all that remained was finding the ideal home for the cactus, which was proving to be a challenge.
“Maybe it should go here?” McCollough asked.
McCollough and Hernandez still manage to project an almost wide-eyed curiosity that’s all the more refreshing given that this year marks their 10th in an industry that often can be tinged with cynicism. As Chloë Sevigny, a longtime friend, puts it: “A lot of designers are really intimidating. But Jack and Lazaro? Whenever I see them, which is typically at some kind of event where I’m inherently nervous and uncomfortable, I want to be around them—the same way I want to be in their clothes. You feel good, you feel cared for, you feel beautiful, you feel powerful.”
McCollough and Hernandez have been united, as a couple in life as well as in business, since they met as students at New York’s Parsons School of Design—and thus operate as single organism, finishing each other’s sentences and reaching decisions through a kind of osmosis that is as charming as it is mysterious. For instance, if you were to sneak into their Massachusetts farmhouse, where they hole up a few times a year to sketch their collections, you would encounter an exchange similar to the cactus debate: the two of them seated with their drawings at a large table, having a back-and-forth in which the tiniest of details—button sizes, the length of an inseam, fabric finishes—are dwelled on for hours. It is not so much that they are masochistic perfectionists (though they are) but that their definition of perfection is perpetually in flux.
“Yes, on some level I recognize that we’ve become professionals, but we don’t feel that way, you know?” explained McCollough. The more introspective of the two, he was dressed that evening in jeans and a T-shirt, a variation on the ironic preppie theme they both favor. With numerous tattoos covering his arms, he looks like a rebellious kid from a conservative household, which happens to be how McCollough grew up, in New Jersey, the son of a banker and a stay-at-home mom. “Hell, the last thing we want,” he added, “is to feel like professionals. That’s so boring.”