“I think our landlord is like, ‘What are you guys doing?'” Cassidy Tucker said, sitting alongside her sister Kelsey on a Zoom call from their Detroit studio last week. . Around them was a stack of 50 original artworks, with several 8ft by 4ft wall sculptures meant to resemble the pages of a giant storybook. The art was to be pressed into the 26-foot truck they had rented to transport the lot from Detroit to New York for an exhibit called “Don’t Sleep on Detroit.”
Cassidy, 27, and Kelsey, 25, are the founders of Deviate, a playful, unisex line of street and workwear that launched in late 2018 and is produced entirely in Detroit. The sisters love and believe in their hometown’s creative energy so much that their entire business model is built around nurturing and sharing it.
They have recruited more than 50 local artists – fashion and textile designers, muralists, painters, graphic designers and ceramicists – to contribute to the work of the “Don’t Sleep on Detroit” showcase, which will also serve as a fashion presentation for the Fall 2022 from Deviate.
The idea behind the exhibition, which will be held in New York on February 2 and 3 as a press and industry event, is a core conceit of Mohammed/Mountain: Bringing the creative world of Detroit into the court of the big ones. The showcase will return to Detroit and open to the public later this year.
Detroit has long been in the fashion orbit. Highly influential retailer Linda Dresner, credited with bringing Jil Sander, Martin Margiela and Comme des Garçons to the United States, ran stores in New York and Birmingham, Michigan, about half an hour from Detroit, for decades. One of the few black designers to be a mainstay on the New York scene, Tracy Reese returned to Detroit in 2019 to launch her enduring collection, Hope for Flowers. Carhartt, the workwear brand that is increasingly linked to street fashion and hype, was founded in Detroit in 1889.
Over the past year or so, interest in Detroit has been reignited by global players: Gucci launched a collaboration with local brand Detroit Vs. Everybody, founded by Tommey Walker Jr., for a capsule collection of T-shirts and announced the opening of a new store in downtown Detroit; Hermès opened a store in the city; and in October, Bottega Veneta hosted what would be creative director Daniel Lee’s final fashion show for the Detroit house.
In March, Michigan’s first historically black college, the former Lewis College of Business, will reopen as the design-focused Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design.
“When people think of Detroit, they don’t think much of the positivity the city has to offer,” Cassidy Tucker said. “It’s often overshadowed by some of the most sensational elements in its history – the struggle, the triumph, the struggle.”
The New York showcase is set up like a storybook written by Kesley Tucker, creative director of Deviate, titled “A Bird Trusts Its Wings.” A metaphor for non-traditional creative careers, the story follows the main character who, mired in self-doubt, wakes up in a bustling world in which all of his ideas have been exiled to live out the rest of his days.
By revisiting them and interacting with them, she realizes that she wants to share them with the world. If the story provides a dreamy backdrop for the showcase, the subtext for it is the tenacity of rambling DIY.
“There’s always a lot of pressure, like, ‘You should be there. You should be doing this,’ Ms Tucker said of her decision to choose to carve her way off the well-trodden roads to the capitals of the fashion like New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris.” The showcase is really us putting the foot down and saying, ‘We can do this from Detroit and bring it to you.'”
Ms. Tucker studied fashion design at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. After an internship with Vera Wang in Los Angeles, she realized she wasn’t interested in big brand work. “What I’ve learned the most is that fashion is a chore,” she said. “Everything you do in this life is drudgery, but you have to choose your path.”
Hers was driving home and teaming up with her sister who, after graduating from Princeton, had been involved in a ride-sharing startup called Splt and wanted to get involved in social entrepreneurship.
“We were on a mission to put Detroit on the fashion map,” Cassidy said.
How to do that? They had no idea.
They started by reaching out to people in the community, bringing together mentors including Ms. Reese. There’s also Christina Chen, who does public relations for Deviate and has fashion experience at Saint Laurent, Alexander Wang, Shinola and StockX, and Ben Ewy, the vice president of design, research and development at Carhartt.
“People here create their own scenes and have done so for a long time, whether it’s automotive, Detroit techno or workwear,” Ewy said. “People here think differently and create unique products.”
An eco-consciousness is built into Deviate’s ethos – the Tuckers produce almost everything locally and use scrap fabric to cut their clothes when they can – but the social impact is greater. Kelsey mentioned the Antwerp Six, Motown and the Wu-Tang Clan as collectives who started in neglected places and amplified their talents through the power of numbers.
Deviate has also partnered with the Industry Club of Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan to offer paid internships. And last year, the company launched the Lost Artists Collective: a series of house parties requiring artists to bring some of their work to enter (they could walk away with someone else’s) which is became a community resource and was the starting point for “Don’t Sleep in Detroit.
Marlo Broughton, 34, a painter and illustrator who helped introduce Detroit Vs. Everyone with his cousin Walker, first heard from Kelsey and Cassidy via direct message, inviting him to one of the parties at the house of the collective of artists, then to participate in the showcase. “They showed me everything and had a full plan,” he said.
The sisters also reached out to Sydney James, 42, a fine muralist and artist, who contributed a photo of her 8,000-square-foot mural, “Girl With the D Earring,” a reinterpretation of Vermeer’s painting “Girl With a Pearl Earring”. featuring a black woman wearing an Old English D.
“I didn’t necessarily understand what it was, but I liked the ‘why’,” Ms James said after being approached for the showcase. “It’s like, ‘We’re going to make them look at us.'”