public school fall/winter 17: make america new york

The NYC-native duo approached borders -- both political and personal -- with an Americana-inspired collection that celebrated their city.

by Emily Manning
13 February 2017, 3:04am

The clothing Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow create under their collaborative label Public School feels true to its populist name. Their athletic-referencing, street-inspired design (debuted each season with a diverse cast) is at home in the city the designers show in, and hail from. Considering Betsy DeVos's recent appointment, the name carries new meaning. Public School's fall/winter 17 collection - shown this morning at Milk Studios - asked us to think a little more about the times we find ourselves in.

"We started talking about borders, man-made borders, and how they have gone on to really reinforce all this nationalism, isolationism, and xenophobia that's spreading around," Chow explained backstage. In this sense, the show's score - an experimental live composition revisiting Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" courtesy of Twin Shadow - was especially apt. "Then we looked at our internal borders, what's held us back," Chow continued. "There's definitely a parallel between what's happening in our country and what's happening in our career as well. Everything that we thought was something really now is not that. It was about challenging that, confronting those things."

If the personal aspect of the statement hinted at the duo's recent departure from the helm at DKNY, the collection did as well. The pin-stripes, utility straps, elastic drawstrings, and subtle slashing that appeared in the duo's final collection for the downtown label echoed in today's offering. Osborne and Chow commented on our world of bans and walls by incorporating nods to Americana.

"Looking at the big wool plaids, checks, and paisleys, the corduroy, the denim, all the comfiness and classic-ness of those vibes - there was a hint of Americana in there that normally we don't do," Chow explained. The personal and political ideas found harmony in the significance of such deconstruction: "It was about breaking that down - ripping the sleeves, taking out the hems - and then building them back up," said Chow.

Speaking of building and borders, many looks were topped with red baseball caps. Though the embroidered white text is illegible from a distance, the box-fresh, bright red hat has become a potent symbol. In its original form, the four-word message it bears crystallizes that toxic nationalism. Revised versions (Make America Native Again, for example) subvert the isolationist, xenophobic mantra. Chow and Osborne's edit: 'Make America New York.'

According to Osborne, the message should be taken literally. "That's exactly what we want to say about it. The openness of New York and the city it is - America needs to be more like New York," he explained. In the past, Public School has put its spin on the New York Yankees logo, and created capsule collections based on dollar slice pizza shops. Today's message went well beyond hometown pride. It's clear the designers - who in the past have participated in Black Lives Matter demonstrations directly confronting the fashion industry's lack of diversity - are energized not only by their city's principles, but its vibrant protests. "If you're from New York, you almost consider yourself more a New Yorker before being American. It's about the tolerance and the diversity," said Chow, who was raised in Jackson Heights. "But you can't get comfortable in that," he cautioned. "It can't just be this little bubble, because that bubble has burst." After all, Trump hails from Queens, too.


Text Emily Manning
Photography Stefan Stoica

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