Published on July 14, 2013  |  Written By Justin Lintag

Public School is on a defiant roll right now. We spoke with designers Dao-Yi and Maxwell Osborne at the beginning of April and since then they’ve come from being on the cusp of something great with their men’s collection to being at the forefront of Best New Contemporary Menswear Brands. The brand itself is a touch over the heads of the kids who are still stuck in streetwear limbo but it’s ahead of that young curve with appeal from bottom to top consumers. As a certain Philly rapper would say, “there’s levels to this ****” and Public School is silently mastering each one.

Diehard New Yorkers, so much so that despite sourcing fabric and textiles from overseas, Public School decided the only way to hone their brand was to design, produce and manufacture everything in their borough’s backyard. Very rare will you find a brand who’s got a finger on the pulse of American-pop deities like ASAP Rocky or Carmelo Anthony, even rarer and maybe more important is their recent nod from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, subjectively equivalent to an Oscar or Grammy in the fashion industry. So to put it in perspective, they just won the “Fashion Grammy” for “Best New Artists” – a massive achievement from an industry that can be so impenetrably highfalutin. Hot in the streets and haute on the runways, that’s the imperfect perfection they quote in any conversation they get into.

The clothing design impresarios thrive on their ‘one foot in the everyday city hustle, other foot in high fashion showroom’ modus operandi. If you look at the collection it’s impeccably sharp, but tip toeing off the common ledge. It’s thoughtful materials with an aesthetic rooted firmly in a New Yorker’s sensibilities – intelligent, spirited, double edged. Their Spring-Summer ‘13 collection saw a mélange of luxurious materials with highly wearable cuts. Quilted lambskin, electric waxed coats, jacquard tees, silk finished henleys, tropical wools. Being a season ahead, we’re now getting a detailed glimpse at Autumn 2013 in which you’ll find wool bombers, pigment sprayed flannel oxfords, lamb leather blousons, hybrid French terry cotton/nylon crewnecks. There’s fun, experimentation, keen attention to fabric choice – which are all nicely packaged into fashionably digestible silhouettes.

We got on the horn with the duo to discuss their brand from a holistic standpoint. We spoke on their humbling participation in the CFDA Incubator Program for new designers, their younger brother company in Black Apple and some of the gems of wisdom that Dao and Maxwell chose to impart.

You guys took a short hiatus from Public School a few years back, what is it about your city that made you remain based in New York? Additionally, what do you hope the phrase, “Made in NY” signifies to your customer base?

Dao-Yi: We’re both from New York, somewhat raised here so our blood is New York all the way through. With Public School and our other brand it’s New York-inspired. Our other brand is Black Apple, so even during our Public School hiatus; we were working on that brand at the time. Then we refocused and made Public School officially New York where we make everything in New York so that it feels all the way true.

Other than that, there’s this restless energy and the idea of New York being this imperfect/perfect city. That’s what we really try to communicate through our brand. Imperfect perfection. Looking for perfection in imperfection and having that whole sentiment ties back to the city.

We don’t consider ourselves as being veterans in the industry and the incubator was such a wonderful opportunity to meet so many different people, real veterans, people who had been doing this for such a long time.

In 2010, you both dedicated your time to the CFDA incubator program, one that allowed industry mentors to tweak and modify the outlook of your brand. How important would you say was this program to your successes in 2012/2013 and how important is it to keep a student’s frame of mind – humble enough to be mentored despite being in the industry for decades?

D: That wasn’t too hard. We had always been students. We were happy there to learn from anyone and everyone around us. We don’t consider ourselves as being veterans in the industry and the incubator was such a wonderful opportunity to meet so many different people, real veterans, people who had been doing this for such a long time. It was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up. So much of the incubator is what you make of it and how much you bring to it, so the more you put in, the more you get out. We were pretty good examples of taking full advantage of the program and all the things it had to offer.

Were there any epiphanic or “A-HA” moments during your time in the program?

Maxwell: Me personally, I

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didn’t. We just ran with it and did pretty much everything we wanted to do and then the things they would request from us, we were happy to do. I knew the future was coming with the relationships and everything that we made, but I didn’t see it at the time and how great the incubator was. We were maybe too close to it to realize, even up to the Fall 2012 show. It was just happening a little fast, it was all work and we never took a step back. Now that we’re out of the program we can see and say “Wow that happened…” It was just a big ball that kept rolling.

Working together for such a long time now, can you explain the dynamic you two share. Who wears which hats and who puts what on the table?

D: We pretty much do it all as a small brand. Being entrepreneurs you have to wear every single hat so from design to production to taking out the garbage. We split it down the middle, the design, spec’ing. The team is pretty small, we have a part-time production manager, a full time guy who works on denim and we handle sales a lot ourselves. And you got to love the interns too, interns they make the world go round.

As a private school kid growing up, the first thing that runs through my mind when I read the name Public School is the concept of ‘no uniforms’ – or perhaps more deeply, no conformity. What’s the real connection between the name and the collection?

D: We wanted to create something that represents our experiences growing up in New York City, That was the most important thing. When you go to New York or really any big city you have to get by, fight your way through to stand out. You have to be original, you have to be authentic – all those things that we hope resonate in our brand. It does have a sort of younger connotation sometimes and we’ve gone through periods where we thought the name was limiting in some sense. But over the seasons we’ve been able to transcend that with our collections.

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What is the greatest thing that has come from your Black Apple and New York Knick collaborative project at Madison Square Garden?

M: Meeting Carmelo, haha. I think us being New Yorkers and also having a die-hard love for the Knicks, it was more than amazing. Growing up in New York, playing basketball as young as six years old, everyone says, “I want to play for the Knicks or in the NBA”. A lot of people’s dreams don’t come true, but instead of your jersey hanging in the store we took another route having a clothing line fit inside Madison Square Garden. Having the players wear it, it’s maybe just as great of a feeling.

D: We have a funny story the night of the launch at the Garden. The marketing people from the Knicks invited us to go to the game, so it was going to be this thing where we would walk the shops and see how the line was merchandised. We were really excited, we got our tickets, finally got there and find out that our seats were pretty much last row. It was a funny moment, but thankfully we have a buddy who works for the Knicks who was able to switch our tickets out and put us on the floor. But that thing really speaks to the whole process of it; we were die-hard Knicks fans before the project and even after the project. So that last experience was just icing on the cake, for that one night we were walking from shop to shop and getting positive feedback from people. In a sea of blue and orange, we did a whole black collection that people reacted to positively and for maybe five minutes we felt like players or something. But of course, even if we couldn’t switch our tickets we would’ve still been sitting there with binoculars and tissues for nose bleeds. It was one of those surreal moments, where you take it in, say to ourselves “we did that” and be prideful if just for a moment.

It seems as though a lot of personalities, athletes and musicians have flocked to your collections so readily. Who’s the most intelligent of this bunch that you’ve come across when it comes to their knowledge of fashion?

D: Probably ASAP. We had never met him before but he came to our last presentation. By that time he was already sort of this fashion darling. We didn’t really know what to expect but he spent a while at the presentation, and really was quite interested in the whole process. He asked all sorts of questions about fabric, the development process, trim and even trying to break down the aesthetics. It was quite impressive because we had spent a similar amount of time with Melo (of the NY Knicks) who was also really interested in the process but he wasn’t as inquisitive as ASAP perhaps. But I think that just comes from the parallels of music, the creative process is more similar to what we go through in putting a collection together.

Dao-Yi has an old background in music journalism and it seems you both dabble as DJs – what type of music, particular album or even song (past or present) best shares the essence of Public School?

D: Good question. We’ve really been exposed to different sorts of music;

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of course hip-hop is the foundation, what we grew up on. It’s broadened from that though and it’s really about mood, a certain style than it is a favourite song. We can go from LCD Sound System to XX to Twin Shadow to Jay-Z. It’s all about capturing a mood, because we believe with our clothes that they should change the way you feel. Like if you put one of our leather jackets on, it should make you feel maybe tougher and make you walk with a little more confidence. That’s what music does for us. The music that we’re really attracted to has, for lack of a better word – swagger. We’ve got to invent a better word for that.

We’re still working 12 hours a day, struggling to pay the rent. The awards don’t stop the rent.

How important is this recent CFDA Award nomination to you both?

M: Oh that was for real? I thought we were still dreaming, haha.

It’s been one hell of a couple weeks I would say. It really took us by surprise. For all the hard work that goes into it, having the collections being recognized on a broader level has been amazing.

D: In the same vein, we don’t want it to be such a big deal but it really is such a big deal – for us. Just to be nominated and considered is already huge. On one hand, it really is this awesome thing but on the other, we’re still working 12 hours a day, struggling to pay the rent. The awards don’t stop the rent.

Every day can’t be 80 degrees and sunny. That’s why New York is such an important foundation because you never know what to expect.

One thing we like to end off our interviews with – do you have any mottos, philosophies or words that you are currently living by right now?

D: Every day can’t be 80 degrees and sunny. That’s why New York is such an important foundation because you never know what to expect. That’s what makes life worth living going from day to day.

I actually just finished a friend of mine’s memoir, Eddie Huang. He’s a chef here in NYC and he has a quote in there – it relates to cooking obviously – so for him his whole thing is that style is such a big part of how he cooks and what he does. There’s a line, “style is not an excuse to cook without restraint”. From our standpoint it would be to design without restraint. For us, our point of view is everything to us and without it you’re nothing, but still to have a “point of view” doesn’t mean you can design recklessly and do whatever you want in the name of style. A lot of what we do, there is a lot of restraint built into it. Like we can make everything with leather and put 50 zippers on it and call it our point of view, but there’s no beauty in that right?

M: For me, I’m going by “less is more”. Like less food, I’ve been on a juice cleanse for the past 7 days. Having a uniform and wearing the same outfit everyday. Less is more.

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Tom Mora is the current head designer of women’s wear as well as VP at J. Crew. Succeeding Marissa Webb in 2011, he continues his run of 10 years at this all American company. He is also in charge of bridal and special occasion and has been since 2009.

While I sit with Tom Mora on a rainy Tuesday Afternoon, we discuss his latest creations, personal style, and how he does what he does so thoroughly. His piercing dark brown eyes engage me through his thick plastic Cutler & Gross frames. Looking nothing short of polished, in some black Acne denim with a J. Crew blazer, Alden for J. Crew brogues and the finishing detail – a vintage Rolex day date adorned in chocolate leather band and gold face.

A pinnacle of American fashion & lifestyle, J. Crew caters to the All American girl: hard working, accomplished, sophisticated and well rounded – while still maintaining a life of personal upkeep, creating their own unique style and staying reverent to pieces that breathe an air of timelessness. You will see this come through in all of the J. Crew garments, jewelry, accessories and footwear. Each and every piece is interchangeable and practical, from the richly coloured cashmere crew necks, to the liberty printed denim and extravagant costume jewelry.

One of the most well spoken people I have ever encountered, Tom guides me through the brand new women’s only J. Crew shop in Pacific Centre. We discover the spring/summer line and he dissects the pieces so well it’s as if a short story could be written about every piece. His excitement is clear for the signature colored cashmeres, cute and timeless prints, and quality fabrics used in creating this line. After we do a tour of the shop, we sit down to delve into his creative process and a bit of personal wisdom, as well as his love for curating his out of state home in Connecticut.

1. How are you able to determine the needs and wants of women when it comes to getting dressed? How are you able to dig down into their minds and find out what it is that they really want when you yourself don’t wear women’s clothing?

A: I’m very lucky, I work with a lot of really chic young women who love clothes, so when you’re in that kind of environment on a daily basis you look at how they dress what they like, a lot of it is instinctual too. I’ve always loved women’s clothing and being a man it’s really nice because you bring a lot of that masculinity into the design of women’s clothes and so much of what we play with is combining masculine and feminine. So for example, using men’s details in a blazer or a pair of pants, as well as playing with textures. So much of women’s wear is very draped and very soft and it’s nice to add that rougher edge to it. Therefore, I think that it’s nice to have the combination of the two and it ends up working really nicely for us.

2. In terms of personal style, who are some of your favorite menswear designers and what key factors do you take into consideration when getting dressed?

A: Dries Van Noten- the colors and patterns are always so beautiful. I also enjoy Comme des garcons, Givenchy, and Neil Barret, for his clean lines. When putting myself together and how I dress, I try to always incorporate some classic element whether it be an oxford shirt, or a jean. It always starts with one thing and when I’m showering in the morning that’s when it starts to come together. I may know what shoe I want and then it all goes from there. If I’m not sure of one piece then it’s a disaster. If I can actually decipher a shirt or a tie to wear then the rest of it just comes together. I have to have that one thing that I know I want to wear. Sometimes the shower is a little longer than others, haha! And another good thing is if you go at night after work you might change your clothes and you can recycle that outfit or idea for the morning as an inspiration.

We want to challenge our customer and make sure they are stepping out of their boundaries. If it makes you a little uncomfortable, it means you are challenging yourself.

3. Women can dress a variety of ways, and for variety of audiences and moods. Which way do you design for and why?

A: I think we definitely design for women who dress for themselves. I think we want them to feel confident, comfortable, and unintimidated by their clothing. There should always be the focal point, even if it’s a crazy print such as a green floral. It needs to be something that is obtainable for them and understandable. Also, we want to challenge our customer and make sure they are stepping out of their boundaries. If it makes you a little uncomfortable, it means you are challenging yourself. That’s one of our successes- we push people a little bit outside of their comfort zones. Whether it’s with our style guide or how we show clothes styled on the Internet, all these things are suggestions for women on how to put an outfit together. And they’ve really embraced it, it’s really cool seeing women in the stores wearing the clothes and customers coming in and asking to be dressed. It means they’re ready for it, which is nice. The customer used to just get a piece or two here and there, now they want the whole outfit. I also think Jenna [Lyons] has a big impact on it too because of her personal style and I think people look up to her because she is very stylish.

4. What is your method of predicting trends for the future? Do you like to live in the past or future or right now?

A: I don’t try to predict trends, although I admire people and companies who do and who chase trends. Luckily what ends up happening if you are a good designer and have a strong team is that it happens organically. I think that’s important for it to happen that way and for our customer to recognize that as well, because I don’t think they are trend driven. They are more about quality, craftsmanship and fit. We spend so much time on all of these factors and they are really important to us. And inevitably a large part of those clothes are going to be on trend whether it is through coloring or patterning or fabrication or print, whatever it is, we are often on it. It works nicely for us but it’s not our goal to be ahead of the trend or on trend.

I reference the past a lot but in very subtle ways. There’s so much beauty and so many small details that are left behind. Right now we are in a very minimal time, it is so stream lined and futuristic. And there’s so much beauty from the past to respect pay homage to. It’s all subtle with us- you very rarely notice a detail specific from something old; rather, we interpret these details to make it something of our own. Vintage clothes, vintage books, and old movies are a large part of what inspires me.

5. J. Crew collaborations are always so successful. You said that J. Crew likes to offer the customer something that you yourselves admire. What are some more designers do you hope to work with in the future?

A: You know, I don’t like to talk too much about what we have in the works. If we find someone who does something that we like, we don’t want to just copy it we don’t want to make our own version of it, that’s not what we do as a brand. Rather we work together and say- we really admire you and we think you would fit in with what you are doing. We continue to work with lulu frost and she’s an amazing brand and every season we come up with amazing things that feel like are very J. Crew and are also very her. Collaborations are a great move for us, and there’s a lot of really amazing talented people out there so it has to be the right fit and the right time. We’ve got some stuff in the works that will hopefully be exciting for you guys.

6. Vancouver was noted one of the worst dressed cities, how do you think women here can maintain both fashion and function in our constant rainy climate?

A: I think it’s difficult. You guys are getting a raw deal because I think you are pretty stylish. I got to spend the day yesterday in Gastown and there were some really great stores and people with unique style. It’s hard with the weather being the way it is, you definitely have to dress with function in mind. But I think that it’s about not letting yourself be lazy with your style, it’s ok to feel casual but don’t be sloppy. There should always be that one thing that pulls it all together – whether it is your hair or your lipstick, or your earrings, a great shoe or the fit of a jean. I love a good baggy jean, something to offset the proportion a little bit. So if you want to feel easy and casual, then maybe have a big raincoat, and a super skinny jean underneath with a ballet flat or a heel. It’s always about that little twist of proportion and it’s always fun to play with because it shifts the eye a little bit. Big with small always looks good, or if you want to do big with big then pair it with a super high heel. Color playing is also a good one so if you want to dress casually put two colors together that maybe don’t go or that compliment each other in an odd way. I think it’s just taking a bit of extra time to think about it, that’s all it takes. Laziness is a big part of it and we all get in those ruts of being comfortable, but once you start getting into the cycle and habit of thinking about it. Then it becomes easy and you end up feeling funny not doing it.

7. The Spring/Summer 2013 collection encompassed a wide color and fabric palette, what are some of your favorite fabrics to work with?

A: Spring/Summer is fun because you do a lot garments in linens and great cottons. The fabrics don’t shift that much from season to season, we just aren’t using things such as tweeds and fabrics alike. It’s mostly about patterning, print and proportion play. We did a lot of colour mixing this season, a lot of stripes and nautical inspirations, such as the sea horses, which were a really playful take. Playing with patterns and prints and putting them onto sweaters, dresses and pants – all of those things add to the fun of the season as opposed to it being about new fabrication.

8. You said that the fall 2012 presentation was your proudest design, how do you plan to out do yourself for the future?

A: I try not to set myself up; I think it has to happen organically. The fall show we had in February, we started that in July so it was a crazy amount of time that it took to put it all together. I think it’s about being clear and having a solid idea of what you want, being open to new suggestions. Again, I work with a really talented team and listening to what they have to say about design and having fun with it is the most important thing. Like I said, feeling a little uncomfortable and pushing your self. Trying not to go back to the well too much as far as ideas go. I think J. Crew has a strong DNA of things we like to do – patterns and prints, especially in bottoms, as well as great cashmeres. Also trying things like a new silhouette or a new proportion. Those are all very important for us.

9. What piques your interest outside of fashion and design?

A: Well it’s sort of all tied, no matter what you do. I have a house share in Connecticut that I go to every weekend. Big house, big yard and one of my biggest interests are filling the house with beautiful furniture and objects. It’s fun and you kind of want all of it to all happen at one time but 4000 square feet is a big undertaking. A lot of it is patiently going to antique stores and looking around while having in mind what you want. I also like to paint but I haven’t been able to do that in a few years. Fortunately and unfortunately a lot of my hobbies do lie within the industry. Looking at books and collecting photo books for general inspiration as well as just watching movies. There’s nothing better than watching a funny comedy and sitting there and just laughing out loud, or crying, I like a good selfish cry haha, there’s nothing wrong with a man crying!

10. And lastly, give us a little insight on your outfit and who you are wearing.

A: I’m wearing a J. Crew shirt, J. Crew jacket, Alden for J. Crew. Acne pants, and my tie is Dries. My watch is a vintage Rolex; unfortunately I had the face replaced. You are supposed to put a watch on over a bed or couch and one time I wasn’t paying attention and dropped it on the floor and it cracked! Though it still has a beautiful face. My glasses are Cutler and Gross.

And there you have it, witty, charismatic and stylish. Tom Mora truly has it all – accomplished and successful are everything he emits! Hopefully this article gave you all some insight behind the brand, how to dress yourself in Vancouver’s crazy climate, and that a good cry can do no wrong! His outlook is both eye opening and inspiring, and we look forward to seeing more – nothing short of spectacular – J. Crew creations from Tom and his brilliant team.

The folks over at the Fader caught up with the hermit of hip-hop, Andre 3K, for a telling little Q&A. Andre’s been another one of those rap enigmas, à la Lauryn Hill or that other Andre who’s teased us for oh, just about 13+ years, who will leap in and out of hip hop circles at their own free will. Rap nerds know that Andre 3 Stacks has kept himself ginsu sharp over the years even without an album since ’03 (let’s not include Idlewild please), and it’s only a matter of time before he gets that spark to deliver us another genre-bending, mind-contorting classic. They catch up with him to talk expectations, songwriting, the Gorillaz and getting back on the rap wagon.

Link: The Fader | Interview: Andre 3000

YES! RBMA is back with sessions in Madrid. For those who don’t know, this music academy is like a secret society for uber-talented artists, producers, engineers, musicians who come together in an amazing city each year to congregate creatively. I’ve been watching these lectures for a bunch of years now and I have to say they are the best and most comprehensive music interviews I’ve ever watched. To some it’ll be boring but to those who get geeked over certain people in the music industry (?uestlove, Amp Fiddler, DJ Premier, Jay Electronica, etc.) then you’ll be pleasantly surprised to watch these uncut 1 or 2 hour+ sit-downs.

Chairman Mao’s latest participant for lectures is Young Guru. The engineer of all engineers who’s been Jay-Z’s right hand man in the studio for the better part of his career. No need to explain just know that Guru discusses all the ins & outs of everything mostly from the Blueprint III era. Now take 2 and a 1/2 hours of your day to watch!
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Vintage. Militaria. Utilitarian. Naval. Workwear. Archival. These are all words that exist in the lexicon of present-day menswear designers far and wide. Some designers have a penchant for reproducing exact replicas of traditional garb. Some shopkeepers use those references and old techniques to modernize the heritage of such garments. What’s great is finding someone who does both. Matt Robinson is that double edged sword. He’s both a designer & retailer who merges the best of both worlds – he peddles a careful edit of old authentic pieces, while also carrying on those traditions with his own in-house label, Klaxon Howl. He’s an aficionado of the old school to say the least, he’s a self-declared collector, maybe even hoarder of finely constructed pieces from the past. Collecting took a turn to designing and Matt’s been avoiding “trends” ever since he started the line.

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Over the weekend, we did a little moonlighting for one of our favourite menswear publications, Freemanbrand.com. Mr. Hocking had us covering the official grand opening for one of Gastown’s newer retail fronts, Neighbour. We spoke to shopkeeper, Saager Diwalri on a number of topics about the shop, the stocklist and the neighbourhood. Take a look at some of our photo coverage and read the interview below…

Link: Free/Man | A Conversation with Saager: Neighbour

Tucked into a fairly nondescript downtown neighbourhood stands a storefront that represents certain northwestern ideals that live on the outskirts of the Rose city. In that shop, stands a shortlist of distinguished men who are transferring those Cascadian aesthetics into a slightly more fashionable, street conscious viewpoint. One of those gentlemen goes by the name of Michael O. Andersen, a forecaster of sorts among other things and I don’t mean he’s a weatherman. We’re talking about forecasting the landscape of men’s garments and goods in Oregon.

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Lemeirt Park Legend, The Original Dom, Notorious DOM, Dom Corleone – there’s a handful of monikers that our latest interviewee has donned in his young rap career. None greater than the most elite of names, a harbinger of American excellence – DOM KENNEDY, as if heir to his nation’s most beloved president. With all the mannerisms of his G-Funk forefathers on the west coast and all the idiosyncrasies of their counterparts on the east side of the country, DOM KENNEDY is very much a two-sided coin in the industry of rap in more ways than one.

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If you’re reading this right now, you probably know at least a little something about our most recent feature – California native, Bobby Kim. 1/2 of the two-man wrecking crew who are the originators of streetwear label, The Hundreds. An obsessive documentarian, a proponent of counterculture (take that however you see it) and owner of a specially customized Delorean DMC-12 (Yes, the time machine from Back To The Future)…

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