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The New York City label has garnered healthy buzz since its inception as a menswear label in 2008. Public School gets "cool," "effortless," and "sporty" laced in to most of its (many) mentions, an attempt to summarize not just the clothes designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne put out, but the brand's ethos. Chow and Osborne themselves are part of Public School; their upbringing in New York City is a part of Public School; the brand's appeal outside of fashion, particularly in the realms of music and sports, is a part of Public School. And the fashion industry, particularly the parts touched by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Vogue (which it to say... most of it), is not shy about shouting "Public School!" at every bend.
The brand has turbo-advanced from the CFDA's inaugural Fashion Incubator in 2010 to winning three awards from the industry group by 2014 have collaborated with countless partners, including J.Crew, Nike, and most recently Fitbit; and the designers were plucked by Donna Karan to revive her DKNY label. "It might be said that Public School is the hometown team the fashion world is betting on," declared a 2014 New York Times profile of the brand.
Zooming out from fashion planet, and the stylish industries that orbit near by, I'm not confident the average person knows that Public School is something beyond the type of education they did or did not have. I polled a handful of non-fashion friends, 24 — 34, male and female, coast to coast and in between: "Article research. Do you know what the fashion brand Public School is?"
A.P.C. enthusiast in the heartland: "Not aware of it."
Madewell apologist freelance writer: "No! Should I?"
Purple-haired social media editor: "Lolol barely."
Apple Watch-wearing art dude: "Expensive stuff. Would wear."
Prototypical Brooklyn male: "They’re a fashion brand that people seem to like? Maybe they make like expensive normcore? A friend was talking about sweatshirts from them at some point."
When the brand announced its partnership with activity tracker Fitbit earlier this week, I clamored to tell my colleagues at Racked's sister site The Verge, which covers these kinds of gadgets in depth. "Hed is basically going to be 'Fitbit and Public School Is the Fashion-Tech Partnership That Finally Makes Sense,'" I wrote over Slack to one Verge editor. "Who is the designer?" she typed back. Upon e-mailing a larger group with the news, another editor responded "Is Public School a brand?"
Photo: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
So the fashion industry is wetting its pants over this label, but it hasn't reached mass consciousness. Public School shows no signs of slowing down, adding collaborations and setting itself up for further growth. Find here what is essentially the unauthorized Dummy's Guide to Public School (not that we think you're a dummy), breaking down the brand's DNA, chronicling the rise, and contemplating its future.
Designers: Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, the later always in dark-lensed prescription glasses, both very public faces of the brand. Here is some party coverage of Chow celebrating the Chinese New Year with his wife and "closest friends," like red-headed snowboarder Shaun White and former Marc Jacobs designer Richard Chai (sponsored by Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège).
New York City: Chow grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, while Osborne was raised in Kensington, Brooklyn. Both did indeed attend NYC public schools. Public School, the label, is designed and produced in Manhattan's Garment District.
Streetwear: Chow and Osborne, who are separated by eight years, intersected at Sean Jean in 2001. Chow was VP of marketing at the time, following gigs at Mecca, Ecko, and the now defunct hip hop mag Blaze. Osborne came in as an intern, and was ultimately hired as a designer. "Luxury designers like Riccardo Tisci can say most of their inspiration comes from the street," Chow told the Times. "We started from a street base, but our influences are higher fashion."
Sports: The two are avid sports fans, particularly of basketball, particularly of the Knicks. New York Giants's wide receiver Victor Cruz was Public School's date to the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund dinner; his teammate Odell Beckham Jr. was dressed in the label for the 2015 edition of the event.
Fall 2016.Photo: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Public School has asserted itself in the fashion industry, clear favorites of the CFDA and Vogue, but also popular with the streetwear set (I dare you to comb the Public School archives on Complex or Hypebeast). In order to reach a wider audience, the brand has tentacles through collaboration channels with far-reaching brands like Nike, J.Crew, and now Fitbit.
The rise has been fast, particularly in the span of 2013 through 2015, and it seems that Public School will continue to inflate. Is it sustainable? Some of the collaborations its connected itself with seem random, like a check cashed. It would be a sad thing to see the Public School equivalent of Cynthia Rowley for Staples or Isaac Mizrahi at Best Buy.
If this growth spurt was Public School's start, we should be settling into the brand's adolescence soon, which the designers seem to be preparing for. "I think that the perception is the brand is big and no longer this emerging brand and we’ve arrived," Chow told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. "The reality is that we’re a very small business that’s growing." To that end, Public School recently added a very big position to the dozen-member team: its first president. In that role is Anthony Landereau, a former executive at Marc Jacobs International, who joined Public School late last month. He described Public School to the Journal as a $4 million business, saying annual sales have grown 30% a year for the past two years. Among Landereau's objectives, the paper reports, is giving the business structure, setting it up to scale. Initial plans include the addition of lower-priced pieces, like T-shirts and sweatshirts in the $160 to $225 range.
In all of my 'netstalking of Public School archives and interviews, the piece of information that sticks with me — maybe worries me — is from the New York Times's recap of that indoor-outdoor men's show a week back: "More compelling than the clothes was the presentation."