"I worked in fashion during the 'Devil Wears Prada' days," muses 26-year old David Casavant in his two-bedroom Gehry Building apartment, which just so happens to casually overlook the Statue of Liberty. It's an abode that likely rivals those of the top editors, buyers and stylists in the industry, and while Casavant's career trajectory is certainly unique, he's put in the same grueling hours (as an unpaid intern and an assistant) to get to where he is today. Instead of taking a traditional gig, Casavant opted to strike out on his own, filling in the gaps he saw in the market, applying things he loved about both womenswear and menswear to carve his own path — one that led to a downtown apartment full of archival Raf Simons and Helmut Lang, which he regularly loans to the likes of Rihanna, Kanye West and Travis Scott.
The Tennessee-raised Casavant was very into fashion, clothing specifically, from a young age. "I didn’t care about other things or being excessive in other ways. I just always wanted clothes. For Christmas? Clothes. I know the pieces. I'll show you. There was always a focus on that," he says. Before eBay and the relatively new menswear site Grailed.com, Casavant started off shopping for himself, buying past-season pieces he would find online for cheap. When designer clothes started to become easily available online — and before the recession, clothes were viewed as more expendable than they are today, thus secondhand pieces were cheaper — David built a keen awareness of how (and where) to pick up his most desired pieces.
Remember LVMH's eLuxury.com? "I knew when their sales happened, when things went on further sale, how to get the discount codes," he recalls. His view of fashion and clothing as "art" is the foundation of his building the David Casavant Archive — one of the most impressive Raf Simons and Helmut Lang collections held by a single owner. He started acquiring items by stashing money his parents would give him for little things (like food with friends) to spend on gear; he can't exactly remember the first piece he purchased, but one of his early favorites was a Raf Simons patch sweatshirt from his fall 2000 collection. His growing archive traveled with him from Nashville to Atlanta and even to London and back to New York. He always lived among his clothes, like in a perpetual closet.
After leaving Tennessee and briefly living in Atlanta, Casavant attended Central Saint Martins in London for fashion and photography — even taking some time to study design. All the while, he continued to add to his growing collection, and school showed him a lot of the topics he was studying just weren't for him. He realized he was rushing through the design process and sewing to get to the final product to put looks together; although he spent more time doing photography, he found that the editing process wasn’t so much for him, either. However, his love for clothing remained consistent as his collection of clothes continued to grow.
Casavant's mom passed away when he was young. When he got an inheritance, he just wanted to make his mother proud. "Everyone thought I was just being young and dumb wasting all my money on clothes, as I was told they depreciated in value, but I set out to change that idea. It made more sense to me to invest in what I knew rather than the stock market or something I don't really understand," he says. And it's always just been clothes; expensive ones yes, but with the goal to have an expansive collection. "I've never really been that excessive, so my luxury in life has always just been [fashion]. I don't go on vacations or do anything 'fancy.' Basically all of my money gets invested back into my business."
Following his time at school and interning for the likes of British Vogue, British GQ and AnOther Man, Casavant made the move to New York, landing a job with Carine Roitfield as she was starting CR Fashion Book, doing "basically everything" as the fashion assistant. "This was when it was run out of a hotel room and we eventually got a small office," he recalls. "I got to see how she worked. She is someone I really idolized, so that was like a weird dream come true. I loved working there. I was excited to go to work. I couldn't wait to go on shoots. I loved doing shoots and calling in clothes from the season I just saw walk down the runway and being able to have it in person. That really shaped me a lot." It was here Casavant had the opportunity to wear his growing collection of Raf Simons, garnering approval from "Queen Carine." "I remember she would give me compliments and I loved it. 'Carine complimented me!' That was the ultimate. It was amazing." In addition, he began to see how vintage was working in the city. The resale market was primarily for women, and he got the idea that he could do it better — and that he could be doing it for menswear.
His operation started slow as he continued to take jobs as a fashion assistant. As anyone entrenched in the industry knows, there’s a lot of politics and playing favorites, but having real friends working beside you and that support you can help to build something special. Through peers who were also fashion assistants, Casavant started to lend pieces of his collection for free for editorial shoots, chasing down editors to credit "David Casavant Archive" rather than as "stylist's own." At this point, he was buying items with the goal that he’d one day be able to style using his collection, but in the meantime, it was just the recognition he was looking for. "From when it first started, there are countless magazines I’m not credited in. In the beginning, people who would borrow from me had this mentality that I was just the assistant's random friend, and they can credit [the pieces] as their own stylist's. It took awhile for me to say I needed to get credited," he explained. But as the credits started rolling in, the bigger clients did, too. Now, he'll rent a vintage T-shirt for $20 for a week, or more exclusive pieces for upwards of $750 per week for a variety of things, like photo shoots or red carpets. But there's a catch: Casavant has a dedicated client base right now, and he doesn't just rent to anybody.
When asked if he remembers the day he first had the opportunity to work with Kanye West and how it played out, he laughs and tells me he knows exactly how it happened. "I always joked about Kanye. 'Oh Kanye, he would just eat this [piece] up.' Eventually, if you keep joking about something and keep putting it out there, it happens." As for how the connection was made, he says: "My friends were freelancing and working for his stylist on a job in New York, and told his stylist about me. She emailed me and I told her everything I had, sent a ton of pictures, all of that. She saw, showed him and he was like, 'What?' Because there isn't another resource like this.”
All the while, Casavant refused to sell, even when he was offered $27,000 for a single Raf Simons piece. He likens his archive to Katy Grand and Love magazine: Much like she curates everything she loves into each issue, he was building this collection of all the pieces he loved — and it just so happened that the past-season Raf Simons goods would become wildly popular. Now, Casavant rents his pieces for celebrities to wear to events, as well as for editorials, and is a resource for designers' research. Since he doesn't sell pieces of his collection to anyone, period, he now also offers to scour the market to help clients find a duplicate of the piece he owns, too. In the future, he hopes to do more styling — using his own stuff, of course. He jokes that today, with all of the attention he's getting from industry insiders, he finally might break even on the collection. Not too bad, considering he won't be parting with it any time soon.