'Don’t Sleep on Detroit’: Deviate launches new Detroit fashion, art collection in New York City

It’s no surprise that Detroit’s creative industry has attracted its share of attention in recent years. From sustainable collections designed locally by homegrown fashion icon Tracy Reese to successful fashion manufacturing initiatives and recently-announced plans for the international Cumulus Conference to be hosted in Detroit this year, key players in the city’s emerging fashion, art and design sectors have been doing things worth mentioning — and sparking conversations from coast to coast.

Still, something important has been missing from those national conversations about Detroit’s creative community, according to the co-founders of Detroit-based fashion house Deviate: the voices of the city’s artists themselves.

“What we noticed in this conversation is that there’s really not a collective voice coming from (Detroit’s) creative community, who’s really fueling this attention and fueling this art movement that’s happening in the city, this total renaissance in arts and culture. And so that was really weighing heavy on us — how can we introduce this creative community into the conversation?” says Deviate co-founder Cassidy Tucker, recalling the concerns she shared with her sister, co-founder and creative director Kelsey Tucker.

While designing the label’s new Fall/Winter ’22 collection, the Tuckers landed on a unique solution — introducing the fashion capital of the world to the work of more than 50 Detroit artists.

Co-founders of Detroit-based fashion house Deviate, Kelsey and Cassidy Tucker.

Trusting Their Wings

After designing Deviate’s Spring/Summer ’22 collection last season, Kelsey Tucker says she found herself in a “weird” place, caught somewhere between the commercial and the artistic, uncertain of which direction to take for the next season’s designs.

“We had started working with a showroom in New York, so the last season, ‘Impalpable as a Dream,’ leaned more on the commercial side. And I didn't feel like it was 100% me,” Kelsey Tucker recalls. 

Staying true to her creative process each season, Kelsey Tucker took time to evaluate the lessons she’d learned and the ways she’d grown as a person between seasons. Then, she got started on her storybook — an important part of the design process for Deviate and the catalyst for each season’s collection.

“This (season’s) lesson was really just to believe in yourself, put everything that you are forward, and not care who’s gonna like it — because your people will find you,” Kelsey Tucker says.

The storybook, called “A Bird Trusts Its Wings,” explored that lesson in detail. Inspired by the question of where ideas go when they’re abandoned, the whimsically dark and childlike tale follows a character named Bird first through the real world, where ideas are shut down and discarded, then into an animated world in which every idea Bird has ever had lives. Throughout the story, Bird encounters her lost ideas and learns to believe in them and save them.

“(Those ideas) are what make her, her,” Kelsey Tucker says. “This story really acts as a metaphor for all nontraditional creatives who believe in what they’re doing. Even if they’re not taking the traditional route, they can still do it as well.”

Bringing Ideas to Life

While working on the new collection, which shares the same name as the storybook, the Tuckers knew they wanted to take the next season beyond design — they wanted to bring Bird’s story, and its lessons, to life while increasing the visibility of Detroit’s creative community.

“It dawned on us that we needed to take all of these ideas across the country to New York and showcase them to an audience that doesn’t necessarily consider Detroit, or see Detroit, in the same light that we do,” Cassidy Tucker recalls.

To make that happen, the Tuckers recruited over 50 muralists, musicians, painters, ceramics artists and sculptors from Detroit, mostly through the Lost Artists Collective, a vertical of Deviate’s business that Cassidy Tucker says started “organically,” inspired by house parties where guests were asked to bring a piece of artwork for admission, and given another piece of artwork when they left.

“It was like this community of all these artists that we hadn’t met before that were doing amazing things, and they just kind of became friends,” Cassidy Tucker says.

For the showcase, called “Don’t Sleep on Detroit,” each artist was assigned a different chapter from “A Bird Trusts Its Wings,” with regular meetups taking place under Kelsey Tucker’s direction to share ideas and progress.

One of those artists was Detroit native Kay Lamon, who attended the Art Institute of Michigan, Novi for fashion merchandising and marketing before transitioning into making abstract art.

“Recently, I discovered my passion for art. In 2020, due to COVID, I was given more time to figure out my art style, which is abstract. Ever since, I’ve been perfecting my craft,” Lamon says.

For the exhibition, Lamon was assigned the first chapter of the book, called “Littered Ideas.” Lamon contributed an installation bringing the concept of discarded ideas to life in a nontraditional way.

“Originally, I wanted to mimic a workspace — similar to an office, but with a creative spin to it. Specifically, the thought process of a creative person with a deadline while embodying the many emotions that come with new ideas. I chose to create this piece, in particular, because I related to the character and admired the transparency and honesty as a creative,” Lamon says.

Kay Lamon. Photo by Kevin Barranco.

Making Moves

For the Tuckers, the logistics of planning a large-scale creative event in New York from 623 miles away between October and February weren’t always easy.

“This was the first time we’ve ever done anything to this scale. It was also the first time that we showed in New York, so it was doubly difficult in that sense,” Cassidy Tucker says.

Through a combination of online research and in-person scouting during a trip to New York, the Tuckers were able to secure a massive 3,000-square-foot space with a 1,500-square-foot entry room in Manhattan, near the city’s Flatiron District and Union Square.

“In terms of moving the artwork, that was the biggest challenge,” Cassidy Tucker says.

To transport the artwork from Detroit to Manhattan, the Tuckers hired a professional moving company and rented a 26-foot truck, filling it with over 50 pieces of original artwork and 40 custom-built exhibition walls constructed in collaboration with a local set designer. To move more fragile pieces, the Tuckers rented a Tahoe and transported it themselves.

M. Antonio MamonIn New York, the Tuckers were joined by 25 of the artists that had contributed to the showcase. One of those artists was M. Antonio Mamon, a fashion designer and photographer from Detroit with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design,

Mamon, who has been making art for nearly 10 years, was introduced to the Tuckers while working in the studio Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Michigan, one of Deviate’s local partners and sponsors. When Kelsey Tucker approached Mamon to be part of the exhibit, Mamon says it was “a no brainer,” and quickly got to work on two installation pieces called “Locked” and “Unlocked,” based on a character from the storybook.

“Both pieces work together tell the story as I identified with it. They’re mirror images of each other, just taken from different perspectives. Both individually have their meanings, but when viewed together they act like Yin and Yang,” Mamon says.

Beyond fashion and art, Mamon says “Don’t Sleep On Detroit” had an important meaning all its own.

“The whole project was bigger than myself, or Deviate, or any other of the individual artists. It was about us as a collective [and] city coming together to tell a story, ‘Don’t Sleep on Detroit’ — and Detroit has always had talent,” Mamon says.

"Don't Sleep on Detroit" exhibit by Deviate. Photo by James Johnson.

‘The End’ As a New Beginning

According to Cassidy Tucker, setup for the exhibit took the Tuckers and the group of artists two full days to complete, working from 6 a.m. until midnight each day. 

The resulting exhibition, which took place on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3, transformed the space into an immersive invite-only press and industry event that took visitors through 10 rooms, each one’s theme and artwork corresponding to a different chapter of the storybook.

The tenth, and final, room of the exhibition was called “Ideas of the Future,” offering guests in New York a glimpse at the talent of Detroit’s young creatives.

“What we wanted to do was introduce and include our partnership with the Boys and Girls Club so the youth designers who are in our fashion design Industry Club were able to contribute collection pieces inspired by the storybook as well,” Cassidy Tucker says.

The Industry Club, part of a partnership between Deviate, the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Michigan, Ponyride, and Detroit is the New Black, focuses on connecting youth in Metro Detroit with mentors and opportunities in the city’s emerging fashion industry. (BGCSEM and Ponyride were also sponsors of the exhibition.)

“The whole goal was for those who attend the exhibition to walk through, hear the story about ideas that are being overlooked, and then enter this room of all these real-world ideas from these youth designers and youth creatives, who we believe should be fostered and supported,” Cassidy Tucker says. 

Beyond showcasing the city’s talent, the Tuckers also had another goal in mind — creating opportunities for Detroiters.

“(The exhibit) was really about showcasing the talent that exists in (Detroit), with the ultimate goal of bringing opportunities — not just awareness, but opportunities — back to the city,” Cassidy Tucker says.

— Readers can experience Deviate’s invite-only NYC exhibition and listen to an abridged version of “A Bird Trusts Its Wings” here. “Don’t Sleep on Detroit” will be open to the public in Detroit later this year.

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Read more articles by Erin Marie Miller.

Erin Marie Miller is a freelance writer and photographer based in Metro Detroit whose work focuses on people and small business. Inspired by the genre of New Journalism, she is passionate about connecting people to their communities through meaningful storytelling.