c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — Among New York’s current class of young designers, men’s wear division, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, the designers of Public School, would handily win the title of most likely to succeed.
They do not just seem destined to get ahead. In fact, it appears that the bosses of fashion want to make sure of it.
This year, Chow and Osborne won the Swarovski award for best new men’s wear designer at the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s fashion awards, even though their collection, in its current form, started a year ago and is sold in only a handful of stores. Before that, they worked out of the CFDA Fashion Incubator, a business development program that offers garment district studios at reduced rents. In July, they were named among the 10 finalists in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund contest.
“They are the poster children of all the CFDA young designers we’ve been able to help,” said Steven Kolb, the chief executive of the fashion council, which has placed a priority in recent years on developing mentoring programs and other business services to help designers navigate the tricky waters of fashion.
Although they are having a moment, and will present their spring collection Sunday at Fashion Week, Chow and Osborne have indeed worked for it, and for much of their careers they have done so together. They met on the design team of Sean John a decade ago and remained friends after Chow left the company to briefly operate a store in Miami. In 2008, they started the line together as Public School, named so because they both grew up in New York City and attended public schools, and designed the collection as a cross between tailored sportswear and more urban streetwear looks (with a typical city palette of black and more black).
But it didn’t really sell, not right away. In 2010, they were selected among the inaugural group of designers to take up residency in the incubator.
“Personally, I was not so sure they were the right fit,” Kolb said. “I wasn’t sure about their level of engagement.”
They put the line on hiatus and used their time in the incubator to formulate a new plan for the business, which was restarted for fall 2012. They moved much of their production back from overseas to New York factories, and elevated the tailoring component. Men’s wear blogs took notice; Four Pins declared (in saltier language) that it was so good, it was destined to be knocked off by Zara.
“I think we came back more humbled,” Osborne said. “Second chances don’t come around a lot.”
Besides having a different look than much of the hyper-preppy Americana fashion that has dominated the men’s market in recent years, Public School has been noticed largely because the designers made a point of listening to anyone who might give advice. The fashion council’s incubator program came along at the right moment, linking them with a publicist and a plan to develop a more lucrative denim collection.
The spring line, which they have already previewed to retailers at events in Paris and Las Vegas, includes more sharp looks like a minimal vest with a thick silver zipper up the back. Typical prices are $370 for shorts with a double waistline and $1,520 for a streamlined chesterfield coat.
“The CFDA took us under their wing and said, ‘We believe in you and you’re going to be the next thing,’” Chow said. “Their support really propelled us.”
Now the collection is sold in Odin, Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and Louis Boston, among other retailers.
But Kolb said that the fashion council is not playing favorites with Public School, noting that the awards are determined by a vote of several hundred people in the industry, and the other prizes are selected by committees.
“Their ability to succeed is their own doing,” he said.