The new darlings of the New York fashion scene are bringing back one of the biggest brands of the ’90s

Public School has New York attitude.
Public School has New York attitude.
Image: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images
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The fashion label Public School, known for its heavy use of black and for taking influence from streetwear and sportswear, is one of the coolest brands in New York right now. It’s also a local one. Founders Maxwell Osborne and Dao-Yi Chow both grew up in the city and got their education in its public school system, hence the brand’s name.

It’s fitting, then, that they’re set to take the creative reigns at DKNY, another quintessential New York fashion brand created by a native of the city, Donna Karan. The news broke today (April 29) after weeks of speculation (paywall) that DKNY was in search of a new creative director—or two. A full reboot of the brand could come just in time: Fashion is currently riding a wave of nostalgia for the ’90s, when Karan’s label was at its height.

The ’90s signifiers seem to be everywhere. Jeremy Scott pillaged the decade’s hip-hop scene for his last collection. Jnco Jeans, purveyor of pants that resemble small, denim tents, is in the midst of a resurrection. Grunge-inspired flannel has appeared on runways again, as have Dr. Martens boots, including in Public School’s fall-winter 2012 menswear collection.

The last time all these trends were around, New York’s young, female professionals were ditching their 1980s power suits and dressing for work in Donna Karan’s slit skirts and blazers, which like Public School’s clothes also favored black. Karan was part of a great, American fashion triumvirate whose other members included Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, and her company did so well that she took it public in 1996.

DKNY was generating about $700 million in retail sales in those years (paywall), while the Public School guys were making their way through their educations in New York. But in the period that followed, which included luxury conglomerate LVMH acquiring Karan’s company, sales dipped.

The brand’s cachet followed suit, but Chow and Osborne want to put it back on the New York map.

“We both grew up in New York and DKNY has always been part of the landscape of this city in our formative years as designers and as New Yorkers,” the pair said in a statement. “It evokes everything our city was always about—energy, disruption, new thinking and transcending all boundaries.”

New York credentials aside, Chow and Osborne seem a good fit for the role. They’re at the forefront of fashion’s current obsessions with streetwear and athletic apparel, two categories DKNY has a history with. Their attitude is right. In September, when they debut their first collection for the brand, we’ll see if their designs are as well.