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Why Public School Showed Its Pre-Fall Collection in Dubai

After sponsoring its New York Fashion Week shows for three seasons, Cadillac flew Public School designers Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow to Dubai to make their international debut.
Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne take to the runway in Dubai. Photo: Cadillac

Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne take to the runway in Dubai. Photo: Cadillac

The most recent fashion brand to show a pre-collection at — and fly editors to — a faraway locale was not Chanel nor Dior nor any of the other established European luxury houses, but Public School: an eight-year-old, New York-based label the industry is seemingly never not talking about.

Whether they're winning an award or taking over creative direction at an established brand, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne are two of the most omnipresent indie designers around. And big companies, from LVMH-owned DKNY to Tumi to Cadillac, have taken note, harnessing Chow and Osborne's innately cool, urban sensibility to refresh their images. In fact, Cadillac has sponsored Public School's past three runway shows. And for its first-ever pre-fall show, the GM-owned, Detroit-based auto company took the designers to Dubai.

Along with several other online editors and "influencers" from New York and beyond, I was flown to Dubai and put up in one of the city's most lavish oceanside hotels. A runway show and after-party took place in the oil-producing emirate's ultra-modern, up-and-coming design district Monday evening, alongside the reveal of a new Cadillac luxury car. Eager to capitalize on Dubai's burgeoning luxury market, Cadillac had long ago planned on revealing the vehicle there; it was only later the company approached Public School about showing a collection there.

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The big reveal. Photo: Cadillac

The big reveal. Photo: Cadillac

The brand is far from the first to align itself closely to a particular label: Bill Blass (Lincoln), John Varvatos (Chrysler) and Hermès (Hyundai) have all embarked on design collaborations with car companies, while Mercedes-Benz has long been a title sponsor of fashion weeks all over the world.

For an emerging designer, such partnerships can be instrumental in keeping things afloat financially and, hopefully, bringing new attention to their work. "Partnerships like this really help you let your voice be heard on a different platform and you've got to use that sometimes," Osborne said after the show. Plus, the designers may stand to learn something from a big, design-focused company.

While the extravagance level was likely a few notches below Chanel Dubai, the event involved a substantial investment on Cadillac's part. So what do Chow and Osborne do for Cadillac? According to Design Director Andrew Smith, the century-old car company is in the midst of a rebranding and wants to capture the attention of the next generation of luxury car shoppers. "They appeal to a crowd that we would like to talk to, that we would like to engage with, because the future of luxury is with millennials," said Smith. New York Fashion Week: Men's, where Cadillac is a main sponsor, is another example of the company trying to "build authentic relationships that resonate with the types of people we would like to engage with," he said.

The designers may or may not be targeting money-hungry millennials specifically, but the men's and women's clothes they showed Monday seemed like an ideal wardrobe for a young, hip person in the Middle East — modest and covered-up, but loose and easy, done in lightweight fabrics suitable for the mid-90s temperatures we've had this week. As the designers were already developing the collection before the Dubai opportunity arose, this was merely a coincidence. And while they seem to have had a great time in Dubai — riding ATVs in the desert and indoor snowboarding were among their favorite activities — Chow and Osborne have no plans to show internationally again anytime soon. New York is their "comfort zone," as Osborne put it, and these clothes would look really good there, too.