KAWS went from a skater kid doing graffiti around New York City to illustrating the beloved animated series Doug to creating instantly recognizable pop art that gained visibility the world over. The artist, painter, designer and toymaker details how he linked with Nigo and Pharrell in Japan, collaborated with Jordan and Uniqlo for sold-out capsules, and created motifs that elevated fine art into the cultural zeitgeist.
Public School is the definitive product of two New York City natives and their go-getter spirits. In less than 10 years since its 2008 inception, founders Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne —who met while working at Sean John— catapulted their own menswear brand to immense popularity with a high-fashion-meets-streetwear approach to design, racking up multiple awards in the process.
While the style and wearability of the apparel made a name for itself, Public School truly claimed its stake as leaders in the fashion industry when it teamed up with Jordan Brand. After working on exclusive friends-and-family versions of the Air Jordan 1, Air Jordan X, and Carmelo Anthony's M10, the NYC-based brand expanded its horizon and launched the PSNY x Air Jordan XII to the public — a dark-grey luxe rendition that resonated with the purest of sneakerheads and menswear enthusiasts alike. The collab was the precursor to three more Air Jordan XIIs that embodied the brand’s hometown of New York City, as well as Paris and Milan.
After a small world tour with the XIIs, the Public School duo is back home for New York Fashion Week to debut their Spring/Summer 2018 collection and a brand new capsule in collaboration with Jordan Brand. Using the black sheep of the Air Jordan lineage, the XV, Public School re-imagined Tinker Hatfield’s original design in ways never seen before. The collection includes Air Jordan XVs for men in black suede, an olive woven material, and for the first time ever, an Air Jordan XV boot for women.
The successful runway show located in the heart of Chinatown was followed up with a nearby pop-up shop, where the footwear and apparel was available for purchase. There, Complex caught up with the PSNY founders, joined fellow Sean John alumnus and current Senior Director of Energy Projects at Jordan Brand Gemo Wong, to talk about the latest drop.
Check out out the latest episode of #LifeAtComplex for a closer look at the star-studded event, inside the pop-up shop, and interview.
How did Public School’s relationship with Jordan Brand first come about?
Gemo Wong: So I’ve known Dao-Yi for a while, we used to work together. As his brand Public School kind of progressed, it felt like the timing was right to do something especially in the apparel space. The partnership started with apparel first and then we kind of explored footwear
After doing your first footwear collaboration, did you know it would become an ongoing partnership?
GW: We just kind of did what we felt was right. It’s all about time, who we [Jordan] are as a brand and who they are as a brand.
What was the motivation behind using the Air Jordan XV for this collab?
Dao-Yi Chao: It’s starts with a conversation. The great thing about working with Gemo and his team is that, there isn’t a set schedule, there isn’t a set plan. We only work when we feel it’s right. When we a great idea, we take it to him and if he likes the idea, he’ll set things into motion. With the XVs specifically, Gemo’s always challenged us to work on shoes that sort of lie outside of the 1s, IIIs, IVs, Vs, VIs, XIs — the really popular ones that iterated a l lot and so we enjoy that challenge. Coming off working on the XII, changing that iconic shoe into something that was definitively Public School, was something that we wanted to carry over on the XVs. It’s a love it or hate it shoe.
He’s said that on record. Were there any challenges you faced while designing these Air Jordan XVs?
Maxwell Osborne: Not really. Maybe on the women’s side, trying to make the boot.
DC: That was another idea that was born just out of conversation. Like, “Yo, we wanna do it during Fashion Week during the show, but it’s a women’s show. It would be crazy if we turned the XV into a boot!”
It already is kind of chunky like a boot.
DC: Exactly. We wanted to accentuate the obvious things about the shoes. The fold back on the tongue I guess is what you would call it — all of those things we wanted to really build on top of, but make it feel like our own shoe. That’s the point of any good collaboration. You gotta add something to it. It’s already great in its own realm, but how do you add to it and make it something better?
The tongue of the sneakers feature a “WNL” logo. What does the “We Need Leaders” motto specifically mean to Public School as a brand?
MO: “We Need Leaders” for us, was really a call to action. It was for everybody to step up. Us, our team, everybody around the world, just to step up and be better. It also mean when no one’s looking. So, are you the same type of person when the lights turn off and you go home? Are you the same type of person you show face to when you step out of that? WNL mean a lot to us in terms of special leadership and people stepping up to the plate.
When you first released the first grey PSNY XIIs did you expect such a big reaction?
DC: I don’t know, I didn’t know what to expect.
GW: You always have your fingers crossed. You always go in wishing the best. We took a different approach to it, so we were hoping for a good response, especially in [Public School’s] space, the fashion space, it was good overall.
Did the response play a part in following up with the city series or was it already in the works?
GW: Again it all comes down to what we felt was right timing wise, what these guys are into, and making sure the brands are in tune, so as a evolution as the grey we felt like doing the City pack was a good addition.
DC: We say that thing and always felt it was almost boot-like, the way we molded it out, so we just sampled it in a wheat colorway because it felt like a boot. So from there, again, just from the conversation, they put it into work. We it came back we were like, “What if we flip three colors — the Wheat is so New York— what if we created a colorway for Paris and a colorway for Milan?” That’s how it goes, then we try it out. If it don’t feel right then we keep it moving, but if we’re onto something, I think it all clicks with us and we push it forward.
When that release happened launching the collection over multiple cities, it really changed the way retail works. Do you guys plan to do that again, say with this release?
GW: It all depends on the project, the time, how we feel when we all get together.
Gemo, can you explain your role as head of Energy Projects at Jordan Brand?
GW: I’m Senior Director of Energy Projects. That’s everything from what you see here — footwear, apparel, to anything limited and sought after within the brand.
How do you decide on which people to work with like KAWS, Drake, or Travis Scott? GW: It just all depends on where the brand is at. I don’t want to feel like we have to do collabs. I feel like we should let collabs enhance the brand, rather than we need them for the brand. It takes the pressure off. There is no, “Oh man, I gotta do a collab this month, next month.” As with this project, it’s just timing, where we are as a brand and if it feels right, then we do it.
Why is it important for Jordan Brand to focus on fashion and lifestyle versus just sports?
GW: We concentrate a lot on sports as well. It just so happens that we do some fashion stuff. You look at our portfolio, we still do a lot in the basketball space with athletes like Russ and all their signature shoes, but we also do stuff in the fashion space. Our brand means a lot to everyone, which could be a gift and a curse. As result, we just try to balance it out.
What was it like working with Diddy back during your time at Sean John?
MO: All three of us met at Sean John actually. How did it feel? It felt great! [Laughs] You got Puff’s son behind you.
DC: That brand, that moment in time sort of represented this idea of aspiration. Everything about Puff, even outside of fashion was you should aspire for something better. I think that really stuck with us. That idea of aspiration, doing something unexpected, but always presenting this idea of aspiration to do something better or to make something better. We all went different routes, but that definitely stuck with us.
Each year, brands and designers drop several collections, collaborations, and special releases. And each year, there are a few that stand out and grab everyone’s attention. Hype can be brought on by the brand’s own popularity; other times it’s a co-sign from an A-list celebrity. Regardless of how it happens, the most in-demand pieces often sell out almost instantly, cause long lines (even as brands and retailers implement new, stricter lineup systems), and show up on sites like eBay and Grailed—sometimes for triple the retail price.
We’re only halfway through 2017 and there have already been quite a few style releases that have dominated the conversation. Seriously—some recent drops have been so insane that news outlets like Huffington Post and ABC7 Eyewitness News, who wouldn’t normally cover these releases, were hyping them up.
From the usual suspects like Supreme and Kanye West to everything in between, these are the most hyped style drops of 2017 so far. And before you get mad, this list only includes apparel and accessories. We have separate lists coming for the best sneakers.
So, when ASSC teased a collaboration with Bape, kids were basically salivating over the collection. It was small—hoodies, tees, and zip-ups with ASSC font and Bape’s iconic ABC Camo pattern, released in limited quantities at Bape’s New York location only. The exclusivity of the line, in addition to the popularity of both Bape and ASSC, definitely made this collab one of the most hyped of the year so far. In fact, some of the pieces are currently being resold on eBay for up to $1,600.
Supreme x Louis Vuitton Collaboration
In 2000, Louis Vuitton hit Supreme with a cease-and-desist after the brand attempted to release skate decks with a graphic similar to LV’s signature monogram. It came as a surprise, then, that nearly two decades later, the fashion house—led by men’s artistic director Kim Jones—is collaborating with Supreme, even if Jones is a noted fan of streetwear.
The Supreme x LV collection was first teased in early January, when Jones posted (then quickly deleted) an Instagram featuring a sticker mash-up of the two brands. A few weeks later, Louis Vuitton confirmed the collaboration during its Fall/Winter 2017 fashion show in Paris by sending models down the runway wearing pieces from the line. Since then, Travis Scott, Kate Moss, ASAP Bari, David Beckham, and more have been seen rocking the yet-to-be-released items.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about this collaboration is what it represents: High-fashion is finally openly acknowledging streetwear. Jones put it best: “No New York men’s conversation is complete without Supreme.”
The Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration won’t be cheap: $65,000 LV monogram trunks, $485 box logo T-shirts, and $435 camp caps to name a few. But that likely won’t stop people from buying their favorite pieces when the line drops this coming July. Even the city of New York seems to understand the hype around the collaboration. Last month, a Manhattan community board denied a proposal to have a Louis Vuitton x Supreme pop-up shop to be held at 25 Bond St. in the NoHo neighborhood.
Needles Track Pants
Needles, the Japanese label founded by designer Keizo Shimizu, has been making their now famous track pants with the butterfly embroidery for a few seasons. But it wasn’t until a few months ago that stylish kids everywhere began catching on. With the sportswear trend and heavy co-signs from ASAP Rocky, ASAP Bari, Luka Sabbat, and the No Vacancy Inn guys, Needles hasn’t been able to keep the track pants in stock at Nepenthes, the store Shimizu opened, and other stores.
Supreme has had a long history of releasing novelty pieces, including punching bags, bricks, and even nunchucks. The brand’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection was no different. This past February, the brand released Supreme-branded MetroCards. Retailing for only $5.50, the limited edition MetroCards were sold at Supreme’s store, online, and MTA vending machines at select subway stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. The demand for the cards was huge—so big, in fact, that the lines inside the subway stations looked like queues outside of a Supreme store during a Thursday drop. Now, they’re being resold on sites like eBay and Grailed for up to $70. Cops even had to shut down the line that formed at the Union Square Station because it got too hectic. The MTA has collaborated with other brands before, including Calvin Klein, but none garnered as much attention as this.
Kanye West’s Calabasas Collection
At this point, anything Kanye West releases is bound to attract tons of attention. Prior to the release of his Calabasas collection, West was often seen wearing the maroon track pants from the line. But back then, he and Adidas had not confirmed whether or not it was a custom piece, or if it would eventually be for sale. Later, many thought the pants were only for “friends and family” when some received them as invitations for the rapper’s Yeezy Season 4 fashion show.
But this past March, the Calabasas collection was finally made available to the public via the YeezySupply.com website. No surprise: It sold out within minutes. The line—track pants, crewneck sweaters, hats—retailed for $25–$200, much less than previous Yeezy Season releases, which likely contributed to the success of the collection.
ASAP Bari has turned VLONE into a huge success. The brand’s signature black and orange motif has been seen on everyone from fellow ASAP Mob members Rocky and Ferg to Odell Beckham Jr. and 2 Chainz. While Bari doesn’t follow a calendar—he seems to release product whenever he feels like it, and via VLONE pop-up shops—he was able to dominate the conversation when he did drop new pieces. This year, he opened several VLONE pop-ups, and the lines were insane. Now, pieces are being resold on Grailed for nearly double the retail price.
The brand’s success has led to collaborations with Nike on a pair of Air Force 1s, which resold on eBay for more than $90,000, and Tupac’s estate on merch. Later this month, Bari is also set to present his first ever cut-and-sew collection during Paris Men’s Fashion Week.
Palace Spring/Summer 2017 Collection
Although Palace was founded in 2009, the London skate brand has become even more popular Stateside. In fact, like most of its drops, they couldn’t keep the Spring/Summer 2017 collection in stores. If you’ve ever checked Palace’s online shop on the day of any release, chances are that more than half of the collection already sold out in minutes.
Some of the best-sellers from the Spring/Summer 2017 collection included their graphic T-shirts inspired by Prince and the cult classic film The Breakfast Club, as well as the “tri-ferg” logo hoodies and track jackets.
Along with his limited Air Jordan collaboration, KAWS also linked up with the Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo to release a collection inspired by the Peanuts cartoons. The affordable T-shirts ($15) sold well, but the item most people were after was the Snoopy plush toy, which featured KAWS’ signature Xs on the eyes. KAWS toys have always been seen as collectibles. Uniqlo briefly restocked the plush toys but only at select stores in Japan and Hong Kong.
The past few years have been a strange time for the once-mighty Jordan Brand. The company has been instrumental at nearly every defining instance of footwear culture in North America, but recent days have seen the rise of Adidas and an increased popularity in lifestyle running sneakers. The brand’s making more sneakers than ever, and making them pricier than before, so the mystique that Jordans are impossible to get has all but faded. But this new set of business challenges also brings an exciting time for consumers: Jordan Brand has been forced to try new things instead of re-releasing the same sneaker over and over and over and over…
This year has seen Jordan Brand take on big-time collaborations and ways to rejuvenate its business through storytelling and product that feels special, rather than mass-produced sneakers that are passé. As a result the company is trying special release strategies and even releasing player-edition sneakers to the public. It’s been an interesting six months to say the least. With that said, here are the best Air Jordans of the year so far. —Matt Welty
10. Air Jordan IV “Royalty”
Here’s a recipe for success: Take a good shoe, make it with good materials, and do it in a colorway that doesn’t suck. That’s what Jordan Brand did with the “Royalty” IV, and the results were great. It was black, white, and gold, a combination that looks good on any sneaker. There’s not much to say other than an Air Jordan IV will always be good and simple color schemes reign supreme. —Matt Welty
9. OVO x Jordan Trunner
Drake’s ongoing collaboration with Jordan Brand has drawn the ire of true footwear connoisseurs, and the Xs and XIIs that he’s slapped with OVO branding are starting to feel really tired. Instead of reworking another silhouette that’s been reworked a handful of times already, Drake and Jordan Brand decided to take a surprise approach with the release of an OVO Jordan Trunner at the grand opening of Toronto’s Jordan Brand store, and it was just what the company needed to break up the monotony of its biggest partnership right now.
The shoe was good for several reasons. If you’re not a fan of basketball sneakers in general, it’s really, really hard to get into the faux nostalgia that helps push Jordan Brand forward. And getting a pair of running sneakers from the brand is like looking for the vegan options at a steakhouse: you’re going to be disappointed no matter what. But the Trunner is something different all together. It’s not trying to be something that Jordan Brand is not — it’s the one training shoe for the person who loves the Jumpman. The black-and-white colorblocking didn’t feel played out on the Trunner, and the OVO owl on the heel was just enough to satisfy Drake fans, especially those who have been into his Stone Island-heavy, European-inspired looks as of late. —Matt Welty
8. Air Jordan IV “Pure Money”
The Air Jordan IV was always more of a technological accomplishment than a design one, as Tinker Hatfield essentially created a lighter-weight version of the Air Jordan III using the best technology available to him in 1988. Mesh inserts both cut weight and provided far better ventilation, while synthetic “wings” provided extra support. Other than that, the sole units and cut were fairly similar, while an ACG-esque spatter treatment on the midsole and “Flight” patch on the tongue did more to separate it stylistically from its predecessor.
The somewhat busy design is perhaps best appreciated in a simple makeup, hence the all-black “Black Cat” and all-white “Pure Money” makeups. Released just in time for the start of summer, the “Pure Money” re-retro features hits of chrome on the lace loops, just enough shine to draw attention but not too much. For a 12-year-old take on a 27-year-old shoe, the “Pure Money” Air Jordan IV still shines. —Russ Bengtson
7. Air Jordan XXX1 “Russell Westbrook PE”
Ever since Michael Jordan retired, Jordan Brand has had to find another endorser to be the primary face of the flagship shoe. For a while it was Dwyane Wade. Now it’s Russell Westbrook, who’s been holding it down since the shrouded Air Jordan 28. As the standard bearer, he’s gotten special makeups of each, some of which have reached the marketplace—remember the WHY NOT? 28s? This year, he got the most special one of all.
Westbrook’s Air Jordan XXX1 PE was more of a XXX.5, the woven upper of the XXX1 paired with the sole unit of the XXX, which Westbrook preferred. It’s not often a hybrid like this gets offered at retail—it took Jordan 30 years to actually release the Jordan 1.5 that Mike wore in ‘86. Inspired by his coveted Air Jordan III PE, Westbrook’s XXX1 featured cement print on the heel/ankle area along with hits of Thunder blue and orange. The ultimate would have been to release it in a pack WITH the III, but alas, we can’t have everything. At least, not yet. —Russ Bengtson
6. Atmos x Air Jordan III
Nike has started to give people what they want, and the brand’s done so in the form of letting its fans vote on which classic Air Max model they want to be brought back each year for Air Max Day. Last year people voted for Atmos’s “Elephant” Air Max 1 from 2007 to be retroed, and Nike kept its promise on making the shoe return. But the brand didn’t stop there, and also let the Japanese retailer also work on the Air Jordan III, outfitting it in a colorway similar to its “Safari” Air Max 1, the first-ever collaboration on the sneaker, which released in 2003. The sneaker was an odd choice for sure. To put it simple: The majority of those who really freak out over Air Maxes typically live in Europe, where Jordans don’t share the same popularity as they do in the States. But for those who are more inclined to basketball sneakers, the Atmos collaboration was just what they were looking for. It came with black suede, Safari print that replaced the sneaker’s typical Cement print, an icey sole, and the icing on the cake: “Nike Air” on the heel.
It was an execution so solid that even Air Max enthusiasts were impressed with the sneaker. And they had to be, because it was only sold in a limited-edition pack with the bringback of the Air Max 1 and came with a retail price of $400. That pack now resells for an average of over $1,000. While the Air Max 1 from the duo is infinitely better than the Air Jordan III, you can’t fault Jordan Brand for trying to bring some much-needed buzz to their brand in the form of an offbeat collaboration. —Matt Welty
5. Air Jordan IV “Do the Right Thing”
As he tells it, Spike Lee wasn’t a huge fan of the Air Jordan IV when he first saw them in the summer of 1988. So rather than wear them himself as Mookie in 1989’sDo the Right Thing, he instead blessed Giancarlo Esposito and his character Buggin’ Out. From that, one of the iconic sneaker scenes in movie history was born—Buggin’ Out’s pristine Jordans marred by a careless pedestrian pushing a bike on a Brooklyn sidewalk. Even worse, a careless white pedestrian, in a Larry Bird jersey, no less. It’s one of the best scenes in the movie, one that effortlessly cut drama with humor, and one that firmly imprinted the importance of sneakers on celluloid.
For the release of the IV-inspired Fly 89 casual runner, Jordan made up a super-limited run of Do the Right Thing inspired white/cement IVs, right down to the NIKE AIR heeltab, the African-inspired wrap on the laces (something Esposito did himself to the pair he wore in the movie), the unconventional lacing, and—of course—the scuff. As movie sneakers go, these might not be as iconic as Back to the Future’s MAGs, but they’re a million times more wearable. And if the scuff bothers you as much as it did Buggin’ Out, well, Jordan provided a toothbrush to take care of that. Or try, at least. If only Martin Lawrence was around to provide commentary while you tried. —Russ Bengtson
4. Just Don x Air Jordan II “Arctic Orange”
The Air Jordan II is by no means the most popular Air Jordan sneaker, but when Don C got his hands on the silhouette, he gave it a new life. Taking a high-end luxury approach, the Just Don x Air Jordan IIs feature suede, quilted leather and leather lined insoles. The silhouette previously released in “Blue” and “Beach” colorways, so for the third installment Don C went in a completely different direction with an “Arctic Orange” colorway—which really looks more like a pale pink.
DJ Khaled was the first person to be seen with the new Just Don IIs, as he rocked them with a pink satin suit to announce the title of his forthcoming album Grateful. Shortly after, his son and fiancee were blessed with pairs, which ramped up hype for the release of the first Just Don x Air Jordan IIs coming in youth sizes. When official released information surfaced, it was announced that the sneakers would be available from toddler to grade school with sizes extending up to 9.5, which left out most guys out of copping a pair. It’s rumored that the “Arctic Orange” Just Don x Air Jordan IIs will re-release in full men’s sizes, but for now DJ Khaled and Just Dons are the only ones with pairs. —Amir Ismael
3. Air Jordan 1 “Royal”
As long as Jordan Brand keeps putting out original Air Jordan 1 colorways, people will buy them and that was surely the case for the “Royal” colorway. Following two of 2016’s Best Air Jordans—the “Black Toe” and “Banned” Air Jordan 1s—the “Royal” 1s came as huge treat for fans of the silhouette. When the sneakers last released in 2013, they were of a much lesser quality when compared to its 2001 predecessor. Still, the shoe sold out and even resold for hundreds of dollars more than the $140 retail price. Despite using a new tumbled leather, this year’s release was a breath of fresh air. The sneakers use a true high-top construction, Nike Air branding on the tongue and insole, and are packaged unlaced with extra royal blue laces, just like in 1985. These are an absolute must-have for any Air Jordan collector. —Amir Ismael
2. Air Jordan 1 “Satin Royal”
A lot of purists will say that making an Air Jordan 1 in satin is sacrilegious, and they have good reason: Making a shoe completely in a delicate fabric is counterintuitive to how you design sneakers. But there was something special about the “Satin” version of the “Royal” Air Jordan 1s.
For starters, Jordan Brand made 700 pairs, so people were going to want them regardless. But they were also following up last year’s “Bred” version of the shoe, which now resell for upwards of $2,000 a pair. Where Jordan Brand nailed it with the “Royal” version was the rollout. Many people will tell you that “Black/Royal” is the best colorway of the Air Jordan 1, and they’re not wrong. So it’s not hard to sell folks on the sneaker, but Jordan Brand decided to only launch them at Walter’s Clothing in Atlanta and Active Athlete in Houston, two old-school, mom-and-pop sneaker shops. It’s those details that elevated these “Satin” Air Jordan 1s to one of the best sneakers that the brand has put out this year so far. Because satin sneakers are stupid, except for these. —Matt Welty
1. KAWS x Air Jordan IV
If you call yourself a streetwear fan and you never were into KAWS, you don’t deserve to have say in what’s cool or not. Or you’re under the age of 15. The man has been at the heart of the culture for decades now, and everyone who’s had an interest in sneakers since the rise of hype culture on the Internet is familiar with his work and past collaborations. It took Jordan Brand sometime, however, to make a project happen with KAWS. And it was pretty damn solid.
The reaction to the KAWS x Air Jordan IV, however, was mixed when it first came to light. There were many who thought it was too simple or past its prime, but the execution on the collaboration was top notch. The suede was through the roof, and KAWS’ “hands” art was stitched throughout the upper. But the most important detail on the sneaker was the replacement of the “Nike Air” on the heel with “XX Air,” a nod to KAWS’ signature style (the same artwork came on the hangtag, too). The glow-in-the-dark outsole with the KAWS hands just added to the project, although an early sample showed that the sneaker first featured the Xs on the sole. When it comes down to it, what makes this sneaker great is that Jordan Brand took one of its best sneakers and made it a bit more covetable. It’s really, really easy to fuck these sort of things up, and KAWS and Jordan didn’t do that. So everyone is a bit more grateful. —Matt Welty