Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are convinced that timing is everything. The designers behind the award-winning New York menswear label Public School attribute much of their success to being in the right place at the right time. But with CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and Swarovski awards in hand and recently winning the inaugural menswear International Woolmark Prize (Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent are past womenswear winners), it’s clear that there’s more than just a little talent alongside their impeccable timing. “We work hard. We’ve always worked hard, but getting that kind of recognition, it’s amazing,” Osborne says. “It’s like studying for a test and you actually get 100 per cent.”
Perhaps the New Yorkers are still pinching themselves after a well-fought road to success. Chow and Osborne worked together for a few years starting in 2003 at the streetwear label Sean John before going on to independent pursuits. The idea to collaborate on a brand began after Chow opened his own retail store in Miami in 2005 and wanted to create a private label for it. In 2008 they launched Public School with their eye on dressed-up casual wear for men. But it wasn’t until their stint in the inaugural CFDA Fashion Incubator in 2010, a business development program in New York for up-and-coming designers, where they were mentored by fashion icons like Anna Wintour and Steven Kolb that they evolved the brand into a vision to blend sportswear and suiting. “You know, the pendulum swings,” Chow muses. “[Our designs were] super polished and now things are a bit more raw and imperfect. Timing-wise that works perfectly for us because that’s always been what we’ve done.” As well, for their launch of a women’s collection this fall: “We borrowed heavily from what we do in menswear. And now menswear is having a moment in womenswear.”
Their concept of day-to-night dressing for men focuses on tailored layering with relaxed and versatile pieces. For fall, they played with the notion of a new modernity in details and texture. Their signature silhouette is punctuated by double collars and waistbands, moto quilting, and Japanese-inspired cuts. Houndstooth, tweed, ombre, and a snowglobe-inspired knit up the ante on a monochrome palette. “For us, the more layers the better,” Osborne says. “It gives you this idea of building up an attitude. You’re building up places to hide behind and places to stand out.”
It’s a mantra that goes beyond the outfit. “If you went to public school, especially in New York, it’s overcrowded. The resources are really limited and you’re constantly trying to fight and claw your way to separate yourself or get ahead of the pack,” Chow explains. “In order to do that you have to be original and you have to be authentic. So all those traits, how to survive public school and how to get out of public school, were things we wanted to put into the brand.” Let’s just say that’s an A for achievement.