What Does "Luxury" Even Mean These Days?

Photo: Iain Masterton/Getty Images.
In Dubai, you can go skiing on real snow indoors at Ski Dubai, where the temperature is set at a cool 24 degrees (just outside, it's a face-melting 95 degrees). You can also take a selfie (for $80) from the 148th floor observation deck atop the world's tallest building — the Burj Khalifa. Buildings in Dubai have helipads that rival Iron Man’s Avengers Tower; every retailer imaginable has an outpost in the Dubai Mall (the largest in the world), and the women shopping there, covered from head-to-toe in black abayas, carry handbags that cost at least five figures. Dubai represents wealth in the most gilded, most Disney-fied way: It’s wealth described by owning things that are obviously expensive, it's ostentatious and designed for a kind of person who lives an air-conditioned, private-car-enabled, Black Amex-slinging life. It's luxury defined by having so much money that the rules (of logic, common sense, or propriety) don’t apply to you.

But for many young people, that definition of luxury is no longer compelling. “For us, it’s all about convenience,” says Dao-Yi Chow, one of the two designers of Public School. “It’s about making your life easier, and the idea of ease and effortlessness.” Chow and Maxwell Osbourne’s womenswear label is two years old, and has made waves within the fashion industry for its streetwear-meets-high-fashion aesthetic that is meant to embody the quintessential New York girl. For Public School, luxury means perfectly fitting drop-crotch crepe sweatpants and a boxy cotton button-down that make you look like the cool one at work and the cool one at the bar. For their customer, too, luxury is not rhinestone embellishment and exotic leathers, or car-to-couch heels she can’t actually wear. So it was an interesting choice for Public School to show its pre-fall collection in Dubai.
Photos: Courtesy of Public School.
Sponsored by Cadillac, which was already planning on debuting its XT5 car during the Dubai International Motor Show, the pre-fall collection was full of easy, adaptable layers that evoked the pack-up-and-go sensibility of storybook nomads. The clothes were mix-and-match, conservative enough for professional environments, but alluring enough for a dive bar. The models sped down the runway in raised, flat-bottomed boots and sneakers, with an intentional speed, seeming to boast about how comfortable the clothes were. The type of people who visit Dubai to ski inside and buy thousand-dollar stilettos wouldn’t consider this luxury — but that’s kind of the point.

“At the base level, New American Luxury all has to do with quality and craftsmanship — it doesn’t necessarily have to do with how much money it costs, or how much money it cost to create it,” says Chow, subtly knocking the Old World definition of luxury. Public School represents a new movement of people driven by taste, who care about specific, special aspects of clothing: “It’s about the idea of versatility — to be able to do a lot with a little.”
Photos: Courtesy of Public School.
New American Luxury also differs from Old World Luxury in regards to the idea of exclusivity. “It’s always about inclusivity with us,” says Chow. “How many people can you bring into the fold?” Take Public School’s WNL hats, which were given as favors to some of the invited guests in attendance, as an example. They’re basic snapbacks, come in a variety of limited-edition colors, are the shibboleth of the community of Public School loyalists — and they are for sale online for $45.

Sure, there are few things more exclusive than being flown out to Dubai on a business-class Emirates flight and staying in a luxury hotel with a man-made river. The duo wouldn’t explicitly comment on it, but it’s no secret that Dubai doesn’t entirely jive with their New American Luxury message. Cadillac is a long-term partner of Public School's and has helped finance many of its ventures, including previous runway shows and one of the biggest stunts to take place last Fashion Week. You don’t necessarily want to say "no" to a patron. And besides, you don’t necessarily want to say "no" to a taste of Old World Luxury, either. During the few days Chow and Osbourne spent in Dubai, they went indoor skiing and sand-surfed in the desert — and they said they had a blast doing it.

Shredding. 91 degrees (outside). 27 degrees (inside).

A photo posted by dao-yi chow (@alldaydaoyi) on

But the irony isn’t lost on them. Said Osbourne to me post-show, “We were having lunch with someone who brought up the question of whether our definition of luxury has anything to do with Dubai’s…but their friends were doing things and getting into things [in Dubai] that was very much the Public School definition. It’s exciting. That shit — our shit — is happening everywhere.”

The day after their show, Chow and Osbourne boarded planes to head back to reality. They might have to wait until winter to ski back at home, but while they're waiting for the season's first flakes, they'll be surrounded by stylish New Yorkers, reflecting Public School's immediate, accessible, easy version of fashion back at them. And that — imagining the world you want to live in and then getting to create it — is truly a luxury. And anyone going indoor-skiing in might be inclined to agree, too.


More from Trends