Lessons in Fashion Business-Building from Proenza Schouler
Fresh out of fashion school — armed with approval from then Barneys New York fashion director Julie Gilhart, who bought their Parsons senior thesis collection in 2002, and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who helped them stage their first show in 2003 — Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez followed early 2000s American fashion’s script for success. They took investment quickly, produced buzzy runway shows and an ‘it’ item in the form of the PS1 bag, and began launching new categories and distribution deals — but struggled to achieve sustained commercial success.
“By 2018, the board of directors was quite large and in charge and we weren’t. That’s when, I guess, shit hit the fan,” said Hernandez.
So, 15 years after its 2002 launch and on the brink of bankruptcy, McCollough and Hernandez bought Proenza Schouler back from private equity firm Castanea Partners, installed fashion turnaround veteran Kay Hong as chief executive, and positioned the brand for growth in 2020, just before the pandemic hit. It appears their strategy is working: Proenza Schouler broke even in 2021 and is on a path to profitability in 2022.
On the latest episode of The BoF Podcast, McCullough and Hernandez join BoF’s chief correspondent Lauren Sherman following her feature, “The Nine Lives of Proenza Schouler,” to chat about their experience so far — and the brand’s next chapter.
“The beauty of today’s world [is that] it’s very different from when we started this,” said McCollough. “Things are just so much more fluid, there’s not this kind of predescribed notion of how you’re meant to do things and the path you’re meant to follow.”
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