For Zwade, those two years of saving – and that one fateful afternoon where his senses led the way – have blossomed into nearly a decade of following the passion that stoked his high school frugality all those years ago: designing beautiful, sensuous clothes. With a resume that includes experience at the world’s most buzzworthy names in streetwear (Billionaire Boys Club) and luxury (YEEZY), to his own personal line of private client couture (the eponymous “Zwade Devenish”), it’s easy to forget that the artist himself is not yet 30. Talk to him about his art, and that temporary amnesia becomes a borderline gaslighting: there’s no way someone this skilled, this dynamic wasn’t alive for the “Seinfeld” premiere.
Yet, to call Zwade Devenish a “prodigy” is to sell short the countless hours of hard work that have enabled his craft. Michael Jordan was cut from his middle school basketball team; it was the thousands of midnight three-pointers, not raw talent, that crafted the sport’s greatest player. Here, in a world every bit as glamorous as championship sports, is another phenom forged through their passion and devotion to pure human potential. As Devenish prepares for a busy spring season, SHEI Magazine sat down with Zwade to talk about his triumphs, his inspirations, and clothing as art.
AR: Tell me a little bit about how you got started in fashion.
ZD: I met this counselor in high school, a woman named Tracy Karas – she saw my work sketching and designing junior year of high school, and really believed in me. One day, she told me that “this guy Chris [Bevans] and Billionaire Boys Club are going to be at this [NYC Teen Live] event.” I felt like the stars were aligning. I shot my collection, brought photos, and went. Chris gets up to speak, and at the end - as people are asking him questions – the moderator, a woman named Bevy Smith, turns to him and says: “This guy in the back was the first one in the room. You should ask him a question.”
That guy was me.
I forget what he asked me, but after his Q&A we spoke briefly, and I showed him the photos of my collection. He wasn’t just nice to me – he was legitimately impressed. He looked over everything I designed, turned to me, and said: “For you to be thinking on this level is f*cking crazy.”
I was so nervous - this was someone in the industry that understands my work and respects it! We talked a little bit more after, then he told me flat out: “you should come to Billionaire Boys Club.” I started working in fashion professionally, when Chris [Bevans] discovered me.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Since forever. I was born in Trinidad, and my Mom owned a boutique. I would spend a lot of time in there and see what type of projects she was working on. I was fascinated with how a garment was executed – I’d see a lady in town wearing something, and just wonder how it was made.
That fascination stayed with me when I moved to the US. In high school, I saved my allowances from 9th to 11th grade because I wanted to make clothes. There’s a quote from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: “Preparation meets opportunity.” I had money saved up, wanted to do a collection, but had no idea how to do it. So I just ran into a fabric store and started buying by feeling. I only had two garments [out of eight] sketched, but ended up choosing materials for every piece entirely by what I visualized in my head. Then, I made my first collection. That was Spring/Summer 2013.
Tell me about your first fashion internship with Billionaire Boys Club. This was at Roc Nation HQ in New York, right? What was it like to be there, in that environment, surrounded by that incredible creative team?
It was really DOPE. *laughs*
I learned so much from Chris himself. Chris and the BBC team had me involved in every part of the brand from designing and styling lookbooks, to communicating with factories and making sure our samples were in on time. One of the things he taught me early on was that your schedule can be so demanding, but if you really love what you do, none of it matters. I also learned how important it is to be ahead of everything. It doesn’t matter what’s trending now – at BBC, we were focused on the bigger picture. We were pushing brands forward.
Usually you think of internships as “grab coffee” or “run to the store”, but they had me actually working in fashion. That’s how me and Chris really built a relationship – I’ve seen people my age feel so entitled [at internships], but those people crash and burn. I just went in there and went to work. I didn’t jump in there and start taking pictures for my Instagram, like “Yo here’s me with Pharrell! Here’s me at BBC!” I was just part of the team.
Related, but I also learned how to be around celebrities/high profile people and not be shook up about it. Those relationships mean so much to me now going forward, too.
Your personal line, “Zwade Devenish”, has some truly elegant – even, dare I say, artful - pieces. What inspires such exquisite, ornamental work?
I don’t even know where to start. I’m really inspired by Rhianna, Naomi Cambell, and Cassie - those women exude confidence. They could wear a garbage bag and just be killing it. I always tell people that I design for a woman who is confident in her skin, but comfortable in her clothes. It’s not really about me [as the designer] – it’s all about how YOU wear the garment.
Sometimes I’m inspired by music, sometimes I look at Naomi’s catwalk and think “I got it.” I might listen to a Rhianna album, try to understand her mood, and think “she’d rock this.” I’m also inspired by the mystery of Cassie: you don’t see her, but you know her. But ultimately, I’m focused on the customer. Sometimes I go over to Chelsea, see a woman walking down the street and just think “that’s the woman who wears my clothes.”
I know Naomi’s got one of my garments, and I can’t wait for her to wear it. *laughs* I’ve never been starstruck, but I was then. Naomi Campbell is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous.