Alternative is a label that can mean a lot of different things, and frequently is applied to more youth-oriented, counter-culture brands that are here today, gone tomorrow. To put DÉVASTÉE into that box, however, would be an error. While their appeal is almost cult-like, especially within Asian markets, what creative directors Ophelie Klère and François Alary are doing is much more fundamental than one might expect, and they’re doing it the old-fashioned way with good, well-planned, sensible design.
If one did not know better, one might think that Klère and Alary are older, well-seasoned designers who simply haven’t gotten the name recognition of other designers their age. They don’t have a working web site. They barely exist on social media. They don’t offer advance or online ordering. This is how they are alternative. Rather than spending all their time in front of a computer screen, they put their efforts toward more basic and traditional forms of design. That they manage to still be fresh and appealing to their young audience shows that this 30-something duo truly is brilliant.
What makes this label stand out, and immensely popular season after season, is that their graphic prints are largely hand drawn. Rather than the sharp, smooth, well-polished look one gets from computer-aided design and graphics, the prints here are crude, rough, and maybe even seem a little elementary to some. They are never terribly involved, sometimes lean a bit toward the morbid, and are typically small in their individual pieces, though often put together to consume a whole garment. There’s no big bang, no sense of large, dramatic lines. Just a simple image pattern.
The other consistent element Klère and Alary have is that their collections are always black and white. No color is provided, regardless of the season. They do at least alternate, black on white, white on black, but even in their store in Paris there is a noticeable absence of color; it just doesn’t exist here.
Take those two significant elements now and apply that to good, solid, wearable design. Their silhouettes tend to be more full, sometimes even minimalist, with a very creative and unique approach to layering that produces folds where one might now expect folds, and lines where one wasn’t looking for a line, especially when they run in juxtaposition to the body. I especially like a pair of shorts that are plenty full at the hips, but then suddenly gathered and banded mid-thigh. Shirt tails are only half-tucked and there’s almost a don’t-care feel to the styling that appears to have just been tossed on at the last minute. A few masculine-tailored suits toward the end are about as close to formal as anything gets, but yet one can’t really consider this a sporty line, either.
I do worry a bit that these two very gifted designers might get lost amid all the noise of a media-centered industry that seems to demand a stronger digital presence with each passing day. DÉVASTÉE just doesn’t go for that big press hit and one might argue that perhaps they should. This is good, solid design, the kind of wearable clothing that most everyone wants. Yet, finding them can be quite the challenge. Be sure that whenever one does see this label it is well worth the adventure.
Photo credit: Regis Colin Berthelier