Interview by Jamie Etheridge
Alex Devol is a man of many talents, a menswear designer, graphic artist and woodworker. Based in Manchester, England, Devol has worked with a broad array of famous fashion brands including Vans, Converse, Nike, Condemned Nation and The Cuckoos Nest as well as worked with clients like MTV, Virgin, Coca Cola and Samsung.
Like many of today’s urban artisans, he marries the virtues of the masculinity with the modern sleekness of quality design. A love of materials, however, led to a dramatic career change and a focus on hand carved, custom wood pieces including beautifully made wooden spoons, bowls, cutting boards and
other items for his own company, Wooden and Woven. (https://instagram.com/woodwoven/)
In an exclusive interview with Knot Standard, Devol explains his creative shift and his love of things well made.
Knot Standard: How did you go from menswear to woodworking?
Alex Devol: This is usually the first question I am asked, clothes to timber must seem like a fairly abstract transgression! The bulk of my career has been spent designing menswear, but before that I had worked as an illustrator and a product designer so it’s not all I knew, I have had radical change in my career before and there just came a point toward the end of last year where I felt that I was due for that kind of change again. I still have a love and appreciation for the product but I definitely outgrew the method of design and the route to market that you become accustomed to when working in fashion. Most of all I was looking to get my hands away from a pen and mouse and back onto raw materials, while working with factories I had missed being involved in the actual making and crafting of my own designs, now I get to see my ideas through from concept to completion again, which is now giving me calluses but does feel more rewarding.
I love cloth and enjoyed working with it up until I made the decision to move away from it, but I had grown quite tired of how menswear design, at least in a commercial sector, had become almost entirely dictated by seasonal trends. The momentum of fast fashion didn’t seem to be slowing down and I became increasingly frustrated by how this was negatively affecting the industry both ethically and creatively.
Almost everything I’ve learned has been the result of practicing with tools from a young age, whether chisels or Photoshop, I don’t have any formal training so it’s just been a case of practical learning, my grandfather gave me my first workbench and a saw when I was about 6 or 7 and left me to my own devices!
Knot Standard: How would you describe your design aesthetic? Why are you drawn to wood in particular?
Devol: Wooden & Woven has developed very quickly, but organically, from being a personal project to my full time occupation, so there wasn’t really a conscious decision to start working with wood for a living, it just came about.
As a designer I am fascinated by synthetic and engineered materials, I love seeing brands and designers take their R&D seriously to see how they can push the performance of material to new places, but my personal preference whenever possible is always the natural: cotton and wood over polyester or plastic.
Along the way there are some ethical and environmental decisions that I’ve made to determine exactly how I source and work with wood, but to begin with it was simply a case of personal preference that got me working in wood. Despite having a strong preference for natural materials I do really appreciate contemporary forms and design, so juxtaposing traditional methods and materials with modernist shapes is what I most enjoy doing.
Knot Standard: Given your background in menswear design, do you see a connection/overlap between woodworking and men’s fashion/designs?
Devol: I strongly believe that a good designer shouldn’t limit themselves to one material or product. To me design is an approach to creation or problem solving which is best exercised and nurtured when practiced in a completely new context.
Knot Standard: How do you conceive a piece, choose the wood and know when it’s done?
Devol: A good majority of my work at the moment is made up of unique pieces, I do have some standardized products and tableware, but much prefer to make one-off products. In contrast to my days designing other products, my method with wood is very unplanned, I tend to begin a piece without any particular desired outcome and work quite spontaneously. Lots of my products begin as a freshly cut log, green wood is still very active material and so it demands a certain amount of co-operation from the maker, the grain will influence the direction of my tools and hidden knots will often reveal themselves forcing me to work around them. Too much consideration is required during the making stage for there to be a strictly pre-meditated design. Long after you’re finished with it the wood will continue to have a life of its own, warping slightly and occasionally cracking which can either add character or render it useless as anything other than firewood. Working in a more improvised way and co-operating with the material turns what would otherwise be a challenge into more of a creative influence.
Knot Standard: How does your creativity shape other aspects of your life? How does it (or does it?) affect your clothing choices/personal style?
Devol: My work is primarily focused on aesthetics, I know other creatives who are more concerned with function, ergonomics, philosophy and so forth, but I’m mostly interested in how things look and feel and am usually just trying to create things which are enjoyable. So I do like to fill my environment with good aesthetic design, art, products which I admire, and so forth… although working with raw materials and shedding sawdust wherever I go does seem to make it challenging to keep whatever space I’m in looking nice! My personal taste has always been less complicated than my work though, I do really like thedesign to be minimal and the materials and craftsmanship to be their very best.
Knot Standard: You seem especially attracted to the creation of utensils. What about the process or product do you find satisfying?
Devol: I think it was a natural progression from clothes, if not an obvious one. I was a bit confused where my fascination came from at the time but I think in hindsight it made sense to want to continue making functional items even after I changed materials, that element of utility and purpose is something I’m used to having in my work. I have also always been interested in sculpture and decor, but it’s something I am just beginning to work more with now. I feel as though when you create something functional it is as much about the purpose or the user as it is yourself, whereas to make a piece of sculpture is to create something entirely about yourself, even if it has a clear conceptual, ethical, philosophical message this is still entirely born from your own need for expression and that is much less familiar to me.
Knot Standard: What is your style or favorite piece of clothing?
Devol: Almost everything I wear is indigo! When I worked with menswear I created very ‘designed’ products with lots of detailing, but my own wardrobe is quite minimal and traditional. I often find materials to be more interesting in their own right than the way they are used, so a beautifully woven fabric or traditionally dyed piece of denim is more beautiful to me than a garment with bells and whistles. It took a lot of work to make some of the most simple and understated things I own, and understanding that craftsmanship makes them more valuable to me than something which is deliberately embellished.