As a creative director, designer, entrepreneur, and restaurateur in Downtown Los Angeles, Devin Carlson is redefining the boundaries of what enduring, experience-driven design means. After years in the fashion and apparel industry, he’s now the co-proprietor of 9th St. Ramen—a futuristic, Blade Runner-inspired shop serving Japanese style ramen, natural wine, and sake—as well as the creative force behind Suplex, a design/build agency specializing in immersive, transportive environments meant to be visually consumed.
“Output is everything, especially in the time we’re in now. If you’re not putting your ideas out into the world, you’re wasting your time.”
Inspired by the simplicity of Minimalism, his travels, and the diverse, vibrant street culture of Downtown LA, we sat down with Carlson to discuss the state of design today and his renaissance revival.
INCASE: Tell us about who you are, where you come from and how you got here.
DEVIN CARLSON: I’m Devin Carlson, I live in Downtown Los Angeles and, to give you a little bit of a backstory, I started out in apparel when I was 23. I’ve always been drawn to and drawn inspiration from the Minimalism movement of the 70’s. I have a design agency called Suplex and, my friend and I, kind of stupidly decided to buy a restaurant. Stupidly might be the wrong word, but through that experience I rediscovered my pasion for furniture, interior design, and architecture. That’s when I left fashion and started Suplex.
INCASE: Why did you leave fashion?
DC: When I left clothing, I felt like I had gotten to a place where I wanted to be and I felt extremely confident in my abilities and where I was at in life. When I got into the world of design, I felt so unsure. I didn’t know how to speak to it, I didn’t know how to talk to any of my friends, or to people I had worked with in the past. It’s only now that I’m starting to feel comfortable.
One of the biggest things I’ve ever learned, though, is that you really are only as good as your last idea. It doesn’t matter if you had a great idea you executed on before. What’s going to keep you going and keep you successful, in whatever avenue you’re in, is to constantly come up with new ideas and new ways to navigate your current situation.
“To keep a creative mindset, it’s so important to slow down. We’re ingrained to think we need to be doing everything so fast.”
INCASE: Can you talk to us about how you keep a creative mindset and where you find inspiration?
DC: There are a few couple things that are super important to me when I’m trying to keep a creative mindset and one is slowing down. I feel like we’re so ingrained to think we have to do everything so fast. I have a reminder on my phone every few hours that says, “Slow down. Count to eight.”
Also, travel. Travel has played a huge influence on my design aesthetic. Speaking specifically
to the restaurant, it’s completely influenced by travel and film—from my countless trips to Tokyo and Hong Kong. Downtown LA is a huge inspiration, too. I’ve lived down here for what seems like forever and I’ve really see it grow.
INCASE: What makes DTLA so vibrant and special?
DC: For me, I think the best part of living down here is that you can walk to so many different things. My studio is a half block from the restaurant and being able to walk to different things has only really come around in the last couple of years, but it’s made me like living down here a lot more. What’s really kept me down here, and something I take for granted, is all the multiple areas I can pull inspiration from.
There’s so much going on from fashion to the amazing architecture. It feels very fast paced and it feels very city and I thrive off that.
“Minimalism is subtle; it allows you to form your own opinions about it.”
INCASE: You’ve mentioned Minimalism, what is it about it that inspires you?
DC: For me, the thing that drew me to it is that it’s subtle. It allows you to form your own opinions about it—whether you’re talking about clothing or art—it’s the power of simplicity and that’s what I strive for in everything I design.
INCASE: How do you go about designing a space?
DC: For me, it’s about experience. I love designing spaces because they’re so much more permanent than clothing—whether it’s furniture or architecture, there’s something there that can stand the test of time. When you walk into 9th St. Ramen, there are so many design elements that instinctively bring you off the street and into our world. Your mood immediately changes when you walk in and that kind of opens people up to being more engaged with the people they’re with.
INCASE: Any thoughts on where design’s at now?
DC: The new wave of design is here. There’s an excitement that hasn’t been felt before and people are feeling alive. Output is everything, especially in the times we’re in now. If you’re not putting your ideas out into the world, you’re wasting your time.