Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are killing it.
The Public School designers are having an awesome year, to say the least. In addition to their diffusion line, Black Apple New York, they launched a denim line last fall. They also found the time to put together an amazing collection for Fall 2013, which garnered them the Swarovski Menswear Designer of the Year Award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)—which are pretty much the Oscars of fashion. Check the photos above for a look at their upcoming Holiday 2013 collection. What makes their story unique is that both Chow and Osborne are bonafide New Yorkers, born in the West Village and Queens, respectively.
While both grew up listening to hip-hop, Chow held down positions as an editor at Blaze magazines and penned articles where he interviewed rappers like Big Pun. It wasn't until he took a gig as the Creative Director of Sean John that he and Osborne linked up, leading to the debut of Public School in 2008. We sat down with the two designers and congratulated them on their recent success, talked about the evolving relationship between hip-hop and fashion, and charted their well-deserved rise to the top.
New Yorkers are known for their work ethic, and Public School has a very New York career trajectory. A lot of people aren’t aware that you guys put in a lot of work prior to the CFDA win.
Dao-Yi Chow: Yeah, absolutely. I think the main sentiment has been the idea of aspiration. Just thinking beyond what was around us. I think to myself it’s been one part courage and one part stupidity—where you want to do what you want to do. We set out doing Public School in 2008 and we put the first collection in about 3 months’ time. We had the conversation about wanting to do something, and it all happened so fast. We never really stopped to think like what would happen if this took off, or even what would happen if this business didn’t succeed. So I think part of that stupidity helped us keep it going. A friend of mine was like “That’s a hell of a five year plan.” That sort of caught me by surprise; it hasn’t really felt like five years. This was never in our plan five years ago—I don’t even think we thought about five years. We didn’t even think about the next collection. It was just collection-to-collection. I think the turning point for us is being accepted into the CFDA Incubator Program in 2010, where we had to make a hard decision and it was like “listen, we really need to plan this out.”
Dao, before your fashion industry days, you were an editor at Blaze magazine, and you wrote as Durwin Chow. How did the music industry lead you to fashion?
Dao-Yi: You got all the hard, cold facts huh? It’s like a New York love story, if you will. In my last two years at NYU, I interned with Sony when the music business was huge and everybody was rich. That was where I wanted to be. I played around making music, producing, and was a DJ. Music was really at the heart of it. Music was essentially my introduction to fashion, just from the styling, the pomp and circumstance of early '90s hip hop.
It’s really the attitude and bravado of the music that we pull from.
Being at Blaze and VIBE, my career was centered around music. And that introduced me to the idea of being able to project an image not only through sound or writing, but also through visuals. That was a big part of my upbringing, and New York has always been the centerpiece. I went to school at Stuyvesant before it became Stuy Town—I know I’m dating myself. Those were my formative years of developing this distinctly New York point-of-view, and luckily I’ve been able to carry that throughout my career. It’s like a sweet homecoming to produce fashion in New York and have the collection really be about New York—it being the centerpiece of our DNA is a beautiful thing.
During your tenure at Blaze the climate of hip-hop style revolved around “dressing tough to look tough,” which is drastically different from how rappers dress today. Did that affect the designs? The colors are dark, and masculine fabrics like leather feature heavily.
Dao-Yi: From then to now in terms of how artists dress, the underlying feeling is still the same. It's still about being original and the first and only. I think for us, a lot of our design choices are centered around on capturing a moment. That “all eyes on you” moment—that’s where a lot of the attitude comes into it. We set out to design things that are more augmentative—to make you feel stronger and more confident—things that are inside of you, but brought out by the clothes. It’s really the attitude and bravado of the music that we pull from. You can draw that parallel where our collection feels that way because we’re looking to capture that attitude.
Max, you grew up in New York too. Speaking of music, you said Jamaican music reminds you of when your mom blasted records by people like Gregory Isaacs. Did that influence you?
Maxwell Osborne: I wouldn’t say it influenced me, but it definitely brought me back. I grew up listening to all types of music, mainly hip-hop, but there was always a feeling when listening to reggae—especially old school reggae—that makes me feels safe and happy. But yeah, I grew up here in New York. I was born in the village and moved to Brooklyn at 4. My family all lived in the West Village. I went to school at PS41. In high school I ended up going to a Catholic school in Brooklyn, which my mother felt was the better move for me at that point because I was a little “loose,” and needed some structure, which in hindsight was a good decision.
A friend of mine on Instagram was like “Oh shoot, is that Max from elementary school?” and they were like “Oh, you’re designing now? That’s so crazy. You were always the creative one.” They told me I wrote this song in class in 4th grade, and I had no recollection of that. It’s funny how things come together. Nothing was planned. Me getting into fashion wasn’t planned. I have an arts school background, but I hardly went to class. And then my mother got mad at me about messing that up and then she tried to force me to be a lawyer. She paid for a semester and I never went—I got in trouble for that too. Then I started working at a Tommy Hilfiger as a sales associate.
Is it true your boss at Tommy told you that you were “too good for the job?”
Maxwell: Yeah. This lady Molly, I forget her last name. She was older. Everybody thought she was the biggest bitch, but she was kind of cool. She wasn’t really a bitch but she was focused. Before her everyone that worked there was was super comfortable and she was the new boss that came in and tried to set some rules. I was around 19 or 20 years old, I had left SVA after a semester. I just started taking the product seriously after not caring too much about it. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with my life, and I started really liking clothes.
I’ve always liked clothes, but I started looking at clothes from the business side. I was brushing up on clothing design, and starting to appreciate garment construction. And then an internship arose at Sean John where a friend of mine suggested I intern there. So I did.