How this renowned designer conquered the world of fashion, from the Midwest and beyond.
Interviewing fashion designer Pamella DeVos provided not only a peak into fashion’s many aspects, but also her townhouse in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The décor is modern, with black, gray and white throughout. From the circular artwork to the stark furniture, there’s a warm, personal touch. “I had the walls in my guest bathroom lined with wallpaper imprinted with dress designs I’d created early in my career,” she reveals.
Born in the Midwest, Ms. DeVos’ roots are deep. “I love Chicago. It’s my favorite city,” she says. While her work requires monthly trips to New York, Ms. DeVos still calls the Midwest home. A mother of three and married over 30 years, life is beautiful for this talented woman, who looks back on 10 years of success in the fashion world.
Do you spend much time in New York and Chicago? I mainly live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but also have homes in New York City and Chicago. If you want to be a serious designer, you have to be in New York. I spend a lot of time there, especially for the fashion shows in August and September. Also, being on the Board of the Whitney Museum keeps me busy there. However, my eldest daughter lives in Chicago, so I bought a home here. I’d live in Chicago full-time in a heartbeat. When my son graduates from high school we’ll spend more time here. My husband and I walk to Japonais all the time. I also love RL – it reminds me of the ladies from the Women’s Board at the Joffrey Ballet.
Speaking of the Joffrey Women’s Board, what inspired you to join? Three years ago, Candace Jordan and Helen Melchior, members of the Joffrey Women’s Board, invited me to participate in the first annual “Couture and Cocktails” event. We stayed friends and they asked me to join the board. Being from Michigan and having way too many things to do made me think twice. However, I love ballet. I took it when I was younger, and my youngest daughter danced for the Grand Rapids ballet while I served on the board. I wanted a connection to Chicago, so I said yes.
Prior to launching your eponymous apparel line, you received a business degree from Michigan State University and worked in marketing and public relations for 10 years. How long did it take to transition from business to fashion? I married when I was 22, and we waited five years to have kids. My husband traveled around world for business when he worked for Amway, and we lived in Tokyo for a short time. Years later, after moving back to the states, he decided to start his own business. I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do?’ When I was younger, I worked for a clothing store for seven years. Loved it! But how can you be a fashion designer in Grand Rapids with three young kids? It wouldn’t work. In my 40s, I decided to get back to fashion and started the business with a partner – he wasn’t with me very long. The transition to fashion was natural.
How long did it take to launch your first collection? I was researching the fashion business in New York when 9/11 occurred. I was there with a designer for Fashion Week. There were no taxis on the streets and there was debris in the air. I just kept walking. When my friend left town, I spent a couple nights alone and didn’t know anyone. It was pretty frightening. But I made a decision to go ahead with my plans, and we had a small opening in February 2002. We dipped our toes in to see if there was any interest. At our first show, Neiman Marcus picked us up, which was remarkable. My collection is also carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bergdorf Goodman.
Name a designer whose style you admire. My favorite is Yves Saint Laurent. I loved his style – the tuxedo look. We do a tuxedo every fall.
Did you have a mentor in fashion? No mentor in the fashion business, but my father encouraged me and gave me the drive. It’s why I have a business degree. Some people spend all the money and don’t look at the numbers. They don’t see how difficult the business is. Very few become millionaires overnight; most don’t make it.
How did you build your brand to what it is today? It took lots of hard work and long hours. If I’d had 100 percent concentration over the years, I’d be more successful. My husband is involved in his own business, and I had three children to raise. In the beginning, my husband wasn’t thrilled that he became ‘Mr. Mom.’ I handled everything from afar and it wasn’t easy. But even with my business, my family always comes first.
Do you manage both the creative and business side? I run the creative side along with two male designers. I have someone to help with the numbers and the business side.
You have clientele in Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar and Mexico, to name a few. What other countries would you target? My first choice in Asia is Hong Kong. If you go there, you have to have a name. We’re also working on a store in London. We do very well in the Middle East. Buyers come in and say, ‘I like this, but can you add some beading?’ They choose flashy colors, so I always know what items are being shipped to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Name three things that make a woman’s wardrobe more versatile. A little black dress, a trendy neutral shoe and a great piece of jewelry – a conversation piece.