The Proenza boys, as the industry has dubbed them, are the brightest lights of a batch of downtown designers that emerged over a decade ago. They make cool clothes. And sometimes – often, in fact – they produce the kind of collection you would normally see on the runway in Paris; one that’s innovative and exciting to watch. It’s what keeps them at the forefront of their generation. Last night’s show at the Whitney Museum further cemented that reputation.
Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez said they had been looking at the work of abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler. They described her paintings as ‘instinctual, not overthought, left raw’, that same kind of spontaneous feeling they wanted to filter through their collection. So the edges of a tweed suit were left frayed. Layers of needle-punched chiffon gave coats a paintbrush-stroke outline. Collars and skirts came sliced in long flapping panels (they had a brilliant name for them: 'car wash' skirts).
Their big obsession this season was with surface texture, largely inspired by the felted sculptures of Robert Morris – recognisable here in robust tweed, big bubbly sheepskin and tightly-curled Astrakhan fur. They also name-checked the artist Ellsworth Kelly for stiff canvas-like calfskin coats and Jackson Pollock for random squiggly print skirts – these were worn with sliced-away bandage dresses over the top, clasping the body and exaggerating long, lean silhouettes. Some of these bandage dresses were covered in sequins – 300,000 sequins to be precise – that resembled sea urchins.
Finally, they let rip with dresses that came purely from their imagination – no art reference here, just ‘a kind of tribal spirit’ – with fronds of frizzy fur sprouting from shoulders and metal grommets running down the skirts.
The Proenza boys worked down to the wire with this collection, with pieces arriving from Italy (where some of their collection is manufactured) at the last minute. And it showed, in a good way. Their collection had all the spontaneous energy of the art they so admire. They took risks and it paid off, and New York Fashion Week was all the better for it.