When we saw Devon Halfnight Leflufy's 3rd year collection at Antwerp Fashion Academy's SHOW 2012 last year, we immediately predicted big things for the 29 year-old designer. About three months ago, just weeks before Leflufy (Canadian names are everything) was set to debut his master's collection at SHOW 2013, KNOTORYUS was asked if there was any interest in interviewing him. Our initial reaction was: for sure! But shouldn't he be in a corner hyperventilating in the foetal position? Or completely spazzing out about his big coming out? With a collection dubbed 'True Believer', it's no wonder Devon firmly -and apparently rightly so- believed in his own time management skills. It paid off. When his stuff hit the Antwerp runway with the Antwerp 6 looking on, it looked so effortless but so well thought out at the same time. When we finally had this chat, it was after his highly acclaimed Graduation Show.
KNOTORYUS talked to the handsome Vancouver native about Walter Van Beirendonk calling you on your bullshit, his locksmithing past, The Cannabis Cup and upcoming nuptials to his gallery curating fiancée who previously hooked me up with that Ed Templeton interview.
(Goedele, if you're reading this : I kind of dig you too!)
KNOTORYUS : How come you'd finished so early? Is that because you're a really good planner?
DEVON HALFNIGHT LEFLUFY : Yes, I think so, even though I didn't even start designing until the beginning of November. I also did all my own textiles this year as well as the laser cutting. The big collaboration was with Canadian artist Brian Kokoska, who lives in NYC, he's a young guy and an incredible painter. I've been a fan since he was in art school in Vancouver, where I'm from, and a friend of mine bought one of his paintings and I loved it. At the time I was working quite dark, but his stuff was hyper colourful so it caught me even though it was so different from what I was doing. We met up, in NYC where I was interning at the time. We knew we wanted to collaborate and now we did. He painted my masks and a jacket. The laser cutting was something I developed, I didn't invent laser cutting of course, but the motifs weren't working in the beginning so we had to develop that. There were two different companies I developed fabrics with, printed weaves etc.
KNOTORYUS : That's sounds like you were running a mini Maison. This is the stuff you do when you have your own fashion house!
DHL : I know! I was really lucky that people were willing to work with me!
KNOTORYUS : We specifically mentioned your work last year because it just stood out! For us, it was so strong. How was that 3rd year experience for you?
DHL : I remember reading that, it was really nice. In the third year I really started developing my own visual vocabulary and confidence, and by the end of the year I was quite settled. I think that calmness also carried on into this year.
KNOTORYUS : When did you realise that this was something you could actually pull off?
DHL : The whole catalyst for me being able to do what I do now, was when I was able to objectively look at my own pieces. Separate the good from the bad and then take a very analytical approach to making it stronger. I'm a very stubborn person and that serves me well when I'm working hard, but it can also lead me to be a bit delusional. When I developed a way to say that something I was doing was shit, it paved the way for me to be stronger. It kind of came down to honesty. At the beginning, I wasn't even that much into fashion.
KNOTORYUS : You were a locksmith of all things.
DHL : It's very technical; a lock is a very simple thing to make. In North America there used to be a lot of locksmiths.
KNOTORYUS : Oh, here as well, there used to be a locksmith on practically every corner in my home town.
DHL : I got locked out of my house in Antwerp this one time and, so this guy just came with a vice grip and just ripped out my lock. I could have done that myself!
KNOTORYUS : Haha, welcome to Belgium!
DHL : And then I had to pay them 200 euro for ripping out my lock! It was just shocking; it was such a craft for us. We were so proud we could do this! It came from this childhood fantasy of being a spy or a criminal in a legitimate way. We got to unlock a lot of safes. I was an apprentice for this guy who had all the cool contracts for banks and stuff. I was about 18 at that time because I dropped out of high school. I skateboarded and snowboarded and then I tried locksmithing. So here I was with the long hair and wings coming out of my hat. I can't imagine what the people thought when I would show up at the National Bank to correct a lock.
KNOTORYUS : This is so 'Point Break'.
DHL : (Laughs) Exactly, good reference! When we were doing the police-contracts, when they were busting someone for marihuana – Vancouver has a lot of marihuana, we won the Cannabis Cup in the 90s – and needed someone to open a lock for a raid, we were there and I was part of the action, which was great. I just really liked the crafty part of it.
KNOTORYUS : How did you get into it?
DHL : I was walking by, the place I worked at had a really cool storefront where you could see the guys working, and I kept walking by on purpose. And one day I just went in and introduced myself and they were really nice. So I left my number and then they called me and I worked for free for a month and after that they started to pay me a bit and then I just went from there. I loved it.
KNOTORYUS : How did you get into fashion after this? Was there a transition?
DHL : Yeah, I went back to high school 'cause I dropped out. My parents were quite loose on me; I dropped out of a prestigious high school. They knew I was smart, but they had faith I would be ok.
KNOTORYUS : And why did you drop out?
DHL : I think I just wasn't very interested. I didn't see the point of being there. I thought I was smart enough and was wasting my time a little bit – well everyone thinks they're a fucking genius at that age. I just wanted to skateboard. Around 21 I got my high school degree. I kind of had the idea of moving out of Vancouver. I didn't know that much about fashion, I was a skater and into Supreme..
KNOTORYUS : So you did know how you wanted to dress.
DHL : Yeah I had all these different coloured hats (laughs). We were doing graffiti and stencil art at the time and we printed a few T-shirts... But the ideas I was having were a bit too complicated for my skill-set. My ideas were going beyond graphic into cut and fabric and these kinds of things.
KNOTORYUS : It wasn't just a T-shirt line.
DHL : I desired to go a bit further. I hadn't sewn before that, except for maybe in Home Economics where we made little aprons and mittens. But this got in my head, and when something gets in my head it's over. I moved to Montréal and went to this school that you didn't need a portfolio to get into. It was perfect, I wanted to move away. They called it 'fashion design', but they taught you how to sew and cut from scratch. Also they taught us the structure of the industry. And after a couple of months I started to excel at this. There aren't too many differences between locksmithing and designing, it's really a cause and effect. A garment is like a simple machine in why it works a certain way. So my mind worked in that way, I could use an industrial sewing machine quite quickly because I could relate to this, perhaps better than my peers.
I think after 3 years, there were some contests I entered and got to compete in. I then did an internship with this cool guy, Duy Nguyen, he's like the Canadian Rick Owens. It was a really good moment because his company had just closed, so I got to work with him from his basement. It was just us two doing everything, and I got really involved. Duy is a technical genius, and he also taught me how to do everything wrong. Once you know how to do it right, you can do it wrong. You have to know the rules before you can break them.
From there I started my own little company. If someone needed a leather jacket they would call me up. The clients were happy and for me it was an easy way to pay my way throught the first and second year of University. In the second year I started thinking what to do after university and Antwerp was already looking quite appealing to me.
I bought my first Vogue magazine during this time and you start to think in a really naïve way. I didn't know who Martin Margiela was, but I remember seeing his work and being really interested like 'Oh wow, this is strange, everything is white, weird right?'. I didn't make the connection to Antwerp then, I didn't know enough. Raf Simons was the first thing I could kind of relate to in a way, it had a masculine atmosphere and that continued to draw me here.
I had already put together my portfolio before I decided to come to Antwerp, because every Summer I would make projects since I always have to be busy.
KNOTORYUS : You're so dedicated. You really put an effort into making things happen.
DHL : I call myself stubborn. You're just using nicer words (laughs). But the truth is, I didn't even know how to draw.
KNOTORYUS : Did that scare you?
DHL : Yeah, I was super scared. At the Antwerp Fashion Academy they have this huge list of things you have to do in order to apply.
KNOTORYUS : But you draw really well now, I think.
DHL : Quite well, but I honestly had togoogle 'water colour demonstration' when I was preparing for the interview (laughs).
I barely got accepted after the interview.
KNOTORYUS : How do you know that?
DHL : I'm quite good friends with the secretary at the main academy and she told me that I was lucky because I only got a 10/20 on the interview. Kind of information that you don't want to have!
KNOTORYUS : It's a great story to tell the grandchildren, though. But let's talk about your Master's collection. You were obviously influenced by L.A. Can you tell me a bit more? You're Canadian and your models walked out to Trinidad James "All Gold Everything" and I couldn't help bopping along. I was sat opposite of Walter Van Beirendonck, so I was trying to keep my cool because he has been my hero since I was fourteen.
DHL : (Laughs) Was he bopping too?
KNOTORYUS : A little bit, but Dirk (Van Saene) was all up in this song!
DHL : Dirk is such a sweetheart! He's always letting it all out, he wears it on his sleeve. I love that about him!
KNOTORYUS : What were your L.A. influences? Hip hop, basketball? There was a lot of heart in your collection.
DHL : Thank you, that's a really nice thing to say. There's always a lot from hip hop in it for me, it has been that way since I was a teenager. I always liked was this West Coast underground stuff the cool kids listened to. Like C.V.E., everything that happened at The Good Life, ... That was what I was really into.
KNOTORYUS : That could have been what made everything click for us as well.
DHL : It's only now that I realize that I love that stuff so much, but I didn't understand before. I think I was superficially interested in those things as a kid, I knew everyone's names, but now I think the atmosphere of things like 'Project Blowed' is really something that influences me. It's not so much the music as the free atmosphere; these artists are crazy but hyper smart. There's this chaos if you listen to old Aceyalone, but it becomes perfect order that you can relate to.
That stuff is still fresh as hell 20 years later. Something I would like to be able to do fashion-wise.
On the other hand, my family is quite into nature so there's this kind of hand-crafty thing that we are into. My mom is really into fibre arts and ecological stuff, so there's also a spiritual element that goes into it. Last year you could see it more than this year, but there is some introspection that comes into my work, although I wouldn't call it social commentary.
KNOTORYUS : I think sometimes you subconsciously still say things through your collection.
DHL : Honestly I think it's still a bit naïve the way I do it, I just do what I think is cool (grins). I think I may have struck a bit of a chord in pop culture, and then Spring Breakers came out, ...
KNOTORYUS : That was indeed a bit unfortunate, because people started to call your work "on trend", I also saw the word 'swag' being thrown around in reviews a lot. So unnecessary.
DHL : Yes, I didn't like that much either. It might have been a bit reductive of them. But I definitely think the generation that came after me, I'm 29 and I didn't have e-mail address until I was 21, is really interesting and grotesque. Youth culture is so temporary and we're never going to have another movement like punk or grunge.
KNOTORYUS : I don't like it when people say that. No offence, but it makes them sound like old nags. I'm older than you but I have a lot of people younger than me saying there's never going to be another Biggie. I am sure there will be someone as culturally relevant again.
DHL : I still think the bubble has to burst. How I see it, the propagation of information goes so quickly, last week nobody knew my name and now I get a hundred likes every day. I'm scared that there's going to be no time to breathe and develop. When people discovered skinheads they had already a fully developed style and vocabulary and that now still lives on.
The same goes for punks, by the time they were discovered they had developed enough to sustain themselves but now it goes so quickly and if I'm not careful I don't have enough staying power to continue in 5 years
Look at what happened to Kenzo! It was super cool for 2 seasons, and now I think : the whole hype of that brand is based on one sweater..
KNOTORYUS : It's a shame 'cause I was rooting for this takeover. I still am.
DHL : It still can be good, because Humberto is a great designer. I think it's the fault of marketing and who has the power in fashion. The creative people don't have the power and that's why Nicolas Ghesquière left Balenciaga. It's a pityand the angst around these topics is going to grow until the people revolt.
KNOTORYUS : The other thing is, people like Carol and Humberto got their chance at Kenzo when they were really young and that's a trend as well... Would you consider that kind of offer, if presented?
DHL : Yes, I probably would someday. I would ask Goedele and then I would do it if it was okay for her. I think if someone would offer me carte blanche at some big company right now, I would probably say no. I'm just finally becoming super happy and comfortable with my place in the world. I feel like I really stretched to get into Antwerp and had so many growing pains and now I'm happy so I wouldn't immediately jump into things.
KNOTORYUS : Tell us what next season will be like for you? You know the stores that will be interested in you will also be in Tokyo and Hong Kong so there will be a lot of logistics to take care of.
DHL : Yes, it's terrifying. I've been mulling it over for the last six months and now it's set, it's possible. It's still hard, even with all my friends helping, but it still feels like a one-man show. The palm trees, the tracksuits, they're coming out. There are also a few new prints that weren't on the runway that are coming out, those leather L.A. hands. The collection that is offered in the showroom captures the essence of the runway collection, so nothing is compromised but it is a bit more accessible.
KNOTORYUS : What's your price range going be like?
DHL : You're going to be able to get a sweatshirt in special fabric with a laser-cut leather hand on the front for around €250. There are also printed t-shirts that cost a bit less. I don't want to have too many high prices; I always try to get them as low as possible.
KNOTORYUS : But you need to survive as well.
DHL : Exactly, that's the thing. And then there's also quilted jackets for € 3,000. But we try to make it possible for a 20 year-old kid to save up a bit and buy a T-shirt for instance.
Hopefully my sunglasses collaboration with Theo will go into production as well.
KNOTORYUS : A couple of final questions: ifyour 14 year-old self could see you now. What would he have been most impressed by ?
DHL : If he met me? Or found pictures of me on the internet?
KNOTORYUS : No, he didn't google you (laughs), you just talked.
DHL : (Laughs) Oh, ok. I think he would be happy that I've gotten comfortable with myself, in my own skin. I was a very angsty child, very nervous. I didn't feel like I was fitting in socially and it gave me anxiety. He'd be happy to know it's not always going to be like that. That I will become a calmer guy.
KNOTORYUS : Who do you want to shout-out for the years to come?
DHL : Well, he didn't graduate with me, but Cédric Jacquemyn is really strong and he's doing his first show in Paris. I think he has a great Belgian brand. Mattia Van Severen: the big winner. He's a really sweet guy and I wish him a lot of success and if he can create what's in his own mind I think it will be really interesting. And then there's this girl in the 3rd year, Hyein Seo, she is definitely someone to watch.
KNOTORYUS : Could you name three established designers that you would want to work with?
DHL : I would love to meet and work with Raf Simons. I haven't been to a show yet, I watch all the videos. I think what Kim Jones is doing at Louis Vuitton is really strong and interesting. The way Dries Van Noten built his company is amazing to me, I would love to be there one day.
KNOTORYUS : In the past 4 years, who was most important to you in school?
DHL : In school, there have been a lot of people along the way that helped, but I think it has to be Walter Van Beirendonck. He's such a smart person, you can't trick him. He makes you accountable, he'll ask 'why' about everything and make you...
KNOTORYUS : ...Scratch your nose a lot and think: “Yeah, Devon. WHY?”
(Nods vigourisly) Exactly! That for me was pivotal.