To all the journalists who summed up Scott Devon as the frozen food king when he embarked on projects in fashion, motor sports, restaurants, polo, real estate or otherwise, he didn’t appreciate the limiting title. The territory he is attempting to reign over is much broader.
“It’s just kind of snarky to me. Nobody wants somebody to have second acts,” said Devon, 49, sitting in the 10,000-square-foot store originally intended to be a car showroom that opened in December with a party hosted by Jessica Stam and attended by Nicky Hilton, Rashida Jones, Whitney Port, Eva Amurri, Nicolette Sheridan and Jamie King to launch his namesake fashion brand. “I don’t want to be defined by one thing, especially when going into a venture like this.”
Devon is the first to admit his entrepreneurial drive, however wide-ranging, is funded by food. His father, Wes Devon, built Grand Rapids, Mich.-based frozen garlic bread specialist Cole’s Quality Foods into a $22 million business that turned into a $100 million one after Devon took the company over in 1995, resulting in a lot of dough Devon can throw at other pursuits.
Throw it he has. Whether out of brazenness, naïveté, arrogance, stupidity or a combination, Devon leaps into new businesses with going-for-the-gold gusto. He started playing polo at 20, only to be named the Polo Amateur of the Year in 2004 and become part owner of the Catamount team. An injury forced his exit from the sport in 2006. “I had a horse rear up and fall on me, and almost kill me during a game,” he said. “I am an adrenaline junkie.”
In the quest for speed, Devon moved on from horses to cars. But simply dabbling in them wasn’t his style. He wanted to create the next great American super car and started Devon Motorworks almost three years ago in Los Angeles. The firm’s car, the Devon GTX, set a lap record at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2009.
Viper put the brakes on Devon’s car dreams. He had sought to buy the famed auto brand — even cobbling together a group of investors who were willing to shell out $100 million for it before Devon put in a $5.5 million bid for Viper in bankruptcy court — but ultimately was rebuffed. Viper’s possible resurrection is now controlled by Fiat, and Devon has taken his money elsewhere. “There wasn’t really a business model for making one-off cars,” he said.
Devon — a long-time admirer of trendsetting Los Angeles-area boutique Maxfield and the jewelry brand Chrome Hearts who favors an edgy, rock ’n’ roll crossed with motor sports sensibility — took his initial stab at the fashion industry with watches. Again, though, no ordinary watch would do. Devon envisioned the hour, minute and second hands rotating inside the watch on treadmill-like belts. Watch manufacturers balked at the idea, so he took it to aerospace electronics company Ollia Industries to execute.
Called the Tread 1, the watch, which has a wrist-engulfing face and a mechanical black-and-white appearance, was among 11 preselected watches considered for the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2010 design and concept prize. Five hundred Tread 1s will be produced for sale next year in 35 retailers around the world, including Tourneau and David Orgell, where they will cost $15,000. A second version of the watch will likely be out in March 2012 and will retail for less than $10,000.
Devon’s fashion ambitions were whetted with the watch, which he sees eventually being a small, albeit important, part of a complete design house. “We obviously have layers of depth we can do from home to fragrances to eyewear. There’s a lot of extensions,” he said. “You see the megabrands and what they can do.”
As creative director, Devon’s been developing his design house quickly. He has recruited Agatha Blois to collaborate on denim, Keith Lissner to spearhead demi-couture and Amy Meadow Hochfelder to handle wholesale distribution as vice president of sales. His designs tend to be dark and embellished. Sequins, stones, layering and leather are frequently used, and the palette is heavy on black and silver.
“I’ve invested millions up to this point,” said Devon, who is unsure of precisely when a return will be realized. “I think the watch could even carry the brand this year, so its nice to have one hit, but we haven’t even showed the rest.…We have major people behind us that know how to build brands and promote brands, so it is not like we have a lack of expertise on our end. So, I think we have a good shot.”
It took six meetings with Meadow Hochfelder, who has worked with designers from Donna Karan to Rachel Roy and is aiming Devon’s ready-to-wear at a few key prestige department stores, for Devon to convince her to join his brand. “It’s a little bit of a leap of faith to take a chance on something new,” she said, adding, “but his passion for doing this was something I believed in and something that resonated with me. With life, there is always a risk. You can do the safe thing or challenge yourself.”
Lissner is confident Devon can make an impact on the fashion universe. “There are not many people out there trying to do new things,” he said. “There are a lot of designers today I feel that are in this space of reinventing the past, and Scott’s really about the future.”
Devon also isn’t afraid to fail — he’s done it before. Back in 1995, he had his mind set on introducing fine gourmet bread to Grand Rapids residents with the Saint-Honoré French Bakery and Tea Room. They weren’t exactly storming the doors. “That didn’t work financially, but I look at it like we made some of the world’s best bread. So, that to me is more important sometimes than being financially successful,” he said. “Not everything you do works financially, but you can be happy creatively.”