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Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne were not going for irony when they named their upmarket menswear label Public School. Chow proudly attended Stuyvesant High in his native New York, and he and his partner are putting that point of view to work in their super-streetwise men’s line.
It may be ironic that they’ve recently won such cult fandom from the fashion industry (who are, on the whole, more of a private-school crowd), but the duo shows no signs of selling out. Its always-authentic, outer-borough-born aesthetic has made Public School popular with such authorities as the CFDA, who presented Chow and Osborne with the Swarovski Award for Menswear in June, and W Hotels, with whom they released a limited-edition denim vest this July. All this, and they only just showed at Fashion Week for the first time last year. Interview touched base with the designers in the midst of their summertime success to discuss designing, manufacturing, and finding inspiration in the city.
DESIGNERS: Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne
AGES: 39 and 30 (respectively)
HOMETOWNS: Queens and Brooklyn (respectively)
SHOWING IN: New York
ORIGIN STORY: Chow: We met at a previous company, at Sean John. We left at different times, but we were already good friends outside of the company. I had opened a boutique down in Miami, and we were doing a private-label collection for the store. Max was working on it with me, and just from that experience we had the crazy idea to try to start our own brand. It was nothing that we ever planned to do, we were just pretty stupid and bored, so it was really spontaneous that it happened.
FUTURE COLLECTOR’S ITEM: Osborne: Maybe our leather jackets, per season. Some people get really excited about those. And our denim jacket with leather sleeves.
STYLE ICON: Chow: It’s probably not anyone in particular, and it’s less of a look than it is a mood and an attitude. Our style icon really is New York City, if that’s possible. Everything about the city; everything about how it’s perfectly imperfect and really rough around the edges, but you find so much happening. There’s this restless energy about it that we really draw our inspiration from. So I guess if a city can be your muse, then New York City certainly is ours.
MADE IN NY: Osborne: My partner and I are both from New York, born and raised, and wanted to really own that, give back to New York, and produce everything here in New York. We wanted to make sure our quality control was spot-on, that we were able to handle everything in all aspects, and that we could do it at the drop of a dime. So being hands-on and watching everything progress is something that we thought had to be done. We wanted to really own it.
BEST-KEPT SECRET: Chow: We put our first collection together in four months, and then we got the collection back and didn’t love it, and even considered not showing it. But we did, obviously, and the response was overwhelming.
BOYS VS. GIRLS: Chow: It’s like when you go to a restaurant and the menu is like five pages versus it being like half a page—it’s just easier to order from. I think with women, there’s just so many different silhouettes and styles and details and trends, and with men it’s a really abbreviated version of it. So in terms of just choice, I think that men’s choices are a bit more limited, which is a good and bad thing. But I guess if you’re trying to find your look, it must be easier as a man than as a woman.
BREAKING THE RULES: Osborne: Public School is convergent, it’s aspirational, it’s irreverent, it’s all about attitude. At the time when we launched the collection in spring of 2008, everything was really colorful and happy and soft, and we just wanted to do something hard and masculine and full of attitude. We wanted to be able to change people’s attitudes, like when you put a jacket on, it would be sort of augmentative. You’d feel a little tougher than you normally are, or might be more confident. I think that’s what fashion is for us. It’s supposed to bring out the best in you.
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