If fashion were Public School, Dao-Yi Chow would be the cool kid that all the bullies feared, the ladies loved, and the athletes respected. Without a doubt.
Well, fashion is the real world, and believe it or not, as one half of New York-based design duo Public School, Dao-Yi is all of the aforementioned and then some.
Founded in 2008, before menswear was having a fashion moment as colossal as the one we’re currently experiencing, Dao-Yi teamed up with Max Osborne to streamline their New York-inspired visions and dope personal style into one brand that encompassed shit they liked, shit they would wear, and naturally, shit everyone loved.
The brand has reached unimaginable heights, and resulted in the dream collaboration for any New Yorker: An exclusive line with the New York Knicks.
GlobalGrind had the opportunity to catch up with the busy designer for an interview about everything from his come up as a designer, to his choice of the most stylish Knick, and of course, a speed round with hip-pop’s favorite names.
GlobalGrind: Let’s talk about your relationship with the other half of Public School, Max. How did you guys meet?
Dao Yi: We used to work together at another menswear company. He was on the design team and I was managing the design team and we worked together for three years. It grew into a friendship and I left the company and he left shortly thereafter. We worked on a couple freelance projects together and one fateful night, we just decided we should do something of our own. Yeah, that’s pretty much how we got together.
What’s the beginning process like for two people trying to streamline their unique visions into one company? Was there a lot of head-butting or were your visions pretty much the same throughout?
I think that’s what made it so easy, we were on the same page and connected aesthetically. Having worked together before definitely made that partnership easier.
Do you ever get sick of working together? You become like siblings, right?
Absolutely. It’s like how hip-hop groups start out as brothers and eventually…Haha. We’re still relatively sort of new. Max is pretty easy going and I’m more of an uptight guy, so he probably has to put up with more shit than I do.
You’re from Quebec, but have been living in New York pretty much all your life. How does the city play up as a backdrop to your designs for Public School?
It’s everything to us. We base collections on the city. Our mantra is finding perfection in imperfection and so that is how we view New York City and the New York City experience. Appreciating the seasons and going through crazy winters and summers. If you’re coming from out of town, you might think the people are dangerous and dirty and the people are rude. That is what we find exciting and beautiful about the city. And so, it’s everything. It isn’t the backdrop; it’s more of a foundation for the brand.
Let’s talk about Black Apple, your newest collaboration.
We have a sort of dream come true collaboration with the Knicks and so we are selling our collaboration at the Garden for about the next four or five months.
Do you have a Knick that you think is the “best dressed” on the team?
I give those guys a lot of credit. It’s tough to be 6’9, 6’8, 6’7 and try to pull stuff off, but they’re all – Amar’e, Tyson, Melo, Shumpert – they’re all pretty style conscious.
What if you had to choose one?
I would say probably Amar’e.
I know that you use the city is the backdrop to your design, but where do you go when you need a fresh outlook on the city? When you need to take an outside look for new inspiration, where do you go?
I guess it’s anywhere we go, just traveling in general is such an inspirational process. We certainly spend a lot more time in certain cities than others. For example, we spend a lot of time in Hong Kong; my wife is from Hong Kong. Asia in general is pretty inspirational. I don’t think we go to one place in particular to get away. It’s just the process of traveling in general, packing and flying included, the feel of going somewhere and being a part of this universal movement. So it’s more about the process than the destination. I guess that’s a great metaphor for what we’re trying to do with the brand.
Menswear has been having a great couple of years. It’s been stigmatized in the past, but why do you think men are more open about enjoying fashion now?
It’s probably a combination of so many different factors. The almighty Internet has certainly affected everything. The passing of information and how easy it is to see other guys and the new exposure to product in general led to an appreciation of it. Men are slow. We’re like light-years behind women when it comes to style and fashion, so I think it’s about time we started catching up and caring. I think with people caring about themselves more and their bodies, it has to do with people wanting to present the best image of themselves.
Looking at everything that you’ve learned now as a menswear designer. If you could tell yourself something when you were starting in 2008, what lesson do you wish you would have known then?
Shit, so many! I think we’ve learned the most in terms of the do’s and don’ts of running your own business. Mostly just appreciating and protecting the value of what you have. We launched out the gate and had really great success that we took for granted and it sort of all went away. I spent two years here in the incubator and now we’re trying to climb back. I think it’s more just about the process and making sure that you pay attention and you get the stuff done that you don’t like doing as much as the stuff that you do like doing. It’s more from a business standpoint than anything.
What do you think is the hardest thing about being in business for yourself?
The hardest thing I think is having a lot of people depend on you. Whether it’s your employees or your family and you really hold their wellbeing in your hand. So the responsibility is the hardest thing. It’s different being 38 trying to still launch your own business, versus being 25 and having little responsibility. In addition, it’s also the factories that you work with whose success depends on you as well. Family is just along for the ride.
When it comes to your own personal style, do you wear your own designs or do you have certain designers you look to for your personal wardrobe?
We’re lucky that we design stuff that we want to wear. Pretty much we wear our own things. It’s a testament of our aesthetic of how we can combine high and low and that’s really what our lifestyle is. We’re not living it to wear shorts to everything. We’re living it to appreciate a sweatshirt as much as we do a tuxedo jacket. So we’re at the point now that we can just wear our own stuff. I do still love and appreciate several European designers and collections.
You mention mixing high and low. What do you think of these high and low design collaborations?
I think it’s great. The value of real high fashion is that it stays high. It’s meant for a certain ‘person,’ or ‘people,’ a certain ‘class’ of people, and those collaborations bridge the distance that has been created. People who can’t afford that can now get a piece of it in a limited run and ultimately, it was going to get to that point anyway.
Jay-Z or Kanye? Jay.
Biggie or Tupac? Big.
East Coast or West Coast? East.
Sky diving or roller coasters? Sky diving.
Beyonce or Rihanna? Wow. That’s tough. That’s a complicated one! Probably, Bey, but I want it to be Rihanna too. Let’s let that one be a tie.
Tattoos or piercings? Tatt.
On a woman-stilettos or sneakers. Stilettos.
Knicks or Nets? Knicks.
Trinidad Jame$ or Chief Keef? Yikes! I appreciate them both, but between the two, Trinidad Jame$.
Be sure to check out Public School’s Black Apple collaboration with the Knicks available exclusively at Madison Square Garden now.