I touched down in Savannah on Tuesday with a suitcase full of clothing that I, at one point, considered to be decently Southern. This was a mistake. As I rolled up to SCADstyle's conversation with Public School (and as of spring 2016, DKNY) designers Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, put on by the Savannah College of Art & Design, I was likely the only warm body in the theater wearing florals. On a muggy April day in Georgia, the audience had come dressed in the colorless uniform of New York City creatives, something that Public School has all but perfected since the label's initial inception in 2008.
The crowd, all crisp sneakers and leather jackets, was excited to hear Chow and Osbourne for a full hour — and for fashion students, their arrival in Savannah couldn't have been more well-timed. Not 12 hours earlier, Public School announced that it would be the latest brand to break away from the fashion calendar's standard fall/winter and spring/summer show schedule, starting in June 2016. Instead, Chow and Osbourne will present their men's and women's collections together as one cohesive show in December and June; pre-spring and spring will make up "Collection 1," with pre-fall and fall comprising "Collection 2."
And the pair are really, really psyched.
"If you have menswear and womenswear, you're doing four shows a year, essentially," said Chow — plus pre-collections, added WWD's Alex Badia, who served as the moderator for the evening. "In all, we were doing 10 collections every year, which is more than a lot. It's insane."
But what Chow dubbed insanity, the fashion industry has deemed commonplace, and until recently, the designers didn't feel comfortable breaking away from the calendar to which the business still adheres. In fact, Osbourne mentioned that it's unlikely Public School would have made this move in the past. "Two years ago, we might not have done that," said Osbourne. "We would have been like, 'No, we're sticking to the schedule.' [We would] make sure we make everybody happy; make sure all the editors are there; make sure we don't step on anybody's toes. But now it's like — excuse my language — fuck it." The audience hooted. "We're more comfortable this way. We want to show this way."
Public School isn't the only label that's opted to shake up its scheduling and format in recent months: Burberry, Gucci and Rebecca Minkoff are among the brands that have announced they'll buck the traditional show schedule moving forward. Times are certainly changing, and it's happening just as SCAD's students are preparing to enter the professional world.
"This weight has been lifted off [our] shoulders," described Chow. "When you guys graduate, there are all these rules you'll have to play by, especially entering as young designers. And those rules are slowly breaking down. The idea of having spring goods — short-sleeved shirts and skirts — on the retail floor in January doesn't make sense." Is there a certain onus on Public School — a brand, in part, designed for movers and shakers — to lead the charge? "Our responsibility, maybe, is that we're supposed to break that tradition," added Chow. "We're supposed to be nontraditional. You're going to be entering into a workforce where all these pillars that we've been standing on for so long are starting to collapse. It's the best time, because it's an opportunity to do something new, and [to do] things that just make sense for who you are. Doing things that make sense for our business, who we are as people, who we are as designers. That's the new rule."
With Public School helping to breathe new life into an outdated show schedule, there's a question as to whether other U.S.-based design houses of equal prominence will follow suit. French fashion executives may have voted against the "see now, buy now" calendar this past February, but that certainly doesn't mean it won't soon take over stateside; Tom Ford and Vetements are already on-board. That power, according to Chow, now lies with the designers.
"We like to look at [this] as an opportunity that [proves] there are no rules," said Chow. "You really set the rules for yourself. And that's the most important thing, when you get into your first job or your second job or your third job or you start your own brand — you realize: Don't be burdened or don't succumb to what everyone else wants you to do in the industry. You guys set the pace. We set the pace as the designers."
Then, it was clear: Chow and Osbourne march to the beat of their own monochromatic, leather-clad drum, and are encouraging a whole new generation of creative talent to do the same.
Disclosure: SCAD paid for my travel and accommodations to attend and cover the event.