Too some extent the Second World War invented the American luxury fashion industry. Right up until the occupation of Paris the world had unquestioningly accepted the French capital’s supremacy on all matters of fashion. The 1940’s American fashion press greeted the news that the Germans had occupied Paris and that all travel and trade routes were closed with more hysteria about who would dictate next season’s hemlines than concern for the fate of the citoyens of France.
Of course, drastic times required drastic solutions and, God forbid, the American fashion elite of New York and Hollywood were even going to have to look to home-grown talent for solutions. With this as the context and other contributing factors – such as all production of luxury materials being diverted towards military production- the seeds of the American fashion scene as we know it today were sown.
Looking to qualities such as practicality, honesty of simple materials and garments that were appropriate to American outdoorsy pursuits or the more democratic orientation of social structures than in the class-ridden old countries, there was a new divergence from the traditional European edicts of fashion. Even heavyweight doyennes of style, such as Diana Vreeland, who had cut their teeth on a European notion of fashion, threw their full weight behind the newly confident American visions of what fashion might be.
And, it is against this backdrop that all American luxury fashion stories have played out since the end of World War II; the history that each American designer rising to prominence on the international stage since willingly or unwillingly carries with him or her.
This lineage is fairly self-evident in all of those successes. They have all had to walk a careful line between confidently proclaiming their independence as an autonomous American vision of fashion whilst, ironically, always having to be acutely aware of the traditional European fashion capitals’ perception of their work, least of all if they were to convince the discerning consumer at home that they are genuinely producing ‘high fashion’. A number of notable successes in ‘high fashion’ in the 1970’s, for example, actually upgraded the value of their overall output internationally through their initial successes achieved in casual wear, partly using this very aspect to secure the admiration of Europeans -beleaguered by the weight of their own history- for the freshness of their work.
The American market through its sheer wealth and size might be a lucrative one but it’s true to say that the opportunities for American designers to emerge as key players in that tiny group of designers that constitute the elite of high-profile international luxury fashion remain challenging. It is a situation in which, on the surface at least, the blunt instrument of economic power is not enough to ensure the accolades of the fashion cognoscenti. There is space in each generation for only a few. And Lazaro Hernandez and Jack McCollough, the designing forces behind Proenza Schouler, are the latest admissions to that most exclusive of clubs.
Interview’s Spring 2011 fashion issue sees Chloë Sevigny visit the boys behind Proenza Schouler in their SoHo studio and question them about all manner of things. The unfolding article provides not only an informative recap of how they came to work together and set up the brand but also an intimate insight into their working process as one of the USA’s most prominent and closely observed luxury womenswear labels on the international scene today. It is accompanied by Craig McDean’s photos, styled by Karl Templer, that give both a portrait of the boys and their SS11 collection.