Public School, shortened sometimes to PSNY, first came to my attention last year around the September SS13 collections and 2 seasons after finishing the CFDA Fashion Incubator Program. “Designed to support the next generation of fashion designers in New York City” its mission is to support 10 brands into business for two years, then send them off with gained experience and investment. Isaora and NUMBER: Lab, two of my favourite techni-cool New York menswear designers are part of the 2014-2016 recruit. Details were scant about Public School then, not helped by a Google proof name, with the website in its ‘COMING SOON’ phase without stockists or collection information; which left me to hunt on Hypebeast, slamxhype… the usual suspects.
Dao-Yi Chow (here, as well) and Maxwell Osborne founded the brand in 2008, to reflect the original attitude in the clothes and their New York aesthetic. Hip-hop and rap culture has had a lot to play in their progression as designers with Dao fomerly being the creative director of Sean John, but subverting it in trying, “to highlight the imperfections over making everything look super shiny and new. Sean John was the ultimate aspirational brand and I think combining high and low references really helped to develop the concept for Public School.” Musical muses, now of the alternative new wavey synthpop variety, influence the look of the collection, as of Twin Shadow for SS13. After exiting the program in the space of 3 seasons, they have developed a cunningly original aesthetic that is based on a modern noir theme with streetwear elements that is luxurious and wearable. The quality in garments is something they evidently focus on, in both design and textiles, with all made in New York and to exacting standards. The consistency in their design is not by chance, saying in a recent interview to young designers, “Establish your point of view, never stray from it and always protect it.”
Their progress in design and textile terms has been rapid since AW12, with the collections becoming more multi-faceted and complex and the seasons progressed. There was a clear theme in AW12 with, as Selectism says, more ‘Amish school’. Quite an ignorant description of a show which made up a range of shirts, jeans, trousers and jackets, all easily modern feeling. The double breasted navy blazer and jean combo worked well, as did the fitted black denim and leather jacket over a long grey shirt. Though, there were some serious shortcomings in focus and execution. With versatility, it became all over the place with only a hat and Dr Martens to keep the pace and theme going. Some items were out of shape and the colour/fabric choices for the jackets, especially look 7* were ill advised. It gave the Public School feeling only in someone’s compilation of disparate clothing.
SS13 was more refined in the clothes representing the different personas of men, when styled in certain ways (Their show styling is always great and I get a lot of ideas from how the separate items are worn). It was more structured, definitely, through the attention to detail paid on the details, trouser lengths and proportions that are crucial to its success. This meant the collection was more recognisable as a Public School offering and original in its simplicity. Still some dud looks though; the polo and jeans look really does nothing.
Titled ‘When No One’s Looking’, AW13 had an eerie covertness that spoke the modern noir theme and epitomised the unassuming luxury that they are great at designing. A tight 16 looks showed the progress of the season and of the last 3 seasons, especially in the destruction and reconstruction of different fabrics and using textile processes to their advantage. Structure seemed more present here, with the hard juxtaposing softer elements, in look 7 with the high necked flight jacket and sweatpant/trousers. The ombré shirts, waxed leather vests and leather mixed garments that are starting to become a trademark of theirs were the highlights of its innovation spirit, that could also be found in the myriad of trousers. Sometimes I feel that change in the bottom half of the male body is neglected, and an ankle skimming chino is always there to save the day. But PSNY offered baggy, skinny, slim and straight jeans/trousers; layered tailored sweat shorts over formal items (This could be one garment- I have seen it done before but it looks like two to me on the internet); calf, ankle and longer lengths in nylon, denim, cotton, fleece and probably some others made for the collection. I said it before, and I will say it again, the perfectionist spirit is (ironically) what Public School is about. This felt more comprehensive and reminiscent of a far more accomplished design practice, with the New York buzz at its fiercely beating heart. Those Generic Man x Public School shoes were as sharp and slick as a Jay-Z in 99 Problems, still my favourite rap song because of the controversial verse.
I think it bodes well that the designers live in their collections, and live the life of the man they design for, as they know what he likes and what boundaries can be pushed to make the aesthetic more exciting. AW13 had the ‘futurism NOW’ exuberance about it because Mr. Chow and Mr. Osborne know their clients, the towel-as-a-hood thing (hipster grim reaper) was A$AP Rocky’s from the start, and themselves as to which introductions will be easy but fresh.
This design quality, I think, is what lead them to be nominated for a 2013 CFDA Swarovski Award for Menswear (ceremony on June 3 with coverage on style.com), given to the best up and coming talents, alongside Tim Coppens and Todd Snyder. Out of the three close competitors, hopefully Public School will win they need the audience to become really, really financially successful. Tim Coppens is a great designer with amazing capability, and known for this he already has a show at NYFW, whereas PSNY show at MADE Fashion Week, of Milk Studios, of which the closest equivalent in London is Fashion East. Public School have the most potential of the three as they provide lots of options that are new and evoke the exploration of style. Though Tim Coppens’s technique is light years ahead (the bomber jackets of AW13), PSNY don’t have international stockists or on online presence and I think if they win the award will boost their credence as a staple on the New York, and world, menswear circuit.
UPDATE (04/06/13): Public School NYC won the 2013 CFDA Swarovski Award for Menswear.