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Proenza Schouler: Offline Fashion Hackers

We revisit our interview with the off-the-grid design duo ahead of their AW14 show tonight

Stay up late with us on Wednesday 12th as we exclusively live stream the Proenza Schouler AW14 show from New York Fashion Week:

Proenza Schouler are the hackers of fashion. In previous seasons the design duo Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez have forced leather through photo-printing machines and acid-dipped embroidery to create lace. Season after season they continue to innovate textiles, ever-expanding our notions of the futuristic. But in a world where daily life itself is a whirlwind of beeping, shiny interfaces screaming for attention, how does one also make room for technology in our closets? McCollough and Hernandez believe that the strive for innovation and new technology takes its toll just like any other magic - and unplugging is a necessary part of the spell. 

Dazed Digital: Why use technology in the name of fashion?

Lazaro Hernandez: The human body has a torso, two arms and two legs, which in terms of silhouette and shape, is pretty limited. But what you can do with fabric; that’s where technology and computers have really opened a whole new world to what is possible. We’ve been creating these futuristic, experimental textiles with factories and manufacturers who work on an industrial level - cars or parts for spaceships - which you’ll see this season. While we’re always seeking new people to create new materials with, we still create pretty classic silhouettes in understandable proportions.

DD: What do these industrial, non-fashion companies make of you?

Jack McCollough: We’ve found that a lot of these companies we go to, their specialty is not in fashion. Whenever we come to them with a project, they're always really fascinated and psyched because it’s out of their world, and we’re coming to them with a new process they’re not used to working with.

Hernandez: So usually when we reach out to these people that don’t work in fashion, they welcome us with open arms...other times they tell us to “Go the hell away!”

“How much more connected do we all want to be? How much more information do we want to be fed?”

DD: Do these novel technological processes end up leading the design of a collection?

McCollough: We see technology as another medium and that definitely influences how we approach our collections. While we’re constantly exploring new techniques, using different types of finishings or fabric manipulation to push the bar and push ourselves, we also love the idea of taking old craft and heritage techniques and mixing them together to create things that don't look futuristic in the end.

DD: Why? Is looking ‘futuristic’ a bad thing?

McCollough At the end of the day, we’re creating high-end womenswear and we don’t want a woman to get lost. Sometimes when you get too wrapped up in all the technology and pushing boundaries as far as you can, clothes end up feeling too hard and heavy. Maybe it’s interesting on a visual level, but does anyone really want to wear that? It’s that balance we’re constantly trying to find, trying to push ourselves, yet not losing touch or sight with who the girl is and what she wants.

DD: Everyone’s been talking about 3D printing this year- do you guys plan to use it?

Hernandez: 3D printing technology is accelerating and it’s pretty...wild. I was reading an article in the Times the other day about a 3D printer that could print living tissue!

McCollough: We’ve used 3D printing for a while now, especially with shoes, printing out heel shapes and making adjustments to moulds for mass production. But on a clothing level we’ve never explored it.

Hernandez: The limitation with 3D printing right now is that you can only print out solid structures. It’s still a little premature to print soft things like fabric, and pushing that sort of technology would work more for our purposes.

“We sometimes have these trips really far away, where there’s no technology and that’s usually the most inspiring thing for us, to disconnect”

DD: So you’re not the typical technophiles, then?

Hernandez: There's something overboard about technology when it takes over your life, like when you see people at museums and they don’t look up. They end up just experiencing their phones. We like technology to suit our purposes, to push boundaries, but we don't want to be consumed by it or be plugged in all the time. We sometimes have these trips really far away, where there’s no technology and that’s usually the most inspiring thing for us, to disconnect. That’s the balance; knowing what’s going on and being able to push what’s possible in today’s world, and at the same time to stop and go back to things that are true.

DD: Could there be something true about technology that nature could never be? 

Hernandez: How we can all stay connected to each other. Communication has been completely revolutionized and we totally embrace that. But you can’t lose sight of other things that are equally important. Like going on a hike.

McCollough: ...and humanity.

DD: Do you personally perceive yourselves as wired-in people? 

McCollough: Lazaro’s a little more than I am. I’m not on Instagram or anything like that, but our company is. All the social media stuff is important in terms of staying connected with our audience.

Hernandez: It all started a couple of years ago when we had our friend Harmony Korine shoot a film for us. We put it on our website and instantly had this tremendous feedback, like 100,000 people saw it. We thought, ‘wow’, there’s such power to online communication, and we started using it actively to give our audience context. On a research level, the internet is hugely important for us. We’re constantly looking at blogs, and getting sucked into it when we're doing our research.

DD: Where do you draw the line with popular internet aesthetics when you are researching online?

Hernandez: Trends are accelerating and that's great for mass-market brands of the world; the internet is a great facilitator of that kind of business. But we don’t really care, we don’t design based on what “So-and-so is wearing out for this party, or who wore what to Coachella.” That’s not really our vibe. 

McCollough: We’re looking online, but we’re also travelling, going to libraries, researching artists we love and looking at weird science blogs. Things that are completely removed from fashion. That’s usually where we start.

DD: I heard you like to research on Tumblr - can you share your top links for design inspiration? - who also blog for Dazed at Iconograph