New York label Public School's Woolmark prize shows America's advantage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 February, 2015, 6:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 February, 2015, 6:18am

To win the International Woolmark Prize in fashion is to join an esteemed group of designers that includes Karl Lagerfeld and the late Yves Saint Laurent, who both won in 1954.

Initially launched to combat the threat to Australian wool growers caused by new synthetic fibres in the clothing market, the prize has evolved into a meaningful accolade in the fashion world.

This year saw the debut of a menswear-specific prize, and the winner, New York label Public School, was announced at last month's London Collections: Men.

Founded by Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne, Public School has been a serious contender in men's fashion for several years, with shows at New York Fashion Week, rail space in shops such as Barneys New York and Harvey Nichols, as well as a Council of Fashion Designers of America award under their belts. They debuted an impressive, easy to wear women's line late last year, and business is booming.

For Osborne and Chow, it's not just that winning the first men's award could put them on the global map, but that, as the first American designers to win at Woolmark, the moment is particularly poignant.

They beat out Sise from Japan, Asger Juel Larsen from Denmark, Australia's Strateas Carlucci, and the United Arab Emirates' The Emperor 1688 to clinch the big prize. Their winning collection of refined outfits featured hoods, layered and impeccably finished knits with a sporty, futuristic vibe.

In terms of general aesthetics, the label is all about New York urban chic - with sharp tailoring at its core. Think cool tees, shirts layered with vests and leather jackets.

Their silhouette is distinctive, as are the references to New York's unique blend of street style pop culture, and all the clothing is manufactured in the city.

"What was savvy about Public School was their skill with manufacturing and commerciality," said British menswear veteran Paul Smith, who, along with Tim Blanks, Dylan Jones, Eric Jennings and Nick Wooster, made up the distinguished panel of judges.

In terms of general aesthetics, the label is all about New York urban chic - with sharp tailoring at its core. Think cool tees, shirts layered with vests and leather jackets

"Many items were fully fashioned," he added, "so for sportswear they could fit the shape of the body and could work for some of the major sportswear brands. They've already invested in production; the US has a great focus on forward thinking beyond just designing it."

Smith was referring to one of the biggest factors that put many American designers ahead of their European contemporaries: commercial appeal and hip fashion made for modern, urban living.

New York is an exciting place to be for young designers these days - just look at what Alexander Wang has achieved in a few short years.

And Public School is part of the city's growing fashion clout, it being perhaps the friendliest of fashion capitals for young independent designers to achieve commercial success.

Other American labels will no doubt be encouraged by this win, as their industry grows in creative confidence.