Long before his hip-hop career took off, rapper Ferg’s ambition was to become a fashion designer.
The artist grew up in Harlem in a creative household — his Dad was a designer in his own right — and was raised watching runway shows and taking inspiration from figures on the New York art scene like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
But while Ferg, born Darold Durard Brown Ferguson Jr., initially went to art school, he came of age at a time when the path for a young Black man to make a career in fashion was constrained.
“My childhood dream was to design my own clothing line,” said Ferg. “At the time, I didn’t know it was possible. I was unusual in the sense that I was this young Black kid growing up in Harlem but at home, I was watching fashion shows and immersing myself in this world. There were no Black, male designers like Virgil Abloh to look up to back then. I’d watch documentaries on designers I looked up to, like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, but these guys came from a different world to me.”
Instead, Ferg was drawn to music, where he could see role models like Jay-Z, Nas and 50 Cent. In 2006, he joined New York hip-hop collective A$AP Mob alongside childhood friend A$AP Rocky. His debut album, “Trap Lord,” launched in 2013 and earned him the Rookie of the Year accolade at the BET Hip Hop Awards.
But music also became a way to remain connected to fashion, especially at a time when the industry was beginning to embrace the hip-hop culture and style. A$AP Mob brought their own spin, adopting skinny jeans and pairing streetwear with luxury.
That led to collaborations and campaigns, but Ferg now has ambitions to resurrect his childhood dream of becoming a fashion designer.
I’d watch documentaries on designers I looked up to, like Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, but these guys came from a different world to me.
His label, Devoni, is set to relaunch this week at London-based concept store Machine-A. The positioning in a retailer known for its fashion-forward edit of emerging labels sets the brand apart from other celebrity launches. Machine-A founder Stavros Karelis has a reputation for taking a selective and supportive approach to the emerging labels stocked by his store. Devoni will be sold alongside growing contemporary labels such as Xander Zhou, Kwaidan Editions and 1017 ALYX 9SM, as well as more established brands like Paco Rabanne, Rick Owens and Y-3.
“Ferg convinced me with his attention to detail from the material uses, through to the design and execution,” said Karelis. “He also wants Devoni to have wider benefit, with his use of vegan leather and with part of the proceeds of sales going to charitable organisations across Harlem.”
The collection is limited to belts for now, split into two categories: the Red Monster, made from Italian leather (£297) and the Bettas (£197), which is made from a vegan alternative. Ferg works closely with various Harlem-based charities and intends to donate a portion of sale proceeds to community organisations in the area. The goal is to build a cult following among a younger, socially conscious consumer base, Ferg said. Devoni’s products are priced to be accessible, but the drops will be limited with a view to creating “exclusive collector’s items, but not out of reach.”
The launch is the second iteration of his brand. Ferg first tried his hand at belt design as a teenager in Harlem, launching Devoni for the first time in 2005. He manufactured the belts in a local factory and enjoyed some success with celebrity fans including Chris Brown and producer Swizz Beatz. But Ferg was running the brand on a shoestring, while juggling school and a job working security. It wasn’t sustainable.
“Devoni was not paying the bills. The belts were getting placements, being picked up by stylists from time to time, but the reality hit that I needed to get an actual job, to satisfy my Mum who was getting on to me about not being at college,” said Ferg.
The new iteration of the brand will be produced at the same factory in Manhattan’s garment district run by a father and son team that made the original belts.
“When you work with a designer like Ferg, whilst the product is, of course, the end result, equally as important are all of the cultural aspects that surround it — the beautiful imagery and artwork, the curation, physical events and the production being local to Ferg’s community in Harlem,” said Karelis.