After losing their jobs as co–creative directors of DKNY late last year, city-born-and-bred designers Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow didn’t miss a beat in breathing new life into their Public School brand
By Matt Scanlon
There was considerable industry scuttlebutt, in the wake of Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow departing DKNY in December of last year—after a nearly two-year stint as co–creative directors of the brand—that the wunderkind cofounders of the New York City fashion label Public School were experiencing the beginning of a downward arc, and at an unnaturally early age. Instead, barely skipping a beat, and with remarkably little rancor (they offered just about zero commentary concerning the DKNY departure process, among other savvy media moves), the two set about making an even greater market presence of Public School, which they founded in 2008.
Chow and Osborne were both born and raised in the city (for Chow, home was Jackson Heights, while Kensington, Brooklyn was Orborne’s cradle), and represent, as their company explained in a statement, “the convergence and restless energy of the place in which they live and work.” Their designs stretch from women’s jackets, dresses, tops, and knitware, to shirts, jackets, and pants for men, along with accessories for both genders. Blending witty cuts, deliberate imperfections, and style approaches embracing a city-chic sensibility, their mantra, from the beginning, was to, as its designers explained, honor the city that “energizes our hustle and frames our point of view. But more than anything, cementing into our consciousness the importance of being a leader.” Its designs are currently available in more than a dozen states, in 15 countries, and in department stores and online retailers ranging from Barneys to Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue to stylebop.com. After participating in the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Incubator program in 2010, Public School moved all of its production to New York.
One of the most pivotal and quickest evolving of the company’s business arms is its partnerships, which include Fitbit, Nike, MR PORTER, and a tandem collaboration with the New York Yankees and New York Mets in the WNL line, its anagram short for both “when nobody’s looking” and also “we need leaders.”
“It’s meant to be a continuing reminder that it is far greater to lead than to follow,” read a statement describing the WNL focus. “So when the chance to collaborate with two of the most iconic leaders in the history of sports came up, it seemed a natural.” Released in September of last year, the hats marked the first time in the 114-year history of Major League Baseball that a designer was allowed to alter the logos of teams.
The Fitbit bands, co designed by Osborne and Chow, debuted at New York Fashion Week in February of 2016, and elevated the already sleek design of the activity, sleep, and exercise trackers by bringing a Public School aesthetic to their interchangeable accessories.
“One of my favorite things about Public School’s designs is the range—they mix sportswear and tailoring, pair high and low with ease, and present as both upscale and edgy,” said Eugene Tong, stylist for Public School runway shows and contributing fashion editor and market director at W magazine.
The Fitbit collection features approachable luxury designs for men and women that range from high-end bracelets inspired by urban spaces to more accessible print bands that bring a contemporary and sophisticated look. At the moment, there are three choices available: the Axis Accessory Band for $295; the Type-III Paracord Bracelet for $175 (the latter designed in the style of parachute cord—a braided black bracelet with custom gunmetal hardware meant to fuse athletic aesthetics with rugged technicality); and the last, under the WNL label, is the WNL Print Band and Quill Print Band ($39.95). Just made available this year, the lasts’s sleek prints feature the design house’s inspirational mantra “When Nobody’s Looking.”
Public School’s Pre-Fall 2017 collection is fascinating in many respects. Blending, as the designers explained in a release, “high and low references from fashion, music, and art to create a point of view that is both unique and precisely detailed,” the pieces (“100% sewn, cut, finished in New York City,” Chow added) debuted in a joint show in which men’s and women’s styles were presented simultaneously, and with the phrase “urban uniform” as their unofficial theme. With wonderfully exaggerated silhouettes, cross-cut tailoring, and unexpected bursts of color, the result is an almost unaccountable mashup of seemingly scavenged items, pieced together poetically.
The presentation of 2017’s Fall/Winter collection generated a bit of controversy for its political overtones, specifically its recurrent theme of “Make America New York,” a jab at President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan—and red caps satirizing the political campaign were seen up and down the runway. The show itself offered a similarly deconstructed approach to suits (paired with sportswear-inspired details) and tailored blazers counterpointed with oversized slacks and down coats for men, against lace and gold-and black brocade for the women. Hyper-distressed denim added to the chic-meets-dinge oevre.
Following up on yet another collaboration, in this case with Nike on the Air Jordan 12 design, Public School is helping to once again reinvent the iconic sneaker. Instead of their first deep gray hue, this year brings Wheat, Bordeaux, and Olive versions, with strategic marketing efforts for individual cities (Milan gets the Olive, Paris the Bordeaux, and The Big Apple the Wheat). All three PSNY x Air Jordan 12 city exclusives retail for $300, and were made available in their respective cities on June 28.
Chow and Osborne explained in a joint statement that, “The best part of our [Nike] collaboration was being able to take this iconic silhouette and give it new life. We felt like we moved from an on-court archetype into a street staple that you can wear in any season. The three new colorways, inspired by some of our favorite cities, make an even stronger case for a newfound urban versatility.”
As if that wasn’t sufficient brand synergy, Public School is at press time releasing exclusive products for MR PORTER—a 10-piece sportswear centric capsule collection that includes caps, bomber jackets, hoodies, tee-shirts, and tops.