By Joshua Langston
Photos by Viranlly Liemena
When I heard Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne of Public School were visiting Holt Renfrew in Vancouver, my heart jumped. As a huge fan of how the brand has taken “street wear” and “elevated it”, it was great to sit down and learn more about the journey to get there. They have had a really inspiring story starting from their brands inception; and this last year has proven to be their biggest year to date. From the CFDA Award for Menswear designers of the year, to winning the first ever Woolmark Prize for menswear, they have been on quite the trajectory. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to my interview at Holt Renfrew in Vancouver. When we arrived on the scene they were just finishing their interview slotted before us, wearing their trademark all-black-everything, with Dao Yi pairing his look with a sick pair of Jordans. With such an impressive shoe-game, I grew more excited to get down to business.
I noticed a young boy sitting on the couch also rocking an impressive shoe game, it turned out being Dao-Yi’s son. They had been doing a west coast tour, hitting LA, Portland and Seattle before making their way to Vancouver. To get to travel so much at such a young age would be exciting for any kid, especially if the souvenir of choice you grab form every city you travel is a new pair of kicks. Dao-Yi, if you ever need to adopt another son, I’d love to throw my feet in the ring.
Through my interview with the PS Boys what I was most impressed by was their cool demeanour and down-to-earth attitude. It’s always a pleasure to interview people that feel so real and genuine. The interview didn’t feel like a ping pong match of questions and answers, it felt like a conversation between friends which allowed me to get such organic, and honest answers from them.
One of my favourite moments was when we were taking snaps with them afterwards and my friend Ghazal from Style Calling, asked them “Why don’t you ever smile in photos?”. There was a mild eruption of laughter followed by smiles that didn’t waiver for the rest of our visit with them.
Joshua: How would you sum up the aesthetic of Public School?
Dao-Yi Chow: The aesthetic of public school really is this idea of convergence, blending tailoring and sportswear together. Elevating traditionally sportswear and street pieces and constructing them from a tailoring standpoint. Fabricating them form more of a elevated standpoint. Also the idea of ease, the pieces should fit very well but can allow you to wear them from morning to evening. So you can get dressed in the day for work, and go throughout your entire day, if your going to an event or a party you should be able to dress it up. Theres this ease and versatility about the collection which is what we have always tried to do.
Joshua: Holt Renfrew is Canada’s most recognizable luxury retailer and you are also available on SSENSE, what is it like breaking into the Canadian market?
Dao-Yi Chow: It’s cool I mean, Canada, North America in general is our home. For us to be able to branch out internationally outside of the US, is a big priority of ours, especially canada because it’s like our backyard, especially because it’s so close to home, it’s important for us to be in these key retailers like Holt Renfrew and SSENSE, so it’s great.
Joshua: Was this your first time coming to Vancouver?
Dao-Yi Chow: No, I go to Whistler to snowboard, but I have never been here in the summertime, it’s cool. It’s beautiful.
Joshua: What was your favourite thing you did while you were here?
Dao-Yi Chow: Oh my god, we haven’t been able to do much, but we saw the fireworks, we got to walk in english bay by the beach and it was really cool.
Joshua: Black will always be the new black no matter how much the industry tries to spin colour. West coast street style designers incorporate more organic imagery, colour and metallics into their looks. You work predominately in black. Do you see this divergence continuing?
Dao-Yi Chow: Well you know black for us is a very philosophical thing for us, it isn;t just our default colour. But when we look at black, it’s in the same way as we look at New York City, which has always been a big muse of ours, it’s so versatile, you can be completely anonymous in black or you can completely stand out in black. It gives our customer the opportunity to do either, black is very much a mindset for us, it represents the versatility of what public school represents. So black will always be the predominate base for our colour palette. But we are exploring prints and colours for spring 2015 which is coming up, black is certainly a base but we are building upon that.
Joshua: What is your design process like, what is your starting point when designing your collection?
Dao-Yi Chow: It starts out with this idea of finding perfection in imperfection. Something about it will always be off, there will always be dissonance in some part of the collection. From there we look at textiles for the season and fabrics form the season and then from that going into the sketching. So it starts of pretty much the same each season.
Joshua: Last season at NYFW you introduced womenswear to Public School with a great response, what sparked the introduction of womenswear for Public School?
Dao-Yi Chow: We started menswear form a womenswear model, we were looking at silhouettes and changing silhouettes it wasn’t really just fabric and fit but how do you put emotion into menswear and because of that i think the transition into womenswear has been easier for us. It’s not easy to dow omens, by any means, but it’s been easier because a lot of our shapes and silhouettes really transition into womenswear easily. Especially because menswear is having a moment in womenswear right now. It’s been a cool transition.
Joshua: You have had an incredible year winning Menswear designers of the year at the CFDA’s, and more recently the Woolmark prize for menswear, a new category this year. Does it feel like a dream?
Dao-Yi Chow: It really does, it feels like something we don’t want to wake up form. we just feel lucky and fortunate to that were getting this recognition. At the same time we take the responsibility pretty heavily, it’s not just another award for us, it’s not about winning, but it’s more about really establishing our look and separate ourselves form the rest of the pack. if you look at any award we have won we have stood out from the rest for better or worse, and thats what we are most excited about, it’s not about winning the prizes, it’s about standing out and sticking out.
Joshua: You also recently got to design a capsule collection for J.Crew, what was it like partnering up with such a large retailer and getting to design pieces that would be introduced to a large market?
It’s great! We do Public School and it’s really small now and it’s pretty niche. But to work with J. Crew
and have it be exposed to so many people that’s important, because we want to affect as many people as we can. We don’t do Public school to just keep it small and keep it super exclusive. We want to be a big brand and we want to affect how people look at themselves and dress and give people that option. To work with J. Crew with all these huge resources and huge reach it’s really exciting to see our clothes on alot of people.
Joshua: What was the best piece of advice you were given towards your dreams and who gave it to you?
Dao-Yi Chow: We get a lot of great advice because we have al these great mentors. But I think the last piece of great advice we got was from Anna Wintour. Who consistently tells us to take our time, be patient, to do things on our own schedule, not to be affected by other peoples expectations but to do what you do in your own pace, so I think that was probably the best advice we have gotten lately.
Maxwell Osborne: Probably my aunt, at one point she was like “Don’t listen to anybody just shut up and do whatever you wanna do and just work and keep going. I think coming form my family that was a big push because this is a hard business, so when you do it there not really money that’s being made. So you are really relying on your friends and family to help, not support you but help understand whats going on. Knowing that we worked for companies and had money and then certain things come up then yea, I can’t afford that right now. I’m putting it all into the company, my aunt was like “if you believe it just keep going just keep going and keeping doing it. My aunt is a entrepreneur she started her company early and now 35 years in to her company so she has always been a good support.
Joshua: What advice would you give to young up-and-coming designers looking to break into the fashion industry?
Dao-Yi Chow: Develop your point of view and make sure it’s really clear. make sure you stand out form the rest of the pack and that your doing something different. Surround yourself with great people and mentors.
Joshua: With NYFW literally around the corner, can you give us one word to tease us on what to expect for SS15?
Dao-Yi Chow: Distortion.
While most people are going back to school in September, I’m going to NYFW, and the only school I want to go to is Public School.
Thank you to Holt Renfrew for not only an incredible opportunity but for supporting such incredible talent. We cannot wait to see what the boys bring to SS15, it’s going to be a long few weeks waiting to see it.
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