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Review: Proenza Schouler uses negative space to positive effect

Review: Proenza Schouler uses negative space to positive effect
Looks from the fall and winter 2019 Proenza Schouler runway collection, presented Feb. 11 during New York Fashion Week. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

I’m not going to pretend I fully got what Proenza Schouler designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez were trying to do with the fall and winter 2019 collection they sent down the runway here Monday afternoon; the show notes were indecipherable to the point of parody in places (example: “Pieces are created as remnants of thing[s] that once were, thus calling on one’s memory to complete the composition”) and when they did make sense the stated goals were vague at best: “reconciling the contradictory” and “reveling in the glory of having sidestepped clear definitions or stifling labels.”

The mixing and matching of disparate elements on the runway is hardly novel; two shows on Sunday alone trod the same ground with mixed results: Tory Burch (successfully) and Prabal Gurung (not so much). But here the designers used the concept of negative space to create clothes that were beautiful and memorable, if not exactly the must-have staples of the modern woman’s wardrobe.

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Inspired by the incomplete cube works of Sol LeWitt (an American artist linked to the Conceptualist and Minimalism art movements), the show featured what its notes described as “elements of construction [that] are highlighted by omitting them altogether.”

Looks from Proenza Schouler's fall and winter 2019 women's collection.
Looks from Proenza Schouler's fall and winter 2019 women's collection. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

One way of achieving this was with a pared-back color palette — predominantly beige, white and black — and jettisoning the kinds of frills and ruffles used to telegraph femininity in many of this week’s fall and winter offerings (the one notable exception was a spare, horseshoe-shaped ridge of feathers up the back of the arms and across the shoulder blades of a long-sleeve top). Another approach was to remove fabric (underarm holes cut into a clingy knit dress, for example), transport it elsewhere (the front of a faded denim trucker’s jacket grafted to the front of an otherwise ordinary beige trench coat), or pair it up unexpectedly (sleeveless turtleneck dresses that marry panels of black athletic mesh up top with a skirt of sharp, white pleats).

Sure, knee-length, rib-knit sweaters with elongated arms and absent side panels aren’t for everyone. Ditto dresses you can put on before your deodorant. But if Proenza Schouler’s less-is-more approach is your cup of luxury, come this fall, you’ll be very happy indeed.

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