Dev Hynes & Ezra Koenig Talk Winter Fits, the Perils of Touring & Going Through Hell to Create
- Text: Jian DeLeon
- Photography: Pierre Ange Carlotti
- Styling: Corey Stokes
FRONTPAGE is Highsnobiety’s weekly online cover story exploring the people, moments, and ideas shaping culture today.
Devonté Hynes (Dev for short) is a rogue planet. Any room he touches is instantly subjected to the gravitational pull of his personality. Musically, he’s worked with A$AP Rocky, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Chemical Brothers, Solange, Tinashe, Mariah Carey, and Sky Ferreira, for whom he wrote the earworm-inducing indiepop bop “Everything Is Embarrassing.”
The 33-year-old musician, who for almost a decade has been performing under the moniker Blood Orange, has also roved into the world of film — scoring Gia Coppola’s Palo Alto and sampling bona fide space sounds for the trailer for James Gray’s Ad Astra — and gotten some noteworthy co-signs in the world of Fashion with a capital “F,” like when his buddy Virgil Abloh tapped him to perform for his second men’s collection at Louis Vuitton.
Hynes has become something of an “anti-fashion” icon, which is ironic considering he describes himself as a proper fashion fanboy. During the nascent days of the “normcore” trend, he unwittingly became one of its foremost figures thanks to a wardrobe full of baggy jeans, ugly-in-a-good-way sneakers, and curved-brim baseball caps found at the souvenir shops near his Chinatown studio. In fact, when he’s usually asked about “fashion,” it irks him that most people actually mean “style.”
“Fashion it is a little more traceable than other mediums, like film and music. You can really see when people are influenced by something in fashion,” he told us on a conference line before this interview. “I’m kind of into it in a weird way, because you almost have to be completely blind to not have seen the thing that usually traces and becomes something else.”
“My friends know, but I have a pretty disgusting bag collection,” he admits. “It’s the one thing that gets me, and it always has.” His current go-tos include a Dior satchel hybrid that he can easily sling over his shoulder when he needs to bike somewhere. There’s also a woven Loewe bag he describes as “almost like a picnic bag” that he wears when he needs to carry a bunch of stuff. And he also gives a shout-out to Medea — a brand run by sisters Giulia and Camilla Venturini (also friends with Hynes) — which blew up for its colorful, elevated takes on boutique shopping bags.
As Hynes prepares to travel with Tyler, the Creator and GoldLink for the former’s IGOR tour (Hynes’ fifth Blood Orange release, a mixtape called Angel’s Pulse, dropped earlier this year), he’ll be replacing Jaden Smith for a slew of dates across America. It’s a hectic schedule that Ezra Koenig can relate to. The Vampire Weekend frontman is also on the road touring to promote the release of their fourth album, Father of the Bride.
In the pantheon of musical style icons, Hynes and Koenig are two sides of the same coin, both being “accidental style goals.” Hynes, of course, is a walking mood board for “dressing like a cool dad,” while Koenig represents the neo-prep menswear movement of the mid-aughts, when streetwear dudes traded their sweatpants. hoodies, and Jordans for chinos, fleece jackets, and loafers. They’re the line where an expensive pair of wide-leg trousers from Noah meets a pair of Salomon sneakers and a Patagonia fleece found at a thrift store. Like the conversation between Hynes and Koenig suggests — classic men’s style allows you to dip into an established canon and reimagine it in a different context. It’s not unlike the way Hynes and Koenig talk about working covers of familiar music into their setlists. Sometimes it’s less taxing to find comfort in the well-worn and rocking it with a self-assured confidence.
EZRA KOENIG: So this is my only question I have prepared for this: Are you looking forward to winter, so you can really start dressing?
DEV HYNES: That’s actually a great question. I was back in New York to rehearse, and then I spent this past week just waiting until it was like 4:00 pm, and then I’d just put a hoodie on, even though it was still like 75 degrees. Yeah, I can’t wait. A jacket, jeans… The fucking best.
KOENIG: What are you wearing these days? One thing that’s interesting to me is that we both have an appreciation for thrift store stuff. I would say you in particular pioneered the cheap New York tourist hat.
HYNES: I really appreciate that being put on record.
KOENIG: I’m far from a fashion expert, but I know what I saw. And you’re definitely the first person I saw doing cheap tourist stuff, but in a purposeful, cool way.
HYNES: Thank you.
KOENIG: I feel the same way. I’ve always liked that stuff. A lot of my favorite items I buy on eBay. I love to find some weird old shirt for like $6 on eBay. You’ve performed at super high fashion events. I feel like I’m always seeing you at Paris Fashion Week. What’s your shopping approach these days?
HYNES: Honestly, it’s kind of weird. Everything I do, whether it’s like video, music, or clothes, I’m still a fanboy, so I still have people in my head, almost like posters. Do posters still exist? I feel like kids probably don’t have posters.
KOENIG: In their room?
HYNES: Yeah, because if you think about when you had posters of people you looked up to, the amount of images of them that existed was, in regards to now, so little. You’d have the poster of like, Kurt Cobain in a dress, because you wanted to look at these people in your room. But now, people just save images on their phone.
“The number one weird thing about me is that I know so much about fashion — like a psycho amount.”
KOENIG: I remember, five or six years ago, at the peak of Tumblr, you’d come across some kid’s mood board, and you’d be like, “This is an even more intense digital version of that kind of patchwork of images you would have seen on a ‘90s kid’s wall.” I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but I was just looking at a picture of Ivanka and Don, Jr. in one of their childhood bedrooms. I think it’s probably Don, Jr.’s., and he has a Terminator 2 poster and a Grateful Dead poster.
HYNES: I wonder if he will see the new Terminator.
KOENIG: He’s probably still a fan of the franchise. He’ll probably go see Dead & Co. too. But obviously, you have an eye and an interest in clothes, but are you really up on fashion?
HYNES: So, this is a funny thing about me, and I guess this is maybe the interview to let it rip, but the number one weird thing about me is that I know so much about fashion — like a psycho amount. I’m actually a fan and know the history, as much as how I like —and it’ll probably annoy people if I say it, so I’ll say it — art and artists. I have zero aspirations of being in the art world, and I barely would even go to an art opening, but I have an appreciation. I love it and that’s kind of how it is with fashion. I have a lot of fashion books, and even when I’m pulling references and things, it’s down to specific collections — the year and what show it was. So, I do follow fashion.
KOENIG: So you really know your stuff. So I could show you a bunch of different things and you’d be like, “Oh yeah, that was that show,” and you’d understand the context?
HYNES: It’s that vibe.
KOENIG: So you know who the head designer is at every major brand right now.
HYNES: Pretty much.
KOENIG: Who’s the head designer at Louis Vuitton?
HYNES: Men’s or women’s?
KOENIG: I thought it would be the same person.
HYNES: There you go.
KOENIG: I don’t even know where to begin, I guess women’s?
HYNES: Nicolas Ghesquière. I tend to side with the men’s, but the women’s is really good. That’s not a gender thing, that’s just more because I know Virgil [Abloh].
KOENIG: Of course, it’s Virgil. I knew that.
HYNES: But the women’s is really nice. Jaden Smith is with Louis Vuitton women’s.
KOENIG: He models for the women’s collections?
HYNES: Yeah, he’ll be at the women’s show and not at the men’s show. I fuck with that.
KOENIG: I’m interested in fashion too, but I can’t claim I always get it if I’m being completely honest. Every once in a while I can really surprise people. I knew that Demna [Gvasalia] was at Balenciaga, and I was with some random people who were talking about it. I know that that’s common knowledge, but I really like knowing these things. I love watching documentaries about fashion, and I love reading about it.
HYNES: I love documentaries on fashion.
KOENIG: I was going to say, did you read this book Gods and Kings? It was specifically about Alexander McQueen and what’s-his-name? Who’s the guy who said he liked Hitler? John Galliano.
HYNES: Yes, is the answer.
KOENIG: I feel bad reducing somebody to one of their worst moments because I don’t think that’s fair, but I only said that because I literally couldn’t remember his name and that was the first thing that jumped out. But anyway, I read that book too. I was probably under the illusion to some extent before I read it that fashion had to be easier than music in a way, where it’s kind of like there’s so much context and things that people can fall back on. Things keep moving more quickly and the grand statement of an album every three years seems to be more high-stakes than a show every season. And then I read the book and I was like, “What are you talking about? This is so much more difficult.” It’s like if we had to put out four albums a year and be judged just as harshly.
HYNES: People really burn out.
KOENIG: The schedule terrifies me. And both of them —McQueen and Galliano —had two brands at once!
“While putting together the set for this tour, I had to really fight the inner troll in me that’s always trying to bust out.”
HYNES: All the creative directors do now. I mean, this is some old-man shit, but most people are into the celebration, and not all people are really into the outcome. I think you can see that in a lot of things, and it doesn’t bother me as much, but I see why it can bother other people. For example, if there’s a show and it seems like someone essentially put it together to have a show — that can happen in music, too. There’s a lot of music made that is essentially not made for music. But I feel like you’re kind of like me in regards to, I can essentially get into anything once I read the story. The lead-up, the build-up, the anxiety, and all of that stuff. It could be about anything and I would probably be fully engaged into it. I’m kind of a sucker for any story of someone making something and going through hell.
KOENIG: Right. It makes you feel less crazy.
HYNES: It’s comforting.
KOENIG: I have a very similar relationship to fashion that I have with sports where you could sit me at a fashion show, and I’ve been to fashion shows and watched people walk by, and somebody could say, “So, what did you think of the show?” And I’d be like, “I have no idea what just happened.” But the difference is that once I started that book, I loved the story. I understood, “Okay, here are these two guys, and they’re both from these working-class London backgrounds.”
HYNES: Yeah, I’m from the same place as McQueen. He’s an Essex boy, like me.
HYNES: I’ve always had a love for anyone from Essex. It’s weird. I mean, I love McQueen, but even if I don’t necessarily like what they do, if they’re from Essex, I’m an avid supporter of them.
KOENIG: I have a feeling it’s very similar to my relationship to New Jersey.
HYNES: Yeah, it must be. Essex is the New Jersey of England. Wait, who is our Springsteen?
KOENIG: You have your unequivocally great people like Springsteen, but then even when you get to some of the wack people you’re like “I didn’t know that.” You know when you’re talking shit about somebody and you’re like, “Oh, they’re from Jersey? I don’t care.”
HYNES: You sound distant. Not mentally, but physically.
HYNES: Oh, that’s better. It sounded like you were on the other side of a long hallway for a second.
KOENIG: I’m here in Seattle. I had the original Starbucks this morning. The first one.
HYNES: Is there a plaque outside?
KOENIG: It’s pretty minimal branding. There’s a little plaque inside that says, “This is the first Starbucks.” And I guess they tried to keep some of the original logo, that mermaid? They have her breasts out which they clearly got rid of when they were trying to go nationwide.
HYNES: I wonder if the coffee is good there.
KOENIG: It’s the exact same. So wait, one thing I didn’t know is you did music for Ad Astra?
HYNES: I guess that’s true, I scored the trailer.
HYNES: It’s a thing because all the trailers are done by these trailer houses that are essentially given all the footage of the film, and they’re like, “Turn this into something where people want to see it.”
KOENIG: I have a vague memory of when there were a lot of album trailers.
HYNES: I’ve done that. For Negro Swan, I teased music that isn’t on the album.
KOENIG: And I guess…
HYNES: I probably shouldn’t even admit this stuff, but you kind of know what excites people which I think is how the trailer houses think. Maybe they don’t even need to see the film or understand the director’s deep, long attachment to the subject matter. They’re just like, “Here’s Tom Cruise falling from a plane, let’s put that in the trailer.”
KOENIG: What are you doing right now?
HYNES: I’m in New York. I’m running around doing some errands before I have to go to L.A.. And then I go on tour for a month with Tyler [the Creator].
KOENIG: Oh wow, where’s that tour?
HYNES: It’s U.S. but he’s really touring. He’s already done a month in the U.S. with Jaden [Smith]—I’m about to be Jaden for the unlucky souls that get there early.
“An album is more than just music on it. It is kind of like a vibe, a moment.”
KOENIG: Are you excited to get back on the road?
HYNES: A part of me is actually. Have a little structure in my life, you know? I like that aspect of touring, having a rhythm to your life.
KOENIG: Do you like opening?
HYNES: While putting together the set for this tour, I had to really fight the inner troll in me that’s always trying to bust out.
KOENIG: Like what? Like an all-cover set?
HYNES: Well, for example, up until two days ago, we were ending the set with “In My Life,” but like a straight cover of it.
KOENIG: By The Beatles?
HYNES: I can text it to you. It was recorded in rehearsal. It was just completely straight.
KOENIG: And now you’re getting cold feet?
HYNES: Well, I’m still opening the set with a cover by the band Love. It’s a track from the album after Forever Changes, so not even a popular Love song. But yeah, we’re going to end the set with “In My Life.” Super faithful with the George Martin solo in the middle and everything. I have to kind of get real with myself and be like, “You know, it’s these type of self-sabotaging tendencies that make you start shaking off.”
KOENIG: There’s pros and cons to trolling. I mean, it is funny that we would even consider doing a faithful cover of “In My Life” as trolling because it’s not like just playing harsh feedback just to fuck with the audience. We live in such an uptight society that even deviating from expectations is considered trolling. It’s kind of the job we both signed up for.
HYNES: Because even at Coachella, the first weekend-
KOENIG: Was that when you did Neil Young?
HYNES: Yeah. I opened the set with an acoustic version of “Heart of Gold,” and then the second weekend in the middle of the set I did half of “Velouria” by The Pixies.
KOENIG: How’d it go down?
HYNES: No one even cared or noticed. I know that if I played “In My Life” on the IGOR tour, a majority of people won’t care. But the people that do care will be extremely confused which is an appealing thing.
KOENIG: And there’s also some people who are just fully delighted.
HYNES: I would be. I always remember like when I did one of the Summer Stages, I was really obsessed with the idea of opening the show with “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. I was so obsessed with the acoustic guitar and the [hums intro to the song]
KOENIG: Another moment of cold feet?
HYNES: It was another moment of cold feet.
Shot on location at Crown Shy .
- Editor in Chief: Thom Bettridge
- Text: Jian DeLeon
- Photography: Pierre Ange Carlotti
- Styling: Corey Stokes
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