Public School’s Lesson in New York Fashion
Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are modest men. Ask them to talk about themselves and the room fills with deafening silence. But ask them to talk about one another and what strengths each brings to their menswear fashion label Public School and the friends of 10 years have a lot to say.
So being that we had them in their midtown studio, with their Spring 2014 line spread out on racks around the room we asked them a question they had never been asked before: What piece in their collection best represents your partner’s personality?
"I’d pull that leather jacket for Max,” Chow says.
Osborne, in a pair of red Nikes, black pants cut at mid-calf and a black T-shirt delicately ripped along the waist, gets up from the wooden table we’re sitting at and pulls the jacket from a rack. “You are correct” he says. Osborne eventually pulls a white tee shirt and black pants for Chow.
Running his hand across the black leather jacket, Chow explains, “Just from a design standpoint, you see it and right away you know it’s a Public School piece. Max wears leather a lot, it’s his approach. The cool thing is I would say I’m probably the opposite of that. Where we meet is where Public School begins.”
“I would have pulled the vest, but it’s at the factory,” Osborne says. “It’s just a really clean cut that’s been tweaked in all the right ways. And the fit is amazing. But this billowed pants with the stirrups, I think they would be Dao because he is into detailed goods with a fit, but still understated. Where this pants doesn’t seem much on a hanger when it’s worn with the right pieces it takes on a whole new meaning.”
Even though the label is still young, debuting in the spring of 2008, the pair have gone through quite the transition and have earned accolades in the process. This season, which is based on the concept of movement, they chose to work with techier fabrics mixing them with typical Public School tailored goods. They reinvisioned the Public School fit, tinkering with cuts and drapings.
“We were all feeling this big transition,” says Chow. “It seems like it was a quick transition, but it’s been a gradual transition. I think a lot of things happened for us simultaneously, like us being nominated and then winning the CFDA Swarovski Menswear Award, it brought us to another level, and each season we want to to elevate the collection, elevate the look.”
Chow and Osborne had been playing with the idea of sportswear meets tailoring in hopes of bringing the two to a point where the lines blurred. They wanted it to reflect how they themselves dress, how a “new age, modern man should dress.”
When they first considered starting their own label in 2007 while attending a trade show, they really had no goal, except to make a product they’d want to wear. After all, that’s what they had been doing at Sean John, the company where they first met nearly five years earlier.
“We just did it out of wanting to be independent,” Chow recalls. “We felt like we had a point of view and just wanted to get it out there. But now we want to have a big impact on menswear and eventually womenswear, if we’re lucky enough. The biggest difference has been going from wanting to affect just your friends to wanting to affect a lot of people.”
Since day one though, New York City has played an integral role — from the label’s aesthetic to where each piece is physically produced.
“It’s the brand itself,” says Osborne, who grew up in Brooklyn. “New York.”
“I don’t think you can escape it. Even if we tried to make our collections not about New York, we couldn’t, just because it’s so infused into who we are individually and who we are as a collective,” adds Chow, who was born and bred in Queens. “Like when a musician experiments in another genre of music, it always sort of is what he is or she is originally. I think the same applies to us. We don’t try to make it New York, but it just is. Even if we tried to do a travel-influenced collection, it would start and end with New York. It always starts and ends with New York.”
Osborne and Chow don’t want to say they’re one of the leaders in New York fashion — not just yet — “But we’re definitely contributing to helping it become more progressive and offering a different point of view. Not that it’s not been relevant, but it’s been this unemotional thing, where there wasn’t much energy or attitude. It’s certainly having a moment right now though, and I think American menswear, which is centered here in New York, has evolved past what people would consider American fashion to be,” Chow says. “We’re proud to make our stuff here in New York, we’re proud to be considered American designers with a different angle.”
Photos by Alexis Adam