“Next in Fashion” designer Deontré Hancock talks creative inspiration, profound loss and what’s next after his time on the hit Netflix show.
Read all about our other May cover subject, stylist and multi-hyphenate Lana Rae, here.
When I sit down with D.C. fashion designer Deontré Hancock, it’s in the middle of District Fray’s cover shoot. The mood is creative chaos; the sun, a pivotal accessory to the shoot, is hiding behind gray clouds. We have only minutes to talk, but Hancock is used to this type of chaos after shooting Netflix’s “Next in Fashion,” where he had to multitask — sewing new designs and once a full collection while producers and hosts interrupted his flow for interviews. Hancock is wearing a look he finished literally moments before meeting for the shoot — a green floral two-piece suit, extra threads still hanging on.
In the four minutes we have before the sun emerges from the clouds, Hancock touches on moments in life that brought him to where he is now. Growing up in Capitol Hill surrounded by family, with some nieces and nephews his same age. Watching his parents get ready for church, his father in oversized suits and his mother dressed to the nines, never missing an elaborate church crown. Customizing his clothes throughout middle and high school, distressing jeans and adding patches. Teaching himself to sew through YouTube videos before going to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to dive into fashion design. Family was his design inspiration, and his designs call back to his roots.
“In 2015, my mom got sick,” Hancock says. “She was diagnosed with stage four cancer, so I stopped school to come back home.”
I’m about to reply when we’re called back to the photo shoot — the sun is out, and we’ve got to get back to work.
Picking Up the Pieces
I watch Hancock as I’m tasked with reflecting light onto him and co-cover model Lana Rae. This is his first time modeling for a cover, though he’s styled others for photo shoots before. Throughout the shoot, he switches outfits three times, all designs equally and fully himself — and with the context of his story, his inspiration is clear.
“My mom, we were the best of friends,” Hancock says when we can sit down again. “I just cherished her so much as a woman. She was the backbone of the family.”
The diagnosis was a whirlwind; he found out she only had three months to live.
“How do you make sense of that?” he asks.
His solution was to just give her hope. One day at a time, he encouraged her to make it as far as she could, until she eventually passed.
“After that, I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I didn’t know how to pick up the pieces.”
Fittingly, he started with pieces of fabric. Designing was his way out, and a way to support his family. His mother had always told him he’d be the next Michael Kors, so he wanted to double down to make her proud.
A few DMV institutions helped him realize what was possible in design. Howard University and Morgan State University would host fashion shows, and Hancock noticed there weren’t many menswear designers included — a gap he could fill. The positive feedback from family, audience members and customers encouraged him to keep going.
“My dad was always there to help set up shows, and he’d be in the front row watching,” Hancock says. “He would go around telling people his son is a designer. That really made me put my foot down and say, ‘Let’s take this seriously. Let’s do more. Let’s push it further.’”
He left the house one night, right after his father had gotten in the shower. When Hancock returned the next morning, the shower was still running.
“When I discovered my dad, I completely lost it,” Hancock says.
His father had passed away suddenly. On top of his grief was his goal unrealized: He wanted to become a designer to make money to take care of his parents.
“How can I take care of my parents if they’re not here?”
His life of color, design, patterns was muted — he got a nine-to-five job to survive in a gray lawyer’s office downtown. He moved in with his sister to a one-bedroom apartment and trudged through the Covid-19 pandemic. It took him years, and eventually getting his own apartment, to turn the sewing machine back on.
And then, after posting his designs and processes on Instagram, he received a random DM and almost wrote it off as spam.
“Netflix reached out to me in 2022,” he says. “I was like, ‘Call this number if you’re real.’ And a guy called me. I was like, ‘Okay. Let’s give this a shot.’ I told them my life story and they were tearing up on the phone. They were like, ‘We want to tell this story.’”
The casting process was lengthy; Hancock had to keep stepping out of work to take calls from producers. He had to take videos of his work process, and Netflix flew him to New York for a 90-minute challenge that involved designing clothes and answering producer questions at the same time. With no time to prepare, he decided to make a jacket on the spot.
“I was blown away because I actually finished the jacket,” he says. “I think I was one of the only people that completed something during this challenge. And one of the lead producers said, ‘I’m taking your jacket home.’”
He was officially cast for the second season of “Next in Fashion,” hosted by Tan France, fashion expert of the Fab 5 on “Queer Eye,” and model Gigi Hadid.
“My parents saw this future for me,” Hancock says. “It was crazy they didn’t get to sit there and experience it with me. But I still have my other siblings, and I’m still doing this for them.”
Out of the Gray
Hancock was enchanted by the production of “Next in Fashion.” Behind the scenes, stage setup, hair and makeup, wearing styled outfits picked out for him, watching runways built from nothing to something in mere hours. He was up at six every morning and back at the hotel at midnight, often staying up even later to plan for the next day’s challenge. His goal was to make it past the first episode, which started out with a bang: Donatella Versace was the guest judge.
He went big, literally. His first design was streetwear elevated: a shimmery jersey, loosely ruched pants and a giant, floor-trailing puffer cape that had judges gasping. He won the first challenge.
He continued making waves throughout the show, every piece a new challenge for himself, but each one distinctly Deontré. He became close with the rest of the cast, and eventually made it to the top three, where he designed a full collection.
“The audience was going crazy for my collection,” Hancock says. “They were so loud.”
While he wasn’t completely thrilled with the outcome — time restraints and missing fabric altered his vision — his designs still represented the show’s spirit: they were designs not seen before, but that surely would be everywhere soon.
“They didn’t put our speeches in,” Hancock says of the final episode. “But mine was not just about myself. It was about helping other people get to this point.”
Even though he didn’t take home the grand prize, he still faced a whole new world after the show aired. His Instagram inbox blew up with people asking how they can support him, or relating to his story, finding inspiration in his family-centered, home-based ethos.
“I’m trying to stay sane and take on as much as I can,” Hancock says. “I can’t go back to a nine-to-five when this is my purpose.”
In fact, when he returned from the show, he never went back to the lawyer’s office.
“I think that was a sign from my parents: ‘Go do what you are supposed to do.’ And after that, I was like, ‘I can’t look back.’”
Instead, he’s looking forward. He’s got plans to help the next generation of D.C. designers through mentorship programs. And he’s working on his own brand, Hoodlvm, as well as sifting through opportunities for styling celebrities and campaigns.
As for what’s truly next in fashion, he says it’s not really creating a whole new way of dressing, but rather adding your own twist to what already exists: Change the shape, make it bigger, manipulate the fabric.
“I want this as bad as I want to breathe,” Hancock says. “I want to be able to become one of the greatest from Washington, D.C. I love to say that because I feel like people don’t take the fashion here seriously; they picture suits on the Hill. It’s another world here, and I want to highlight that.”
It’s his world here — out of the gray and back into the color that’s always inspired him. The sun is out, and it’s time to get back to work.
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