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Designer Interview: Yoko Devereaux’s Andy Salzer

March 23, 2008

You’re not a trained designer, but you started and run this awesome menswear label. Are you a superman? Please explain.

Hahahaha. Ok, first of all – thanks so much for the compliment. I’m so glad that you like the line! I’m hardly a superman, but I am pretty busy most of the time. I actually have a lengthy background in fashion specific stuff, but Yoko Devereaux was my first stab at design.

A modern day designer has so much more than simply design to worry about, especially if you’re doing it on your own. Nowadays, you have to use both sides of your brain to make it all work it out: the analytical side and the creative side. It gets really messy sometimes in my head, but if you’re too heavy just on the creative, you could have a really great collection, but then you need the business, the marketing, the PR and the production know how to get it out there. And if you’re too heavy on everything but the design, then you have a really piss poor collection with everybody watching you and ready to read you as a failure. It’s a really insane balancing act, for sure. 

What can other artists, designers, and entrepreneurs learn from your experience turning your passion into a business?

You just used the word ‘passion’ and that’s probably the best word choice. You have to be passionate about it.

Imagine your worst day ever working for somebody else. Take that feeling and then add to it the fact that at the end of the day, there’s nobody else you can turn to in regards to meeting a deadline, or calling in sick or making a final decision. Ultimately, it all falls on you. Honestly, that’s the worst case scenario, but when you’re put to the test and you’re still doing it, it’s the opposite feeling: if you can get through the worst then you can get through anything.

And then you just keep going. It’s definitely an act of dedication. Or masochism. Or both, i suppose. The biggest pitfall is getting the courage just to go out on your own. It’s the scariest feeling ever. If you’re a person that needs affirmation to be motivated, i highly recommend against going out on your own. You definitely hear more negative stuff than positive stuff from others around you. I heard a lot of ‘that will never work’ and ’you’re crazy’ when I first started. I should probably invite all those people over for a dinner party and serve them crow as the main course. 

Your apartment is the back half of the Yoko Devereaux shop in Williamsburg. Does that mean you’re always working? 

I work way too much. Like all the time. But I’ve definitely never considered myself a workaholic. A lot of people work all the time to escape the rest of their life, like a form of escapism. Or they’re trying to work their way up some corporate chain of success or something. I just do it because I dig it. I mean, considering how much people work in a city like New York, I can’t imagine spending all that time in a day working and not really getting into it and learning all the time.

I love learning as much as I can, so walking into design with little experience of the actual design side of the industry was a huge learning curve – it was my total wet dream, kind of. Of course, that particular dream also includes some kind of porno action too. I’m getting off topic – maybe I am a workaholic? I’m totally daydreaming right now.

The market has changed a lot since 2001 (when you started out), especially for independent brands and labels. Do you have any business tips to offer people just getting started? 

You’re so right about the market changing – this is an industry that requires that you change at least every 6 months, which can be kind of intense. It sounds strange but definitely have a very consistent and broad message that’s unique to your brand and to you. Within that, be willing to change as the market changes and simultaneously grow with your customer.

Remember old Gucci (pre Tom Ford)? It was only for really old (but chic) ladies. Well, they kind of all died (and went to that Madison Avenue in the sky) and Gucci was left with a rapidly shrinking customer base. Enter Tom Ford. He kept all that was important to the Gucci brand – the luxury and the status, but extended it to mothers AND their daughters and their dogs and their houses and their kids. It’s ridiculous and honestly, that brand represents a lot of really stupid fashion stuff to me, but Tom Ford is really a genius. He brought that brand back from the dead like a fashion zombie flick.

The point is – keep true to your vision, but apply that vision to the situation and the cultural temperature around you. Just keep your voice present at all times, otherwise you might not be perceived as any different than the 1001 other super talented people out there.

I have a really simple (almost naive) way of looking at the whole industry (which, of course, insults like 99% of fashion-y fashion people): clothes are just clothes. It’s the story behind the clothes that makes the difference. That’s super simplistic and there are always exceptions, so if you’re a designer of specialty couture, please don’t send me angry emails. I have a love and respect for those that understand and create intricate garments. But for a ready to wear customer, it’s more about where the design intersects with people’s emotions and a customer’s desire for more story behind the brand and the inspiration.

Do ideas and inspiration for designs just come to you, or is it sometimes a challenge to develop new pieces? 

I fixate on things (and people that know me are probably laughing and nodding right now reading this) because when i fixate, I fixate hard. Inspiration usually starts as a fixation and slowly translates into something more applicable. I was totally fixated on the film The Legend of Billie Jean and designer Stephen Sprouse when I started designing Spring 2008. Slowly, it morphed into something way more modern and uniquely Yoko Devereaux.

But sometimes inspiration just hits you like a hard slap to the face. Sometimes I wake up from sleeping and am inspired. Sometimes it’s just from being out and about. Inspiration comes from everywhere, but at the end of the process, it’s my own unique vantage point and perspective.

Of course, menswear designers have their work cut out for them. Making menswear interesting and wearable is the ultimate challenge. You’re talking about an industry that hasn’t dramatically changed in hundreds of years really – the silhouettes are still a blazer, still a suit, still a dress shirt, etc. So working within those parameters is tough. But that kind of challenge makes it interesting for me personally.

Finish this sentence on your own terms: “The Yoko Devereaux Spring 2008 collection is all about…” 

… an era that hasn’t been around awhile, but is so important to me: the ‘80s. The collection isn’t about re-introducing the 80’s in a nostalgic sense, but about this decade that supported two coexisting worlds.

On the one hand you had the super creative downtown guy who was questioning the fashion industry by wearing avant garde clothing, and simultaneously you had the classical menswear guy from uptown all suited up. Nowadays, the uptown and downtown worlds have a very unique meeting ground in menswear that allows uptown and downtown to coexist in fashion far more fluidly. It’s that common ground that spoke to me the strongest when designing Spring 2008.