Monday, February 12, 2007

Let them eat Target: The high-low shows of Proenza Schouler

Of course I wanted to see the Proenza Schouler show. Who wouldn't? That's the hybrid label of Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. Both 28 and in business for just five years, already their show is one of New York Fashion Week's hottest tickets - rendered even hotter this season by virtue of their new deal with Target.

I had read about but not personally witnessed the sales floor frenzies that have erupted on every occasion that so-called "fast" fashion retailer H&M recently launched a collection tie-in with a big design name such as Karl Lagerfeld or Viktor & Rolf. Released simultaneously in a number of stores, the merchandise reportedly evaporated within hours. It's a scenario that is sure to be played out in April once Britain's TopShop unveils its Kate Moss collaboration - and of course potentially also next month in Australia, once Target Australia unveils its just-announced tie-in with Stella McCartney.

But I managed to see the Proenza Schouler for Target hysteria in situ. Tagging along with a mate - Melbourne-born, Tokyo-based Vogue Nippon international fashion coordinator Leeyong Soo - I trekked down to SoHo store Opening Ceremony on fashion week's first weekend. The store was having a preview of the PS for Target range a few days before it went into wide Target release. And I can report that it was pure pandemonium. You would have thought these people were starving refugees getting food drops from an aid agency, so voraciously were they crawling over the racks and grabbing armfuls of merchandise: stripey long-sleeved Ts, rope-print singlets, purple palm-print totes and cotton sundresses with embroidered bodices. The designs were cute. The prices, even cuter: US$39.99 apiece for a sundress and tote and US$16.99 for a long-sleeved T. Sources say 10,000 units were sold over the three-day preview

"If this was in Tokyo I wouldn't normally be buying this - I don't normally pay more than $5 for anything" confessed Leeyong, a vintage flea market hound, part-time fashion designer (who has just launched a new label called new Fourth Daughter) and dead ringer for a young Faye Dunaway. "It's just the fervour of it all".

Eventually overwhelmed by the same fervour, I purchase three items.

A couple of days later, there I am outside the Proenza Schouler show proper. It's off-schedule and they are about to close the doors. And of the myriad shows I try to catch all week, as it turns out, this is the only one I don't manage to crack. And I'm not alone it seems. When the glass doors shut and then rudely (although I am later told it is specifically for the purpose of lighting), screens suddenly come down, a dozen or so media reps are left outside in the foyer straining to catch a glimpse of the show through a chink in the blinds - and whinging. They include representatives of London's Independent newspaper, a well-known New York fashion writer who walked away from the venue, I am told, "in tears - because she knows them personally" and a female television journalist who is doing a Proenza Schouler feature. Although backstage beforehand filming what are called "first looks" (first outfits), this presenter found herself barred from seeing the show.

The show finishes. The lights and screens come up. The doors swing open. I step inside, collect a program and head backstage where the designers are in the middle of a series of pre-organised interviews - including one by the same female anchor who had been snubbed from a personal view of the show. While she may not have been, clearly all her free publicity is warmly welcomed.

"What am I supposed to say if they ask, 'What did you think of the collection?'" she asks one of the PR reps. No reply.

I crash the interview line and score a chit-chat. Frankly, if I had a choice between seeing the season's 'high' PS show and getting the one-on-one here - or make that one-on-two - I'd take the interview.

Here's what Jack n' Laz had to say:

Now look I'm sorry I didn't see the collection - sadly your PR flacks wouldn't let me in. What was the design impetus?
Hernandez: We were just kind of interested in the idea of warmth and the idea of things that felt just cozy and warm and Fall-like. And we were looking to find a hook for that feeling and we were looking to the world of interiors and the idea of these cozy, amazing, beautiful rich homes. And then a lot of wallpapers, and the idea of the damask came from that. And a lot of the fabrics were kind of inspired by upholstery fabrics actually.

Just looking at the show notes, even before I heard you say the term 'high-low' in the interviews you've just been doing here, I noticed that you used crocodile and also Swarovski crystal in the collection and I planned to ask you about the 'high-low' concept. It's interesting because of course you've just done this line with Target.
McCollough: Yeah, we kind of knew that that was coming out too right around now, it just came out a couple of days ago. That's more the low end of the spectrum. So it was kind of nice to do something the complete opposite to kind of show our diversity.

What does it represent to a young label to be able to score a deal like that with a major distribution outlet like Target?
McCollough: It's great. We're a small company so we obviously have no money for advertising. So that's a really great way to get your name out there, to really expose you to different markets where they haven't seen you. Especially now that we're about to launch a lot more accessories and develop the line in different areas.

Hernandez: But it's also within our spirit, you know? The whole idea of high-low as we said before, it's something that we feel really comfortable with, we feel really comfortable with like wearing like a baggy, kind of dirty T-shirt with long sleeves under a croc trench, like that's cooler with your boyfriend's pants. Those contradictions and that feeling is kind of what we're about.

But you could do your own diffusion line.
Hernandez: We could totally do that but we don't have the budget to do that yet.

McCollough: We want to wait a little longer, expand our collection line..

Hernandez: It's either producing a hundred jackets as opposed to like 10 thousand jackets.

What's the hardest thing about being a new brand in the American market and trying to break through? You've done it very quickly in four/five years.
McCollough: I don't know what the hardest thing is... it's just like, running a business in general. No matter what you're doing, it's difficult to kind of keep it going. As I said it's great to like get our name out there. It's great exposure. For a small company you don't really have options to kind of expose yourself in such a high magnitude, which someone like Target can do.

Hernandez: That's our biggest challenge. Like for us as designers, we're creative people. But the reality is it's also a business. So how do you balance the creativity with the business side of things? So that's always the toughest thing. And thank God we have a great business person who works with us so it's really split down the middle, so we can really focus on just creating.

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