NEW YORK, United States — Fashion is not art. At its best, it is art-inspired craft, a fragile status that Public School designers Dao-Yi Chao & Maxwell Osborne examined for Autumn/Winter 2016 by showing their tomboyish wares around the monumental sculptures of the Belgian artist Berlinde de Bruyckere. Her work is brutal — evoking bandages, sinew and bone — and filled the Hauser & Wirth gallery space, where the show was held, with the kind of sturm und drang existentialism that fashion will rarely (if ever) equal.
Level that with the fact that the gallery stands where the Roxy nightclub once did and you are somewhere along the way to understanding the tricky thought process behind Public School's latest outing — one that follows the designer's DKNY debut last September and builds on the call-and-repeat of menswear tropes that have informed their upscale women's streetwear since day one.
"We were thinking about old New York. It's a nod to the streets in the early 1980's and our girl as an outsider," Chao said backstage, acknowledging the no-holds-barred urban message of the tough, layered silhouette they sent circling around de Bruyckere's dusty works. Opening with the delightful acidic pairing of a magenta felt greatcoat over a mottled red shirt dress, the collection's promising palette waned with every passing look, as burgundy tailoring and silvery rib knitwear was replaced by a sober study of textured black. Chao and Osborne riffed on masculine jacket shapes (an oiled perfecto featured triangular zip pockets, and drop-shouldered bombers were panelled in fleece or tattered quilting) whilst longline gilets, nylon skirts and tunics were cinched with dramatic triple-strapped belts, which exerted a touch of much-needed femininity that was lacking elsewhere.
That said, their muse will never be a lady who lunches (she is a tad more rough-and-tumble than that) and will respond well to the season's grungier hardware: eyelets lined a woollen cape and D-ring carabiners seemed to puncture the seams and backs of zippered coats and raw-edged tailoring. Such focus on utility decoration works well for the pair, balancing the minimalist tendencies that tend to stifle their flair for downtown cool.