The Acculturated Avant-Savant
An interview with the man behind Williamsburg based brand Yoko Devereaux, Andy Salzer.
by JOSE R. MEJIA
Your spring collection pulled together some disparate influences to make something cohesive; was there any difficulty in getting so many potent influences to work together the way you wanted?
The influences of this particular collection come from the 80's. While the visual reference of the 1980's is definitely apparent, the collection is more about a decade that supported two worlds coexisting: the super creative downtown guy that was questioning the fashion industry by wearing avant garde clothing and simultaneously, you had the classic menswear guy from uptown all suited up. This was a difficult collection to resolve, for sure. Of course, the biggest challenge was referencing the 1980's without making the collection too visually nostalgic. I can't stand all the nostalgia that's swirling around in the fashion world - it simply encourages repetition instead of forward thinking design. Making a modern statement was the goal of this collection and I think I achieved that.
The vibe/aim your label had years ago always struck me as an attempt to offer men a comfortable middle-ground in terms of style, but now that there is more of a concept or vision behind the your collections, is comfort and wearability still your ultimate goal?
The ultimate goal of every collection is making sure that each season is relevant. Comfort and wearability is really important for modern guys, and that will always be an important part of the brand and the collection, for sure. There's always a concept or vision behind every collection, but I think the US marketplace has really had a lot of control over what is actually produced every season. The US men's market consistently supports that comfortable middle ground for style, which is an important market to speak to. However, for the sake of the brand, for more interesting boutiques and for my creative survival, we're making sure that the collection doesn't lose itself and turn into McFashion. Again, it's all about relevancy and keeping the brand interesting to myself and the consumer. I've been doing this for almost 8 years now, so I have a lot of loyal customers that are asking for more from the collection while simultaneously, we are introduced to new guys every season. It's a great situation to be in, for sure. I definitely can't complain.
Yoko Devereaux seems to have consistently matured along with the people who wear it. What's your key to staying current with your target customer? What criteria do you use to figure out where to move and how far to take it?
It's such a lengthy process that spans months and months. Creatively, I get a bit out there. If you could see some of the initial items and inspiration at the beginning of each season, you would probably question my mental stability. But that's just part of the process. I tend to push myself to a really wacked out place first creatively, then reel it back in. The biggest litmus test for each season is: will the Yoko Devereaux guy look and feel like a 'guy' in this piece? Maintaining a sense of masculinity is so important for menswear. Of course, 'masculinity' is totally open for interpretation and that identity is constantly evolving too. Is the silhouette familiar to menswear or does it lean more towards women's wear? Will men actually want to wear this every day and make it their favorite or will it end up in a closet for 'special occasions' only? I hate the idea of creating pieces that guys don't want to wear all the time - it's a waste of closet space. And ultimately, the design needs to be cohesive and tell a story that transcends the clothes. It sounds totally methodical and kind of 'uncreative', but I think this kind of process really keeps everything in check. Otherwise, the collection would be all over the board and lack a cohesive story (which would be so much more fun for me, but very confusing to everybody else)...
You stand as one of the very few designers/artists/etc. associated with pre-condo Williamsburg that has managed to weather all the change that hit the neighborhood soon after the NY Times started paying attention, are you proud of yourself for surviving? Are you still proud of Williamsburg?
I totally see what you're saying; Williamsburg is definitely going the way of SoHo. Of course, this change is a large part due to the fact that all of Manhattan has quickly turned into an affluent suburb of its former self, so it makes sense on some level that Williamsburg would be exploited in the process: it was a neighborhood that was cheaper to buy and re-develop. However, amongst all of the massive gentrification, there's still not a single Starbucks out here (I'm sure that will change very soon). I'm definitely still a huge fan of Williamsburg - it's gotten so fancy, for sure. But, it will always be the starting point for Yoko Devereaux. The people that originally moved out here put this neighborhood on the map. I'm definitely thankful to still be doing what I'm doing, but I don't really align the brand creatively with the current state of the neighborhood - I just love living and working out here. I'm secretly convinced that Urban Outiftters owns all of Williamsburg and just keeps opening up new businesses under different names - it's my only conspiracy theory....
Are you content with where Yoko Devereaux has ended up as a brand? And, with F/W 08 now over with and making people salivate, where do you anticipate going next?
I'm actually never content with anything, which I should probably see a shrink about, but that has probably been helpful to getting to where I am now. I'm really happy with where everything is going. Creatively, I think you always have a picture in your head of 'how it's going to go' and that image rarely ever matches the reality of the situation. There's just so much that you can't control and can't predict, so I've always tried to remain open minded and make an effort to change with the situation. Did I think I'd be having this conversation with you 8 years after I started? No, but I'm sure glad that I am.
And where is Yoko Devereaux going? That's a huge question. The most immediate response is really focusing on the collection and making sure that it's all on point. After that, it's all gravy as far as I'm concerned.
Check out Yoko Devereaux online at www.yokod.com.