NEW YORK – Known for their streetwise sensibility, Public School co-founders Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow have quickly become the go-to label for all the style-conscious cool kids. Their minimal, clean-lined and predominantly monochromatic but never one-note basics have also garnered accolades from the fashion establishment, earning them two Council of Fashion Designers of America awards. Shortly thereafter the duo was tapped to be creative directors of DKNY, the younger line in the Donna Karan empire. All the while Chow and Osborne have expanded the reach of their own label, debuting a women’s wear collection in 2014 to critical praise. Now they can add curator to their growing resumes — the pair will select works from the upcoming Prints and Multiples sale at Sotheby’s New York on 23–24 November for a special exhibition that will occupy the fourth-floor galleries. “We want to treat the space differently than what everyone who goes to Sotheby’s expects,” says Osborne.


“They’re wonderful to work with,” says Mary Bartow, head of the Sotheby’s Prints department. “We thought it would be interesting to have the perspective of someone linked to the art world but not part of the auction world.” Growing up in New York City, Chow and Osborne were constantly surrounded by art, both on the streets and in museums. “Being inspired by art wasn’t something we tried to do,” says Chow. “It was just a natural progression.” As Chow and Osborne prepared to travel to Dubai to present their pre-fall collection, they took a few moments to speak with us about some of the art they’ve selected and their evolving plans for the exhibition.

Meghan Dailey: What interests you about the relationship between art and fashion?
Maxwell Osborne: It’s about being inspired by the way artists see things. Inspiration is everything that you take in and you see and hear. Art is just another extension of that.

Dao-Yi Chow: In fashion you’re constantly thinking ‘Is this going to sell? Who is going to wear this?’ Art feels more pure and devoid of any commercial aspirations: an artist thinks ‘This is what I’m feeling, these are the colours I chose,’ not about how much money they can get for the painting. But the way art and fashion are related is that our work never feels finished – we can look at the clothes going down the runway and think, ‘Shit, I wish we’d used another colour or I wish that shoulder was stronger,’ and I feel like most artists think that maybe the painting is never quite finished.

MD: What is your vision for the gallery of works you are curating for Sotheby’s?
MO: We talked about curating the show as stages of our collective experience growing up in New York City and how we first experienced art, living in Queens and Brooklyn, remembering seeing Keith Haring murals painted on the handball courts in the park. Down the road we visited galleries and museums, and then eventually artists’ studios, and we’ve developed a point of view in terms of what kinds of art make us feel certain ways.

Cy Twombly, [Untitled] (Bastian 33), 1972. Estimate: $30,000–50,000.
Donald Judd, Untitled (Schellmann 196-197), 1990. Estimate: $10,000–15,000.
Ellsworth Kelly, Square with Black (Axsom 194), 1981. Estimate: $4,000–5,000.
Barbara Kruger, Untitled (The War for Me to Become You), 2008. Estimate: $30,000–50,000.
Picasso, Portrait de Jeune Fille, d’Apres Cranach le Jeune, II (B. 859; BA. 1053), 1958. Estimate: $400,000–600,000.
Keith Haring, Blueprint Drawing #8 (L. PG. 179), 1990. Estimate: $15,000–20,000.
Edvard Munch, Madonna (W. 39), 1902. Estimate: $450,000–650,000.

MD: What is your selection criteria?
DC: It is so subjective. A lot of what we’re drawn to are things that feel original, things that feel authentic to the artist. You might not know anything about the artist, but you can still get a sense of originality that is undeniable. And I think that’s what we love about the Cy Twombly we chose. It’s inherently him without even knowing his story.

MO: There are a lot of works that resonate for us. The Edvard Munch Madonna, the entire Matisse set is great. You just know when something looks good to you. It’s like when you see clothes. The colour combinations and the shapes are aesthetically pleasing. There’s nothing deeper than that. All of our selections feel that way.

MD: You’ve also picked out a Donald Judd and an Ellsworth Kelly. What do you find compelling about their work?
DC: There’s a lot of structure and a lot of restraint in the Judd and the Kelly that we appreciate in terms of how that relates back to fashion. In contrast, the Twombly feels completely free and really emotional.


MD: Does art influence your designs?
DC: We’ve been paying attention to some artists for specific seasons. The brushstroke print in the Fall 2015 line was inspired by Frank Stella. But I don’t see someone’s artwork and think, oh, that would make a great print. We don’t look at it through that lens. It’s more conceptual.

MD: How so?
DC: A work by Sol LeWitt influenced the concept for our first DKNY collection [Spring 2016]. It’s a photograph of an aerial view of Manhattan but there’s a piece of the city that LeWitt cut out.

MO: We were born and raised in New York and we know the city, and we’re very clear on what we do at Public School. But coming in to a new company, there’s some uncertainty. You’re not your whole self. And we knew we weren’t going to figure out who the DKNY girl is in one season, so we coined our first collection for DKNY Missing Pieces.

MD: Do you both collect art?
MO: There’s a Gordon Parks piece in our office. Also Haring and Basquiat.

DC: Prints definitely, and younger artists like Derek Adams, Daniel Arsham and Richard Haines, a fashion illustrator we work with.

MD: Is curating a show anything like putting together a runway show?
DC: For our collections we’re creating something new and with curating we’re picking someone else’s work. But it’s similar in the basic idea that you’re choosing which looks to put on the runway. We have a lot of conversations and ask: What’s the meaning behind those choices?