Mr q: public school

by Harry Sheff

Higher education: The guys behind Public School are learning a thing or two…

Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi ChowDao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, the duo behind Public School, were both born and raised in New York City and met while working at Sean Jean. In 2008, they ventured out on their own and created a modern-luxe sportswear line made and manufactured in their hometown—an important part of the brand’s identity. The collection comprises a mix of jackets ($875 to $995 retail), shirting ($295 to $350), knits ($310 to $400), shoes ($440 to $490), pants ($395 to $525) and outerwear ($995 to $2,875) from Italian, American and Japanese mills, sold at top retailers like Bloomingdale’s, Saks, Ron Herman, Louis Boston and Harvey Nichols. Since its inception, Chow and Osborne have been recognized with a number of prestigious honors including being accepted into the CFDA’s inaugural edition of the Fashion Incubator business development program in 2010, winning the CFDA Swarovski Award for menswear in June 2013, and winning the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Award in November 2013.

Congratulations on your recent win of the 2013 CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund Award. How does that change things? What does this win mean for the growth of Public School?
It changes a lot for us. The win really gave us confidence and a sense of validation. It’s a great feeling to have this huge support from the CFDA and Vogue. It means a lot for the business: we’re putting the money into building our infrastructure and making some key hires to continue to grow the brand. When you view any of the designers [honored] in the past nine years and even this group this year, to be ranked among them is a dream in itself.

How did the experience in the CFDA Fashion Incubator help shape the brand?
It helped us to refocus and really put together a plan of where we wanted to see Public School go. It was also a huge influence for us moving all of our production from overseas to New York City. New York City is our muse—we both grew up here—and the Incubator helped give us the business tools and put together the steps to bring production here which is an integral part of the brand’s DNA.

What’s the most challenging part of having your own brand? Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start a menswear brand?
To anyone who wants to start a brand: don’t. Just kidding, but really, you have to be passionate about it and ready to put in the work. When we started, we had no idea what we were doing. Not sure if it was naivety or possibly stupidity, but we definitely had luck on our side for those first collections. Then we got the help and advice we needed to make Public School have staying power through the CFDA Incubator.

While Public School is still fairly new, you’ve both been in the menswear business for some time. How have you seen it change?
It used to be that fashion influenced the street and now it seems to be the opposite. Instead of musicians and athletes getting their inspiration from the runways, designers are being inspired by them and what’s happening in street style. It’s creating a really interesting high/low look.

What luxury retailers are doing something different/interesting? What are they doing to make luxury business better?
I think they’re all taking cues from Asian retailers like Lane Crawford and Joyce who do a better job with merchandising all the different brands together. Gone are the days when collections were merchandised separately. Now collections are bought in context of one another .

What do you think the menswear industry needs to make business better?
There is a clear shift in the attention that menswear is receiving, which is really exciting! The talks of [creating a dedicated menswear] Fashion Week would be a major breakthrough for the men’s brands that show during NYFW.