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2012 August 29

Menswear Designer to Watch: Public School

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Public School's Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow Public School's Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow
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(NEW YORK) What do you get when you combine a heavy dose of New York grit, a side of European tailoring, and a dash of Japanese streetwear? Public School, the rabble-rousing, downtown brainchild of designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne. The catch? No girls allowed! BY MARIA DENARDO

How did you two meet?
MO: I was an intern in the design studio at Sean Jean. One of my duties was to drop the mail off at [Dao’s] office, who was the creative director at the time.

What was your first impression of each other?

DC:
He was in awe. Sean Jean was small enough that you knew pretty much everyone that worked there. [Max] had a good energy about him. He’s not like that anymore. Kidding!

What was it like meeting Sean Combs?
MO:
I’d see him in design meetings. He was always lighting candles in the office. We were cool, but he could definitely be mean to certain people. And you had to get used to being filmed all the time. He always had a camera crew following him around.
DC: I initially interviewed for a marketing position. I was excited, but when I got there, I felt like Puff asked me cliché questions, like ‘What makes you Sean Jean material?’ I thought, ‘This is the interview?’ Later that night, I randomly saw him at a club. I think he was totally taken aback to see me there. Puff is the type of person who has a strong idea of what he thinks his team should look like. We were screaming over the music trying to talk. He was yelling ‘That coat is great’ and ‘What did you think of the interview?’ It was awkward. But at 2 a.m. that morning, Puff called his team and said, ‘The Kid that we interviewed? You gotta hire him.’ He always called me The Kid.

How was your experience at Sean Jean?
DC: I worked there as VP of marketing and creative director for ten years. Had I not been there, I don’t think Public School would have been what it is. Sean Jean was a really aspirational brand, merging high and low. Puff didn’t have a fashion background, but in just five years, it was a half-million dollar company. We were able to travel and budget for things like market research in ten different cities for every season. As a startup, that’s not a reality now. We’re struggling to pay rent.  

What’s your background, pre-Puff?
DC:
I grew up in Queens and am a product of public school. I became interested in fashion in high school, but I never thought about being a fashion designer. I ended up majoring in communications at NYU. Totally relevant to what I’m doing now...
MO: I grew up in New York City, attending public school until junior high. Later, I went to the New York School of Visual Arts. I always had an interest in clothing, which is why I interned at Sean Jean and worked the sales floor at Tommy Hilfiger. My boss at Tommy told me I should quit because I was too good for the job. She was on the ball.

When did you start Public School?
DC:
I left Sean Jean first.
MO: Then I left twice, shortly after Puff gave me a counter offer. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Dao had opened a multi-brand, men’s and women’s clothing store in Miami called Arrive. We caught up when he was thinking of creating some in-house brands. But when we walked the trade shows, we were unimpressed. Where was the stuff that we would actually wear? That’s when we thought, ‘We could be bigger than this.’ Public School’s first season was Spring 2008.

Catchy name!
DC:
We wanted something that represented New York and felt inclusive, which is funny now because we sell $3,000 leather jackets that aren’t that inclusive. Plus, we both went to public school.

You just wrapped your two-year stint in the CFDA Incubator. Is it like fashion high school?
MO:
It totally is! It’s kind of like graduate school if you’ve never been. It’s the Real World of fashion.

Who was your mentor?
MO:
We’ve had a bunch: Gary Wassner, Joe Ferrara, Shawn Reddy, and John Bartlett. They all gave us gems of wisdom. For instance, sometimes we’d make something because we just loved the style, but we’d have to lower our margin in order to do it. Joe Ferrara said, ‘If you’re not making your margins on it, why are you making it?’ That’s when we learned to streamline.

How do you know André Leon Talley?
DC:
We worked with André when he served as the artistic director of Sean Jean during Fashion Week. He came into the Public School studio to film a segment of a pilot for a new fashion reality show. I think he was being nice when he said he remembered us.

MO: He’s very quick and funny.

DC: We’d say ‘Oh this is burnished gold’ and he’d say ‘Oh, no! Don’t call that burnished! Let’s call it lacquered gold.’ So, we’d be like, ‘Ok, so this burnished gold…’ We played off each other well. He’s cool as shit.

What do you think of the direction of menswear fashion?
MO:
It’s fun in this day and age. I enjoy seeing everyone dress up, and see men get excited about clothing again from H&M on up.
DC: Menswear is definitely having a moment, and we’re just happy to be in the mix.

Are there other menswear brands you look up to besides Sean Jean?
DC: I don’t know if we look up to Sean Jean.
MO: But Neil Barrette is on my radar. I like N. Hoolywood and Alexandre Plokhov, too.

Has your relationship changed now that you’re business partners?
DC: You definitely don’t want to go into business with your friends if you want to stay friends. There are too many expectations. The most important thing is that you can trust your partner and that your partner has your best interest at heart. It’s like family, and I look at Max like a little brother. We’re exact opposites.

How so?
MO: He’s older, and he’s married with two kids.
DC: Max goes out every single night.

You just hired a woman on the team. Does that affect the dynamic?
MO: Nobody talks in the office when a woman is in the room. It’s a whole different conversation. Everyone minds their Ps and Qs.

OK, what was public school really like in New York City?
DC: If you go to public school in New York or in other big cities, you have to be an individual and be authentic. You have to claw and fight your way out. My guidance counselor was messed up. You’d give him your top college choices, and he’d hand it back to you saying, ‘You better come up with another wish list.’
MO: I never even saw our guidance counselor!

What were you like in high school?
MO: I hung out with everyone. I was pretty nice, but then I found out that some kid in middle school wanted to punch me in the face because I said something rude to him.
DC: My group of friends was definitely the connector between the other groups in school. It’s similar to our collection and who we target to.

What did your report cards look like?
MO: It depends on the time of my life. It went up and down a lot.
DC: I wasn’t an over-achiever. I did as little as possible to get by and make it happen.

Have you ever been suspended?
MO: Yeah, I got in a fight, and I cut school a couple times.
DC: I tripped my third grade teacher, and I shot a kid in the face with a BB gun.
MO: You really shot him in the face?
DC: Yeah. It was f****d up.

If the fashion industry was one giant public school, who would be the gym teacher?
DC: Norma Kamali.

What about the principal?
DC: Ralph Lauren.

How about the trouble makers?
MO: We would.

And the popular kids?
MO: Isn’t that the same thing?




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