Devin Carlson is a philosopher of design. Whether Devin’s crafting monolithic metal sculptures in the desert or designing next season’s t-shirt, his creativity comes packaged in a deeply intentional minimalism. His brand Chapter is a wearable exercise in understatement.
CONVICTS caught up with Devin at his studio in LA. We got Devin’s word on the importance of solitude, the attention focusing quality of a spare aesthetics, and what Devin’s like at 4am on the dance floor.
Hey. Can you start by telling us your name and where we are right now?
My name’s Devin Carlson, we’re in downtown LA at my loft/studio.
Where did you grow up?
I’m from Rancho Cucamonga. I moved up here twelve years ago. And I’ve been in this spot for six years.
What’s Rancho Cucamonga like?
It’s nothing to write home about. It’s just a suburb. Moving here had a lot to do with me seeking some kind of creative outlet, seeking more.
Where did your interest in clothing come from?
It came from my grandma, who’s from Puerto Rico. My Abuela used to make clothing for me, and my aunt did too, so I got a little bit of an early introduction and took a liking to it.
Did you know you wanted to have a clothing line as a kid?
I was always like “I’d love to have my own clothing company where I could make my own cool shit,” like aspirational pieces that I couldn’t have. I’d always have to piece together outfits. Kids are brutal when you’re in high-school, if you have shoes that are a season old from your local skate shop, they call you out on it. So that got me really hyperconscious to fashion and what was going on.
How did you start your first clothing company?
When I was in college, I started to sew and reconstruct in that vintage DIY scene in the early 2000s. I started doing hats and tees and it grew from there. I started the clothing line when I was twenty three, about twelve years ago. We had a lot of success right off the bat. A girlfriend of mine, two friends, and myself started this line and we had to learn really quickly. I went to college for advertising and took sewing and graphic design classes on the side. I’m a pretty big optimist so I just went into clothing not knowing what the hell I was doing.
How do you manage priorities?
The biggest thing I’ve learned from then till now is the truth of the saying ‘pick and choose your battles.’ You have to know what’s important. A huge thing is learning what your strengths are. Learning not to do too much. Focusing and holding true to what makes you you, or what makes your brand your brand.
How do balance your individuality with outside inspiration?
You don’t let outside influences come in and dictate your direction, you let them inspire. You can’t be worried about a trend and let it push you off your path. As far as outside influences like art and culture, food, the biggest thing with that is just learning and trusting your gut.
Was there a moment when you noticed that you’d made it?
I worked at Bloomingdale’s once and got fired when I was in college. It’s actually super funny, the guy told me I could never work at Bloomingdale’s again and then I sold to Bloomingdale’s and I walked into the same one and was like “hahaha!” It was pretty awesome.
What is one thing you learned about yourself?
To never second guess yourself. Self-doubt is one of the worst things you can have. That’s been probably my biggest lesson from where I was five years ago to now, really trusting my gut and trusting myself and trusting that other people can do their job. Most entrepreneurs that you speak with have a huge problem with letting things go. I did too and still do to a certain extent, but you’re never gonna be able to get past a certain stage unless you let things go and you trust people. If you can’t delegate and lean on the people around you, you’re never going to be able to grow.
What feels like success?
Shit. It takes a lot for me to get a feeling of tremendous success. I’m probably one of the harshest critics of myself, I might not voice it, but I’m incredibly hard on myself. I get excited if I see my sample and I’m stoked on it, and it looks like what I envisioned or even better. Obviously, if I have buyers and stores that I respect that come through and say nice things about the line. Even just seeing friends wearing the clothing. Friends that are stoked on what we’re doing and genuinely want the product. That’s huge.
What are some of the coolest projects you’ve collaborated on?
On most of the set designs, I’ve collaborated with a friend of mine Brian Thoreen who’s an amazing furniture designer. For the one I’m talking about, we did this photoshoot and my friend Derek Despain welded these massive pieces of steel that were like five by eight and a half feet that he welded at his dad’s garage and then I came to help sand them all down. We probably spent like a week on these things putting them in a UHaul, brought them to the fucking middle of the desert, hauled them around in one hundred and ten degree weather and got a truck stuck in a sulfur.. like crazy shit. So we left them out there and you could Google these and no one knows we did them. They’re called like “the ghost metal moving objects” out in Sultan Sea and all these people did little stories on them. They rusted so they almost look like a Richard Serra piece in the middle of this mudflat. Finally they took them out but it was so sick.
You said earlier you’re incredibly hard on yourself, is that why you steer away from color in your own wardrobe?
There’s a subtlety to black, it’s funny I’m quoting “Yohji Yamamoto” but it says “Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you”. It’s effortless. The color and the palette of Chapter has this effortlessly confident voice that doesn’t have to be loud or in your face, it just stands on it’s own and it’s says “I’m confident in what I’m wearing, I’m confident in what I’m doing, I’m confident in this thing without having to be like boom in your face” and that’s why I steer away from using brighter colors. There’s just something about darker colors that’s mysterious, confident, effortless, more understated.
Just as a philosophical question, if everyone in the world just wore black jeans and a white T-shirt, what do you think that would do to society?
The rate of tattoos and piercings and things like that would probably go up drastically, shoes would probably be a bigger thing. It would probably at some level spark some creativity in people because they would need to express themselves that much more in other aspects of their life.
When are you happiest?
To be honest man, I had a tipping point in my life when I was about twenty. I was stressing about all types of shit and I fell asleep and hit a parked car. Then a month later I ran a red light and I got double T-boned because there were big rigs and it was one of those moments where it was like ‘Wow nothing could get worse right now.’ I was cruising, got hit and then just started laughing because it was like “What the fuck is the point about stressing about anything?” I’m not saying that now I don’t stress about anything, but now I’m a lot more content. That being said, I’m usually pretty happy with the current situation that I’m in and I’m usually trying to make the best out of everything. I’m pretty fucking happy all the time. It sounds kinda silly, but it’s true. I love what I do, I love my friends, I love the people that I surround myself with and I fucking love traveling, experiencing new things. I don’t know if everybody has this, but I have moments of extreme clarity. It could be when I’m driving or doing whatever, but always when I’m by myself and cut off from things, I have occasional moments of extreme clarity that I feel are my most creative moments. During those times I’ll have a very extreme sense of happiness, and everything that goes along with that. So I guess in those moments I would feel the happiest.
How do you destress?
Hanging out with friends and going out. That’s a massive thing that I learned in the past five years. I’ve made a big effort to change my life from being all work. You have to allow yourself to enjoy your life. Whether it’s listening to music, hanging with your friends, getting some drinks, getting inspired, reading a book, whatever that is, you have to make time for that so you don’t get too carried away and deprive yourself of life.
What does California feel like as somebody that’s grown up here, lived here, worked here?
I feel like California keeps on getting better, or LA specifically. Freedom.
What makes you feel the most free?
Having a car for me is huge, I love being able to get in a car and drive. I travel a lot by myself and go on road trips alone to get inspired and see things. It’s so different when you’re by yourself and you’re forced to take things in without having any outside influence on them and you can interpret things exactly how you’d want to interpret them. That’s how you should take in everything. I don’t want to hear someone else’s opinion before I’ve formulated my own. It doesn’t matter how many places you’ve been, every place is so different. You might spend two days somewhere and then all of a sudden you get one idea that’s worth everything.
Why is so important to form your own opinion?
I don’t want to use the word minimalist, it’s thrown around so much, but in looking at minimalist art or looking at the repetitive lines in brutalist architecture or listening to techno music, anything that’s a simplistic aspect of that medium, all kind of do the same thing. They make you focus. You’re looking at a piece of Tony Smith’s art or Donald Judd’s art, and a lot of people go like “Oh it’s just a box” or “It’s just a sculpture with some different angles”, but the thing is that in just being a box, it forces you to focus. When you’re looking at pop art, there’s so much going on and you’re looking all around, but when you’re looking at anything that’s minimal or repetitive, it draws you in and forces you to focus. It’s not screaming at you saying what it’s doing, it’s subtly controlling your focus and forcing you to form your own opinion.
Awesome to hear your perspective Devin, thanks for the chat.