Devon Lee Carlson is the People's influencer. Sure, she's graced the covers of magazines, secured many a high fashion partnership, including #ad posts for Burberry and tees for Marc Jacobs, and has been seen on the occasional yacht for best friend Bella Hadid's birthday celebrations, but nevertheless, she keeps it real. Footage of her latest TikTok dance challenge trials? Check. Frequent Spongebob content? She's got you. BTS video footage on her YouTube channel about what goes into creating Wildflower cases, her iconic iPhone case brand? Always top of mind.
Our humble queen has a way of making her one million followers and counting feel like they can relate. Her ability to make the unattainable feel within reach (at the palm of your hand, or, on the back of your phone) is her key to success.
"We put a lot of love into it and I think that Gen Z likes to know who's designing their products and what goes into the process. With my sister and I's vlog channels and everything we post on social media, I think it gives people kind of an insight into what they're buying into," Carlson tells PAPER.
Clothing and accessories: Burberry
A full-on family affair, Carlson founded Wildflower — known for its loud, free-spirited designs and top tier collabs — with her mom, dad and sister Sydney when she was still in high school and her designs have since been sported by the likes of Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa and more. Its cult-like status quickly landed the brand on Vogue and Forbes.
Years later, Wildflower, nor Carlson, show any signs of slowing. Even through what was inarguably a challenging year, the brand managed to launch some exciting new collaborations and designs, including one just last month with beauty vlogger turned actress/ model Amanda Steele. If her YouTube videos are any indication, there's sure to be more coming soon.
"I would've never guessed that I was going to be in this position in a million years," she says. "I dreamt of everything that I'm doing right now."
PAPER caught up with Carlson to talk running her own business, some dream customers and, as always, staying true to herself.
Jewelry, top and skirt: Alessandra Rich, Shoes: Magda Butrym
How are you doing during this chaotic time? What's getting you through 2020?
Trixie and Katya's fucking YouTube channel. Their web series. Literally every week I watch it within the first hour it's been posted. It brings me so much joy, it seriously makes me so happy.
Talk me through your decision to start wildflower cases: what gave you the idea, what inspired you and how did you bring it to life?
I mean, it was more of just a hobby when we started. My sister and I have always just been creative and loved fashion, so when my mom had originally surprised us with these cases, we instantly had so many ideas and we were just getting them to our friends at school and I even had posted on Instagram, when Instagram just first came out, one of my first post was a picture of the cases that me and my sister had designed and my mom has made, saying, "If you want these let me know. $35 we could meet in the Quad." We didn't really have any big goals or anything, it was literally just for fun, and meeting Miley [Cyrus] opened our eyes to the possibilities of what it could be because she was so instantly excited about our product that we had made.
My dad's entire background is in product development and he's a graphic designer, and he just was like, "Guys, I am the guy to make this come to life." So it kind of just was so meant to be. It was insane. I was at a point in my life where I could have either gone down the college route, and done that whole thing, which I had never really wanted to do but I was just like, "I don't know what to do." And then Wildflower happened in April of my senior year so it just gave me something to do; it was my form of college, in a sense. It was such an accident that it's hard to say the steps that we took to get it to where it is or see its potential, we were just like, "Let's try."
There's such a strong, diverse range of designs. How do you come up with them? Do you have a favorite, or one your phone is wearing right now?
Well, the one I have on my phone right now is a throwback case because I had designed it in 2017 and we got so many requests to bring it back for the new iPhone sizes that we did and it's a pink leopard case that we had had that I begged my parents to make. But I feel like what me and my sister love to do with the designs for Wildflower is make it: anyone with any style can find something that they like. Sydney and I's style is a little all over the place — we just wear whatever makes us happy — so I think it's fun to think of designs and of all my friends and ur customers and constantly see who's wearing our case and try to design something that I know each of my friends with different styles would wear. So that's always something that I keep in mind when designing is "Okay well will my really chic friends like this and my funky friends like that and some of my friends who like to dress more plain, would they all like it?" And then I'm like okay that's it, that's gonna be a hit, when I know it can hit every single aesthetic. We're definitely aware that we do that; I think that's part of our secret.
Jewelry and belt: Chrome Hearts, Jumpsuit: Moschino
Your cases have been seen on everyone from Dua Lipa to Trixie Mattel to even having a feature on Euphoria. What's the experience like, seeing your product out in the wild? Did you expect Gen Z to really pick up on these the way they have?
I mean, it's still so crazy to me. My sister and I both are constantly going through Wildflower's tagged photos on Instagram and seeing anyone with a case in public I instantly get nervous and excited and it's so crazy. It doesn't feel real to me at all, ever. And I just am excited whenever we get any good feedback. I think that people can tell that a lot of love goes into it and we're a small business and it's literally just like me and my sister, coming up with these designs and my mom. We handwrite all the notes and everything still; we put a lot of love into it and I think that Gen Z likes to know who's designing their products and what goes into the process and with my sister and I's vlog channels and everything we post on social media, It gives people insight into what they're buying into. We just have so much fun with it, and we're so grateful that this is our job at all. It's so insane to us, and we just love seeing anyone with our cases.
Lots of tiktokers have also been seen sporting your cases. Do you think that platform has helped your brand grow?
Totally. My "For You" page is constantly filled with people doing "outfit of the week" videos and they're changing their case with their outfit. That makes me so happy because I'm like "That's what I do!" — I just think it's so cool. But I genuinely love TikTok so much because I think that there's something for everyone on the app. I watch cooking videos, I watch fashion videos, I watch dance — it's so all over the place. My sister and I have been watching TikTok for like a year, and we instantly fell in love with Charli and Dixie and Addison and all those girls just because my sister and I were competitive dancers so it's like seeing these younger girls doing the 2020 or 2019 version of the dance world. We just fell in love with them instantly and DM'd them on Instagram. Just seeing them use it makes me so happy.
Faux fur stole and jumpsuit: Moschino, Jewelry: Chrome Hearts
Any dream users of Wildflower cases?
I had said in an interview before that Trixie was my dream, and then she seriously started using it and I was like "Oh my god! This is insane!" So this is a little manifestation moment, let me think. I would love to see Katya with one. I've said RuPaul in the past. I'm seriously just so grateful for all the support we get, it's really insane. I want people to want to have them, I don't want to ever force anyone to use our product. So I get excited when people genuinely like it.
What's the process been like working with your mom and sister? Any tension, bonding moments, etc.?
A little bit of everything. We definitely have cried over designs and fought over designs. But we've also completely agreed, instantly, and I think it's really made us look at each other as a family in so many different lights. Because I can go to her for advice on life stuff, but then also business stuff, and my parents have just always been very supportive of anything Sydney and I want to do so I think working together, it's like it was meant to be. I feel like we're a family that thrives in that scenario. It just works pretty well for us. But there's definitely creative arguments; we were in an argument this morning over stuff. We argue over business how families argue in general, so it's just very walls down all the time. Whenever we have someone work with us even like Taj [Alwan], I'm like "You're literally going to be a part of the family now." We love everyone, and it's all love at the end of the day.
How has the experience of being an entrepreneur differed from your many other roles: model, influencer, Youtuber, etc.?
Clothing and accessories: Mugler
I think because I started as an entrepreneur with my family, it gave me a different approach to the entire internet and social media influencer worlds because I was reaching out to people to send cases to or to collaborate with, and at the same time I was becoming an influencer myself, unintentionally. But I feel like it's given me the ability to not have to do everything and be able to pick and choose what jobs I want to do because it makes being an influencer and a model more of a hobby for me because my full time job is Wildflower. I have the privilege to only work with certain brands that I'm very excited about and I feel like I don't have to do everything because it's more of a fun thing for me — so when I get to work with Louis Vuitton or these brands I'm so excited because it's more of a dream that I'm like, "Oh my gosh I can't believe that Wildflower has led me to this."
I want to talk about your YouTube channel. You have an overwhelmingly fun and exciting energy on the platform. What are some of your favorite types of videos to post?
I really only post vlogs, and I've gotten to do so many exciting, fun things that I felt like I just want to share with the world because I can't even believe my own life. So I feel like my channel has turned into all these crazy, insane vlogs, but at the same time I'll look back and be like "Okay, I'll post a vlog where I'm just not leaving my house for an entire day and the whole vlog is just me at home," but then my next one is like "Touring the world with my boyfriend." It's very all over the place.
But YouTube has kind of been hard for me recently, with everything going on. It's always been only vlogs when I'm in the mood to vlog, otherwise it's so forced, and that's not fun to watch me do that. It hasn't really inspired me to vlog. Certain days I'll be very excited and pull out my camera but then I'll watch back the footage and just not be inspired by it, or feel like "I don't know who'll watch this," and I don't end up posting for like a month. Then everyone starts messaging me and I'll get excited again and end up posting. I'm just so vulnerable on there that it's just hard for me to keep up with it, so I really do enjoy it, it's just a lot mentally. But I love it, I just finished editing one right now that's about to go up. I just love being a part of the YouTube world. I think it's really fun and creative and cool.
Jacket: Louis Vuitton, Lingerie: Agent Provocateur, Shoes: Pleaser, Jewelry: David Yurman and Chrome Hearts
What do you hope fans take away from your content, and from your presence on all of your platforms as a whole?
I just really want to inspire people to be themselves and express themselves through hair, beauty, fashion, photography and anything. Just follow your dreams and be a good person because you never know what's going to happen to you. I would've never guessed that I was going to be in this position in a million years. I dreamt of everything that I'm doing right now. I want to say living with no expectations, because I feel like that's what I do and I can dream as much as I want, but my expectations were set very low as a child. So I feel like everything that I do now is so insane to me, and exciting. But I just want to inspire people to be themselves and be confident in who they are, and do what makes them feel good.
Top, jacket and pants: Ottolinger, Jewelry: David Yurman