Milan. Madison, Wisconsin. Lindsay Lohan’s closet. “You never know where your talent may lead you,” says Erin Mathews Deavoll ’05. Deavoll’s career—which has included stints designing clothing for Land’s End, 6126 by Lindsay Lohan and AETHER Apparel, where she is now associate design director—has taken her in some unlikely directions, but all roads lead back to Auburn.
“I’d been interested in fashion since middle school, loving Vogue and music videos—I was raised by MTV,” Deavoll says. “But for me, it wasn’t just about the shopping; it was about looking to see what designs were coming next.” After researching schools with strong design programs, she found herself drawn to Auburn’s college feel, its in-state benefits and the Tigers she’d been rooting for since childhood. “From day one on campus I knew what my major would be: Apparel Merchandising, Design and Production Management,” says Deavoll. In addition to that rigorous curriculum, she chose an immersive study program in her junior year that took her to Italy for six months.
“It was my first time out of the country, and I was able to see amazing design houses and showrooms,” Deavoll says. “I felt chic walking down the streets of this big city. Getting out of my comfort zone made me feel brave, unafraid. I realized that I would be fine trying new things.” And try new things she did. Though she’s since channeled that experience into trips around the world, including Paris (“My job lets me go ‘inspiration shopping’—the best kind of travel!”), her first job after graduation was slightly closer to home, at the headquarters of clothing brand Land’s End in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Another Auburn grad helped me find that job,” Deavoll says. “I happened to contact her to ask if Land’s End had any open positions, sent in my résumé and a week later found out I had gotten the job.” The transition from The Plains to the Midwest was not entirely without its adjustments. “When I first arrived, the weather was nice and pretty, but then winter hit!” says Deavoll with a laugh. Despite the climate shock, “I really enjoyed the challenge,” she adds. “My first job was in women’s knits—one of the most important categories for the company.
I liked being able to take a basic design, such as a T-shirt, and find ways to make it different.”
The large scale of Land’s End as a company meant that Deavoll had the opportunity to work with more seasoned designers, who encouraged her work and gave her additional responsibilities. “Working for a large corporation gave me a good background,” she says. “I know how important an organized process can be, and I’ve been able to apply that knowledge in other jobs. At the beginning of your career, experience is everything. My best advice for new Auburn grads is to just get that experience.” She also emphasizes the importance of maintaining your community, especially when you’re far from home. As the Wisconsin weather turned chilly in the fall, Deavoll found a group of Auburn alumni who would gather to cheer on the Tigers on football Saturdays.
“I’m grateful for my time at Land’s End,” she says, but she was ready to try her hand at a larger market for fashion and design, so she hopped a plane to sunnier climates in Los Angeles.
A former coworker recommended her for a job developing designs for Lindsay Lohan’s clothing line, 6126. “It was my first time doing contemporary clothes,” Deavoll says, “which was fun because I was designing things I might wear myself.” The line has since been discontinued, but she credits the experience with teaching her new facets of the business: “It was more than just a new job at a new company. It was meeting and learning about vendors and manufacturers, globally sourcing materials. I also got to work with specialties like beading, unusual prints and hand embellishments.”
In the wake of her “brush with fame,” Deavoll says, a vice president of design at Land’s End recommended her for a job with AETHER Apparel, a company (pronounced “EE-ther”) designing high-end outerwear and athleisurewear, a term that combines the words “athletics” and “leisure.” “Never in my life did I think this would be an area where I would be working, but I think the company appreciates that I can take a fresh look at this area of design. Anything can give me an idea, even the stitching on a steering wheel,” says Deavoll, who works on AETHER’s line of men’s outerwear. So how does designing for men differ from designing for women? “Once you know the process, you can learn how to design anything,” she explains.
“In a way, it’s good that I was new to men’s lines because I bring a fresh perspective. I’m asking questions that someone who has been doing the same thing for 10 years might not ask: ‘Do we have to have that? Would something else work better?’”
The process at AETHER, which produces high-performance products meant to function for adventurers in extreme environments, is both collaborative and highly technical. “We are always pushing the bar,” Deavoll says. “We may decide we need a jacket, for example. Our first goal is to understand how the customer will be using it. What type of activity will he be involved in? Is this a mountain piece or a city piece? Then we look at inspiration images and determine what elements will serve as our guide for the line. I do a ton of sketches of my ideas for each piece I work on. The designers meet with the company owners, our retail manager and our brand director to narrow down the options—it is a team effort. We also allow time for testing on the mountain: Is it waterproof? Does that zipper work in zero-degree temperatures? From start to finish,
it takes about 16 months to bring a line to market.”
All of that work keeps Deavoll very busy and constantly learning, a passion she developed during her time at Auburn, where she built her professional drive and lasting connections. “I just got married, and my best friends from Auburn were my bridesmaids,” she says. “And if I can’t make it to my L.A. Auburn club meetings on fall Saturdays, I make sure my mom texts me the score!”
By Katie Finley