How the Seattle-born designer's first collection was born. By Christene Barberich
Several months have passed since the blue-eyed Chris Benz debuted his maiden collection to the world, and if you're like us, it definitely left an impression. In lieu of a traditional runway show, the young Benz opted for a less formal affair, allowing scholastically cool models like Ikelaine Stange to mill around in Starburst-colored mohair coats and mink hats as if anticipating debate practice. Benz's baby collection of '20s-infused drop-waist dresses and Tom-boy tinged separates was a home-run and left many wondering—including us—where this fun yet remarkably evolved first effort had come from. Here, (and in our accompanying video) the former J.Crew designer takes us behind the scenes in his garment-district studio and tells us how his recent debut line and his "intelligent/reckless/independent girl" was born.
1. Tell us about the inspiration… "It really came together in a rather organic way…I tried as much as possible to design in one breath—I was really trying to establish the bulwark of the collection in terms of attitude, texture, color, et cetera, in creating this first wardrobe. So, in that way I think the disparate inspirational points blended in a very nice, coherent way. I think the undercurrent of the collection is that each piece is truly the embodiment of a sort of intelligent, reckless, independent girl."
2. What about the most important details in the collection? How did your vision translate into actual pieces? "This independent, self-conscious yet confident girl is very present in the collection. To me, the most modern spirit is pointed with effortless sophistication, aestheticism, and impudence. Specifically translated, I think the chain-embroidered tulle cardigan has a huge amount of this spirit in its play of hard and soft elements, and overall the mix of particularly special color/texture/lightness of the mohair jackets seems to reflect this essence as well."
3. It's your first collection ever…what was the vibe like in the studio? "We have a really special team, so the lead-up to the show went swimmingly. We did have a few late nights of preparation, but the 24-hour donut stand on 36th Street and 8th Avenue kept us going well into the night. We were all obsessed with '60s French pop music, so we had France Gall blaring on a loop in the studio. Everyone here can sing a million French songs verbatim now."
4. Your mood-boards are a big part of the beginning stages it seems… "My corkboard wall in my office is my life! It was so great to start the collection with a blank wall and then fill it with swatches, snippets, photos, and anything else I could find. I had a million things…It usually looks like a mess to anyone else, but I register everything."
5. Does this collection tie at all to your forthcoming collection? Can you share a glimpse of what we can expect? "Our next collection is resort 2007, which we will be debuting this week. It's all about this girl on holiday—a bit more refined, but still sort of madcap—short trousers with little cuffs, cabana shirts, terrycloth jackets. The colors continue a trajectory from the fall 2007 collection, but take a slight turn toward more saturated, clearer hues. Overall, it's sort of based on Jacques Tati films…I think it's great fun!"
Portrait by Piera Gelardi
How the Seattle-born designer's first collection was born.