A Unit of Force: an interview with design legend Christopher Bevans, Creative Director of DYNE Sports
Good design is a synonym for purpose. You wouldn’t run a marathon in flip-flops – they simply weren’t designed for the task. So why live an active modern lifestyle draped in conventional menswear? In an era of electric cars and space tourism, wool shirts and cotton pants are as vestigial as the telegraph. Yet, traditional tailored menswear insistently returns to these “timeless” designs, as resistant to progress as it is afraid of change.
Breaking free from this paradigm requires a force of positive tension both rooted in the old ways, and fueled by the new: a mix of classical apparel design principles and cutting-edge materials science meant to provide modern benefits (Near Field-connectivity, all-weather resistance) in familiar forms. In an overcrowded fashion market, this bold new direction for menswear would need the right vision, the right experience, and the right designs just to have a chance.
Fortunately, design legend Christopher Bevans, head of technical sportswear brand DYNE, has the deck stacked. Bevans got an early start in design: his grandmother ran her own dressmaking shop in New York City, where a young Christopher would “grow up” around patterns and sewing machines during his frequent visits. As a teenager, Bevans would move to Rochester, NY to apprentice under a master tailor and learn the art of fabric construction.
From there, Bevans’ life becomes the story of a passion pursued: with help from a friend, he bought his mentor’s shop and went into the tailoring business for 7 years before returning to NYC to expand his apparel design knowledge. After a brief stint at FIT, Bevans worked in the denim program at fashion label Sean John before being recruited by Nike to become a Design Director for Global Urban Apparel, a position he held until 2007. Bevans has since held positions at Billionaire Boys Club and worked as a design consultant with Under Armour, YEEZY by adidas Originals, and the Smithsonian Institution. In 2012, he was honored with a Director’s Fellowship at the MIT Media Lab, widely considered the world’s foremost institution for the study of science, technology, and art. Most recently, Bevans launched menswear brand DYNE in 2015, a Portland, OR-based line of sweats, shorts, tees, and outerwear engineered to inspire a new era of technical fashion.
Calling Christopher Bevans a designer is like calling MJ a shooting guard. Long story short: if you’ve bought sportswear any time over the past decade, there’s a good chance you’ve seen, felt, and loved the influence of his designs. SHEI Magazine was lucky enough to catch up with Mr. Bevans in early April, talking all things design, the rise of designer sportswear, and the revolutionary tech behind DYNE.
Alex Rakestraw: Hi, Chris. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Could you tell me a little bit about how you got your start in design?
Christopher Bevans (CB): My grandmother was a designer and dressmaker in New York City in the 1970’s, so I spent a lot of my childhood around fabric and machines. I think growing up essentially in her shop really influenced my trajectory, but it wasn’t until my teenage years that I really took a liking to design. I worked as apprentice to master tailor in Rochester, NY, then bought the tailor’s shop after graduating high school and went into business myself for seven years. Eventually, I relocated back to New York City to really surround myself with design. I went to FIT while working at Mood Fabrics in the late 1990’s, so it was this blend of taking classes and being at the epicenter of the New York fashion world at the same time. After school, I started working for Puff Daddy’s Sean John label in 2001 as assistant designer on their denim program before getting recruited by Nike to work as a Design Director for apparel in 2003.
When did you first know you were destined for fashion?
CB: It all really started at that young age. My grandmother played a big part, but there was also a part of me that really loved the theatre of getting dressed up, ya know, “looking the part” for whatever you did. I came from a religious family, so putting on your suit and penny loafers every week for Church instilled a certain aesthetic. I gained a real appreciation for fashion as dressing to present your best self.
You’ve spoken before about the importance of mentorship to your growth as a designer and a human being. Could you talk to me about what mentoring means to you?
CB: To me, mentoring means sharing. You’re not just sharing your journey, but you’re providing your knowledge and your resources to help the next generation. There’s a good chance there are young people that look up to you. They don’t necessarily know how to navigate certain situations, but they’re enthusiastic to try and just need your guidance.
A big part of mentorship, too, is being accessible: I want the people who matter to me to be able to call me and ask for advice about everything, from design to business to life, and have them know I’ll answer. Sharing, being accessible, and encouraging that next generation to realize their dreams is mentorship.
Talk to me about your passion for sportswear – what draws you to the genre?
CB: Honestly? (laughs) I just love sports. I truly mean that - I love every sport. I grew up running track, playing tennis, playing soccer, just constantly being active. My Dad was even a professional soccer player in Belize who moved to the US to play, so I guess you could say sports pretty much run in the family. The casual sportswear aesthetic has recently become popular, but it’s always been me. The clothing I used for sports was never its own separate thing to me. Sports are just a part of life.
How did your experiences at Nike and MIT Media Lab influence the technical menswear in your new DYNE Life collection?
CB: That’s a great question. My time at Nike was a 24/7 education on putting together technical fabric. To make really good performance apparel, you have to understand how different fabrics work. You learn to build garments the way the fabric is asking to be assembled – the slightest change in process will yield different results, so you learn to use certain machines and certain fabrics to achieve certain effects. But it wasn’t until MIT that my eyes opened to all the different ways of integrating technology into apparel.
Integrated tech is more than just making fabric waterproof. For example, on DYNE, we worked with technology innovator Chronicled to imbue every garment with a Near-Field Communication (NFC) chip. Chronicled originally used NFC chips to authenticate footwear, but we’ve used it to build an interactive portal into the user’s life through the phone in their pocket. We just rolled out the first phase of this tech with an Android-compatible web applet that uploads information, music, weather alerts, styling pictures, all aspects of DYNE Life straight from our team to you. [The second phase, with dual-field Bluetooth and NFC to enable iPhone compatibility, is launching soon.]
Wearable tech is a big buzzword right now, but this isn’t like a plastic bracelet you take off and turn off. We don’t consider DYNE a discrete wearable tech company – it’s transitional menswear.
As sportswear and “athleisure” become ever more popular, what do you see as the future of athletic clothing worn to be fashionable?
CB: The aesthetic of DYNE has always been my style, so to see those influences of tailoring and athletic wear starting to come together now on a global level is really rewarding. As for the future of performance fabrics in menswear: it’s not a trend, it’s not a movement, it’s a sign of things to come. Every brand will either fully embrace it or work really hard to get their name on it. Just look around – in every city, casual sportswear has become luxury. Now, when a young person succeeds, they buy expensive casual pieces, from sneakers to jackets. It’s life.
What’s been your proudest moment working on DYNE Life?
CB: Every day is a high point. It’s still so early, and all so very exciting. Just having my partners understand and greenlight this vision was incredible. I really feel fortunate to have this platform of support – from the manufacturers, from my financial partners, from the showroom. That The News [a world-famous NYC showroom that hosts brands like Common Projects, Public School, and Tim Coppens] gave DYNE the chance to tell its story on a global stage is so humbling. Then to do all of this from Portland, OR feels especially serendipitous. It just couldn’t have happened without the support of so many. From the design team to the whole staff, I’m blessed and proud just to have these people around me.
Finally, one last question: if you could only wear one sneaker for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
CB: Man... it would probably be. (laughs) There’s just too many. Ok, I got it. A Nike Air Jordan 1 “Chicago.” I just love the shape, the story, all of it. I remember as a kid first seeing them on Michael and knowing I had to have a pair. I could never get them as a kid, but when I got them later, it just put your swag on a whole other level. Yeah, if it’s only one pair, I’m going with my pair of One’s.
SHEI Magazine would like to thank Christopher Bevans, Christina Lomeli, and Shunto Matsui (from The News) for their help making this article possible. This interview has been edited for clarity.