INTERVIEW: DEJAN DESPOTOVIC, DESIGNER BEHIND BLACK’D NYC
Designer Dejan Despotovic sits at his desk in his New York apartment-turned studio space. The only light is the one just above him, which shines off the black edge of his sketch. The quiet ivory melodies of Max Richter play in his earbuds. It’s the middle of the night and he’s trying to catch himself in the “Dark Moment”—the space between melancholy loneliness and utmost elegance.
In this moment he does his best work, and it’s what made him famous in Serbia. But he left the comfort of fame for the streets—and the robust market—of New York City. Here’s why:
How did you get your start in Serbia?
From an early age I realized that fashion really gives me happiness and is something that I really respect. So I started designing. In 2006 I had my first show in my hometown, Belgrade. At 19 I started doing every season at Belgrade fashion week.
So you had your first fashion show when you were in high school, and showcased your designs at Belgrade fashion week in college. How did that springboard your career?
My first fashion show was more like a project, but from there people started talking about the creativity that I have, and that it’s different. Especially in the small markets like Serbia. People are not seeing different things because they are consumers. People who buy fashion, they are more related to well-known brands. So everything different made by the independent designer is interesting to them. So for them to start commenting on my work, it opened the door for me. They wanted to see more
Since your work was so different, were you worried about how it would be received?
Not really. I have always had that Dark Moment.
What does the Dark Moment mean to you?
It’s the most powerful thing in my design. The feeling. Maybe you can’t see it at first when you see the garment, but the feeling that you get by wearing it—by seeing it on the street or on the model—it gives you that Dark Moment in all its beauty and femininity. That’s the key of my work. I will never escape from that dark elegance
What inspires this Dark Moment?
When I was younger, it was a lot of Dracula or Dracula’s Bride. It all seemed very mysterious to me. Now, I’m listening to a lot of classical when I work. I don’t know when I started but I work a lot at night with my earphones. And classical music gives me that moment in the dark when I’m inspired the most. It’s very mysterious. It gives me the chills. I don’t have the exact inspiration when I’m designing. I’m not inspired by a tree. I want to enter my own imagination. I want to imagine a woman walking somewhere in some garment. I really want to create that world around me. I like to enter my own imagination. It’s very dreamy. Very melancholic. Sometimes depressive moments, they give me the details that are not known.
Have you designed like this since the beginning? Tell me about your first piece?
My first full garment was at the beginning of high school. It was a dress. I remember going to my grandmother’s house in the village and collecting the feathers from chickens all over her backyard. I put those feathers on the dress. It was very funny but it was a confirmation of what I do. Let me add the feathers to make it more feminine. There’s always some detail I want to involve to make the garment more feminine.
Was it black? Despotovic chuckles for a second before he answers.
Since you work in black textures and silhouettes take the place of prints and colors, what are some of your favorite fabrics and cuts to play with?
I like chiffon or georgette combined with wool crepe, cotton poplin, with leather. Heavy with transparency. Shine with matte. In my work I’m combining masculinity. Black by itself is masculine, but with feminine silhouettes it can look very interesting and very wearable. I like strong shoulders. Detailing on upper body of the silhouette is very important to me. It creates an army-esque look, even if the dress is an elegant floor length. At first glance you can’t tell that it’s feminine because you see the details. But when you read the silhouette, when you read the garment, you will experience that femininity.
It sounded like you were doing very well in Serbia. How did you make the decision to come to New York?
I had this moment—either I stay in Serbia and this is it, or I go do something bigger for me. And I just did it. At some point when you work in a small market you reach the highest level of your career and you can’t move further. The road should be longer, and I came here to New York because there’s a lot more. I’ve started from zero here. No one knows my history. But I’m really happy. When you know that something that you do can be something good, something people will respect, you don’t have that fear of starting from zero. In Serbia I had my name as a label. Now I started BLACK’D because of the idea of that bigger market, doing something bigger.
What’s your goal in this new market?
When you see something you know that it’s BLACK’D. That’s the mission.