In the darkest lockdown-enforced days of 2020, designer Maxwell Osborne found himself at a loss trying to chart out his next move. As a co-founder of the celebrated streetwear brand Public School, which launched in 2008, he’d achieved great success by channeling the energy of the New York streets that raised him into garments. But then Broadway went dark, museums closed, and the events at which Osborne had his most stimulating conversations were canceled one by one — and then all at once — indefinitely. With so much less of his usual source material, not to mention less actual physical material (mills closed and various textile supply chains ground to a halt early in the pandemic), Osborne became intrigued by the idea of looking inward and making do with what he had — literally and figuratively. And thus, his new label anOnlyChild was born.
Officially founded in 2021, anOnlyChild is conceptually based in the inventive spirit of a kid with no built-in playmates who, as the website describes, “[lives] in their imagination, giving life and silence to solitude. ... they can turn water into fire, a cloud into a rainstorm, and scraps of fabric into the finest clothes.” Osborne repurposes deadstock, the discarded remainders of other projects, into pieces that dazzle on the catwalk. The rich silk and delicate lace looks he’s able to construct with them bear no resemblance to a patchwork Franken-garment put together from a fabric graveyard — Osborne raises the dead(stock) and transforms it into something luxe. Smart short-sleeved blazers and skirts with cascading ruffles find their place in the same collection, all united by a sense of easy, relaxed sophistication.
As for the name, it had been rolling around his head for a while then suddenly clicked into place. Osborne, an only child himself, drew on his own personal experience playing with whatever leftovers happened to be at his disposal as a kid. He grew fond of the idea of “making something out of nothing.” Lack of inspiration had become his inspiration, and deadstock was his muse. It was endless entertainment and the perfect game.
“It is limiting, but it's also creatively challenging,” he says of working with leftover materials. Aligned with his label’s foundational ethos of making the most out of whatever cards he’s been dealt that day and rolling with the punches, Osborne decided against rescheduling our interview when a business meeting for anOnlyChild came up and happily answered TZR’s interview questions via speakerphone, driving through New York City traffic en route to sit down with a consultant.
Now that Osborne’s burgeoning label is gaining traction, he’s working out how to scale its deadstock-only model to meet demand — not a bad problem to have for a year-old brand. Last fall, anOnlyChild made its runway debut at Osborne’s family home in Mount Vernon before an intimate group of loved ones and friends, but his new endeavor quickly found a wider audience. He presented his Spring/Summer 2023 collection this September in New York and followed it up just a few weeks later on the West Coast at the opening show of LA Fashion Week.
The presentation, titled “It’s Getting Late — the B-sides,” consisted of both men’s and womenswear looks. Decadent silk button-downs of royal purple and emerald floated down the runway; shimmering velour suits and sets were elegant and well-tailored yet still breezy and cool. In short, they were perfect for a sultry summer evening. Edited slightly from its New York showing, the presentation in LA allowed Osborne the opportunity to sharpen his storytelling and evoke more of a sumptuous nighttime mood.
“LA Fashion Week was like us continuing the same as if this were an album, that’s why we called it the B-Sides,” he says. Where Los Angeles fashion is often more associated with a casual and sporty attitude, Osborne wanted to go for something unexpected and deliver a sophisticated, distinctly after-hours vibe. “We looked at the collection and wanted to talk more about evening [wear]. New York was very much day and evening, a mixture of both. We wanted to focus in and just make it a bit more dressy, a little darker; still playful in its own right, but a little bit more evening, which is very different from what LA is used to.”
Both the Los Angeles and NYFW shows were sponsored by Estée Lauder, an early supporter of the brand’s work. Jocelyn Biga, the director of global pro artistry for the luxury cosmetics company, followed Osborne’s design lead to interpret the line’s message into makeup. “The focus was on dewy, glowing skin with flushed cheeks and stained lips, as though they’d been up all night dancing at an amazing house party,” Biga says.
LA Fashion Week President Ciarra Pardo felt strongly that Osborne’s brand gelled thematically with her vision for the SoCal runway shows, so much so in fact that she decided his would be the perfect presentation to premiere with, setting the tone for the week. “[Osborne’s] commitment to finding solutions in creating garments in a more mindful way is inspiring,” Pardo says. “The essence of Maxwell’s West Indian culture so perfectly translates in his beautiful, sophisticated designs.”
Growing up, Osborne sometimes spent summers in Jamaica. His memories of those months in the country of his ancestral roots have been a major influence on the concept of anOnlyChild, not as an exploration of Jamaican history and heritage but more in terms of tapping into a certain feeling that colored his days on the island and threading that into his garments. Just like his time in pandemic isolation, Osborne had to be resourceful and make his own fun.
“Where [my family is] from, it's just like playing soccer or baseball with sticks and apples,” he says. “It's building some carts and then pushing each other down a hill until you fall, but you have so much fun your stomach hurts of laughing. What I've told people is it’s less about Jamaica in itself or the hometown; it’s this idea of being happy and enjoying the moments, and again, making something out of nothing. And that's very rare, right? Especially if you talk about wearing clothing. We're in fashion, so it's like, how do you even explain that? We do it with the deadstock.”
The first look of his LA Fashion Week show nodded even more directly to his roots with a classic Jamaican red, yellow, and green color combination on a mesh print.
Osborne hesitates for a second before deeming it his favorite ensemble of the presentation, not because of the color scheme alone, but because of the raw material’s versatility and evolution as an element of his storytelling throughout lines. Seeing a fabric transform from iteration to iteration truly captivates the designer. “I'm excited to see this mesh print take on new shapes and forms,” Osborne says. “It started out as just a simple camp collar shirt and now it's turned into a skirt, a blouse, a wide-leg pant, and a bucket hat — it looks different each time. That's fun to me, seeing the same fabric reimagined over and over again.”
His West Coast runway was alight with ensembles in hues from buttery gold to warm burgundy to the signature shades of Jamaica, but Osborne himself is a known monochromatic purist. On the afternoon of our chat, he’s in all black — fittingly, a Public School T-shirt and anOnlyChild pant.
He recognizes that he’s not simply designing for his own closet as he builds out anOnlyChild’s offerings. The vibrancy and brightness he’s worked into the brand present a challenge for Osborne to step outside of himself. Of course he’s a fan of all the pieces and likes to wear his own work, but even if he can’t see himself in certain anOnlyChild garments, he’s envisioning them as outfits for guests of a party he’d like to attend.
“Some things we’re making aren’t really what I would wear in my day-to-day, but they’re still part of our story,” he says. “Like maybe my cousin would wear it, but I wouldn't. I'm pretty basic when it comes to colors and anOnlyChild [pushes me outside my comfort zone]. We want to talk about playfulness and the idea of having nothing, but having fun. So it’s that challenge of designing for that person.”
When pressed for a definition of who, exactly, “that person” is, Osborne doesn’t yet have a concrete definition. “We're still trying to figure that out and how to put that into words,” he says. “But it's somebody worldly, somebody who’s traveled a bit. Somebody that wants to dress up a little bit but without overthinking it, you know? Thinking about quality and something a bit simple.”
His concept of that refined simplicity is pairing your favorite jeans with a nice silk shirt, elevating a casual look just enough to suggest an unfussy elegance and setting the wearer apart from the pack. Still, he loves to see anOnlyChild looks put together more boldly to command attention, something the label’s many celebrity devotees — including actors Michael B. Jordan and Yara Shahidi, as well as legendary Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah and his wife, model Lais Ribeiro — have done well.
“Michael B's been great,” he says. “We had Yara early. Joakim Noah, who's like 7 feet tall — we love dressing him. Dressing someone that tall and them feeling comfortable in certain looks, like he loves it. We have his measurements in the office and now he just automatically hits us when he needs something. And then there's a bunch of people that we just want to get to at some point, but we're slowly just trying to get our things in order as a new brand. I would love to get Obama in one of our suits.”
Years ago, he would never have imagined outfitting such well-known figures, or really, outfitting anyone at all. “In New York City in the ‘80s, I didn't grow up with anybody that wanted to be a fashion designer,” he says. “It wasn't even a thing. It was like [Ralph Lauren] Polo, Tommy, Donna Karan. You don't think you could ever be those brands.” The rise of streetwear unlocked a new world for Osborne, where Black creatives and people of color were already at the cutting edge. The smash success of juggernaut labels like Phat Farm and Sean John — where he would break into the industry as an intern — proved he could belong on the scene. “It wasn’t a thought for me in my upbringing. And then it became like, ‘Oh, people like us are able to do these things.’” Reflecting back after over a decade in the field, that kind of representation was key. Now as a founding member of two beloved brands, he’s become the kind of figure that made his career feel possible in the first place.
Osborne has certainly made the best out of what he’s had, and that’s a broad knowledge of streetwear culture and no shortage of talent. However, he’ll be the last person to brag on his own abilities. When asked what he’s most proud of so far, the designer is too humble to name anything, because there’s simply no fun in resting on his laurels. He prefers to look ahead, always thinking of new ways to keep himself entertained. “I don't really get proud and excited too often,” Osborne says toward the end of our call. Surprised by his answer, I remind him that he’s had quite the incredible journey.
“Yeah,” he admits. “But there's more to go.”