devon lee carlson is the internet's bff
The influencer won over social media with her love of leopard print and her radiating confidence.
Photo by Richie Davis.
From as far back as she can remember, Devon Lee Carlson has loved shopping. She would beg her mom to take her to the mall so she could browse the colorful graphic tees and bell-bottoms on the racks at Limited Too. “That was like heaven for me,” she said, sitting at a coffee shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
The popular tween store, which ultimately closed in 2008, still has a huge influence on her look, which often includes tie-dye crop tops, floral sun dresses, and cowboy boots. Young people from around the world flock to Carlson’s Instagram, to see what the 25-year-old model and co-founder of Wildflower phone cases will wear next.
“A lot of the girls that message me are like, ‘You give me so much confidence to wear what I want to wear,’” explained Carlson. “I like being that to younger kids because I feel like I didn't really have that.”
Over the past few years, Carlson has garnered over 670 thousand Instagram followers and nearly 150 thousand on YouTube, where she vlogs about her life, her adorable dog Martin, and of course her wardrobe. In a poll of New York teens by New York Magazine, she topped the list when asked who influenced their style, beating out fashion powerhouses like Rihanna and Kendall Jenner.
While Carlson developed her aesthetic early on (she says she’s been dressing the same since she was 10), it took a while before she felt comfortable embracing her personal style.
Growing up in southern California, she was a competitive dancer who had a love for Disney princesses, Hannah Montana, and all things girly. But eventually, like most teens, she didn’t want to stand out.
“It wasn’t until the end of high school where I actually had it in myself to be like, OK, you can wear leopard prints,” she said. “Thankfully, now I guess it's cool. But I'm just being myself.”
Carlson hadn’t set out to be an influencer, at least not at first. Her rise to social media stardom was mostly happenstance, beginning with Carlson asking Miley Cyrus for a photo during a chance encounter at a restaurant in 2012.
“When we took the photo, my sister used my phone,” said Carlson. “I had a phone case on it that my mom made and she was like, ‘Oh my god, where did you get that phone case?’”
Carlson’s mom Michelle had adorned a case with “the perfect” leopard print fabric and a gold pyramid stud cross for her. This was during the days of the iPhone 4 — before fashionable cases were really a thing.
Later that evening, Cyrus tagged Carlson in a Twitter post and everything spiraled from there.
“Everyone kept replying like, ‘How do I get this?’" Then we made up the name, ‘Wildflower’ in 10 minutes on the drive home,” said Carlson, who was 17 at the time. “My sister and I were like, ‘We need to make an Instagram for it and post how to style your phone case and outfit pics with the cases.’”
Those early photos, usually of Carlson or her young sister Sydney posing in looks to coordinate with the graphic bejeweled designs, helped turn her mom’s crafting project into a family-run company. It also set the tone for her unfiltered, relatable, and fun approach to social media that has helped her stand out in the sea of ultra-curated influencers. Now it’s almost impossible to scroll through social media without spotting Devon, Sydney (who has nearly 500k followers on Instagram), or one of their colorful cases.
“It was meant to be,” said Carlson. “My dad's always been really into manifesting the law of attraction since we were younger.”
Now, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, and Bella Hadid are just a few of the celebrities who have posted photos on social media with their Wildflower cases. The company’s Instagram also boosts nearly 700 thousand followers and has grown from just two styles to over 40 ranging in graphic prints from icy blue flames to pink cherries.
While taking meetings with retailers for her family’s phone cases, Carlson started getting asked about modeling. As a former dancer, being in front of the camera came naturally to her. Now she’s modeled for brands from Miaou to Marc Jacobs and been featured in publications from Vogue to GQ (where she posed alongside her boyfriend Jesse Rutherford, the lead singer of the band the Neighbourhood).
“I've just always been the person who's really into dressing up and doing my makeup, taking pictures, whether it was for MySpace or Facebook,” she said. “I've just always kind of posted whatever I wanted. It's always been fun for me. I just don't take it that seriously.”
Carlson’s vintage-inspired look mixes everything from bucket hats and baby tees to leopard print and Jordans. This is clothing she’s mostly acquired at thrift shops and isn’t afraid to wear together. And she pairs her perfectly put-together outfits with a big grin and peace signs, making it look like she’s always having a good time.
Her recent photos with Bella Hadid in front of the Eiffel Tower ahead of Paris Fashion Week are just one example. The smiley pair triumphantly join hands in front of the iconic landmark, in what appears to be Carlson’s ode to Mary-Kate and Ashley’s 1999 film Passport to Paris.
Carlson is hoping her uninhibited approach to style will inspire her young followers to be themselves, and it seems to be working. Each of her posts are bombarded with thousands of comments praising Carlson and dozens of tweets, like this one from user @emmasdaisies exclaiming “...if my energy is any less positive than devon lee carlson’s i’m cancelling mySELF.”
While things seem to have fallen into place, she doesn’t take it for granted. "You never know what's going to happen," said Carlson. “I didn't know that my life was going to be like this. I feel like I'm just lucky to be here.”