Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of the menswear line Public School are cool, calm, collected. They evoke the type of chill that, when faced opposite of it (say, during an interview) you begin wonder if you yourself have always had a nervous tick or if it’s something new. But their breed of mellow is one with thought behind it, cerebral without causing a headache — which is exactly how I’d describe their clothes.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with them just a week before their show, and despite the insanity that was surely brewing behind the scenes at their garment district showroom, Chow and Osborne managed to be totally zen.
Amelia Diamond: How did you pick up your sense of style?
Dao-Yi Chow: I was probably in junior high, going into high school, and I was really into music videos at the time. Especially the hip hop ones. They were really big for me. I remember the styling so well — it was such a predominant part of those videos. I would consume the music the same way I would consume the style.
Another big thing at the time was collecting vintage Ralph Lauren — it was a whole subculture.
AD: What were some artists you remember watching?
DYC: NWA I clearly remember…I didn’t really like the music, but stylistically they were such a departure from what was happening on the east coast. There was also an artist named Grand Puba, and this group called Zhigge.
AD: What about you, Maxwell? Is that how you got into fashion?
Maxwell Osborne: No…I was into music but definitely not that involved. For me dressing and buying clothes was definitely something I always loved. I was in the arts and I took art classes, but I never really did anything in the arts. Then, when I started my first job working retail at Tommy Hilfiger, I actually took a liking to understanding the garment. I’d be folding something and then think, “Oh wow, this is interesting.” Then I started sketching and doodling and realized, “I kind of love this.” Then I got an internship at Sean John, which lead into a full time job, and then I kept growing from there.
AD: That’s where you two met, right?
AD: So when you guys are designing, do you sit down and decide on a theme or are you endlessly inspired by different things? How do you merge two minds, two different perceptions of what’s cool?
DYC: What we think is cool is usually the same thing. That’s probably the easy part. Max and I are attracted to the same things but we might see it differently. The challenging part — and what is ultimately the creative part — is figuring out how to express both our takes through the Public School glasses, if you will.
AD: What are those glasses?
DYC: You know, I think Public School is first and foremost — from a color palette — always really dark for us. Black is such a powerful tool. People look at it as a lack of color but for us it’s so much more. You can hide behind black or stand out in black.
New York City is such a good representation of the color black. There are so many people here that you can be completely anonymous if you want, but there is also the ability to really do something different and new and stand out from the crowd… So those two things are really inherently part of the Public School look. The city’s just a constant muse for us, and our experiences and our love for New York, of sort of this relentless energy and this attitude — we’re always trying to put that back into the garments. We have this design mantra about finding perfection in imperfection, so something about it is always off.
We also take a lot of cues from womenswear and tried to inject that into menswear, which to us had previously been feeling sort of cut and dry.
AD: It’s interesting that you started taking cues from womenswear, because we always talk about “borrowing from the boys.” What was it that you saw in womenswear that you wanted to inject into your line?
MO: Women have the freedom to be risk takers. They can be like, “I want to do a full-on jumpsuit,” and its fine. But then for menswear, it’s always been like: jacket, shirt, pant, jacket, shirt, pant. You know? So when we say “taking cues” from it, we’re trying to bring to light that a man can be a little bit more dolled up. He’s not jumping out of the window with this crazy style — he has his own boundaries, but in those boundaries he can still be a risk taker.
AD: What was the inspiration behind this season?
MO: This season for us is the new frontier. It’s the new way we see modernism, it’s how we see the future man dressing. When you see the collection it might feel classic or seem older to you, but the silhouettes themselves are new, and it’s those little tweaks that are just really inspiring for us this season.
AD: Did you see Her? It was set in the future, yet they are dressed kind of ’70s. I think it is so interesting — this idea of modernized reinterpretation of an old classic.
MO: Well we consulted on that film thats why.
AD: You did?
AD: Ha. Well, I remember thinking that was such smart way to approach it, rather than having…moon boots.
DYC: Right. Well, the deeper concept that we have is looking at things people would perceive one way but it really turns out to be something else, even sort of morale-wise. If there’s a really a big difference between old and new, good and bad — that’s how we started the conversation. It’s these two extremes with us, two dichotomies and asking what’s the grey area in between the black and the white.
You know how, when you see a figure dressed in black you automatically think that that’s the bad guy, versus when you see someone dressed in white they’re automatically the good guy. We explored that this season.So we’re not reversing the roles but instead blurring those two lines and letting the people perceive it as they may.
AD: What do you think about the concept of Man Repelling, coming from two two guys who have an eye for style?
MO: What’s interesting is that recently I find the more revealing stuff less sexy. I like a baggier fit on women, and when women wear men’s silhouettes. That’s sexier to me than somebody wearing totally tight clothes. That’s been really new to me, and I think most people would think that’s a repellant.
AD: That’s a recent thing for you?
MO: Very recent.
AD: What brought about that change?
MO: I don’t know, maybe because internally we’ve been toying with us getting into womenswear…
DYC: To Max’s point, I think our definition of what’s sexy is really far from the traditional American idea. It’s definitely is more about confidence and style than anything else. It’s about women knowing their own shapes and body and what works for them. It’s all about how you wear it and how it makes you feel. It should make you feel comfortable, because then you can really pull anything off.
AD: Do you have anything else you want our readers to know? Can be totally random.
MO: If we ever come to your house, make sure you have baby wipes. I need them for my sneakers.
AD: Okay. We’ll have Man Repeller stocked. Last question: do you guys get nervous before showing?
MO: It’s not really nervous…it’s more like, just a little scared. But for me that’s always a good thing because it’s important to shake up the body.
AD: They say to be complacent is the worst.
**Public School shows Sunday, February 9th at 11 AM. Check back here shortly after for pics of the new show and HELLO, let us know what you think.