North by Northwest

chrisbenzportraitSure, New York may be knee-deep in young fresh-out-of-Parsons designers (each with their own signature celebrity appendage). But the wunderkind is not as common, especially one as worthy of the requisite fanfare as Chris Benz.
The 24-year-old Seattle native who recently launched his namesake womenswear line with an informal yet exceedingly polished presentation at Christie's combines a taste for unabashed luxury with a neo-grunge aesthetic informed by his experience coming of age in the Kurt Cobain era. His new collection of chain-embroidered tulle cardigans, fisherman pants, and modern sailor dresses (available for fall) strikes just the right chord in a season that's already strong on menswear nuances.
"It's about the spirit and attitude of a '20s tomboy," says Benz, though he's quick to point out that this idea should not be taken too literally, as he adds, "It's boring to do just one thing." Benz, who spent two years honing his skills under Mickey Drexler at J. Crew before officially branching out on his own, says he was trying to move away from the trapeze shape that he feels is beginning to look tired, and elongate the silhouette. Thus, tuxedo jackets come unlined and slinky, in a lean, flattering cut. Benz also crafted extra-long chain necklaces in place of the standard flapperish pearls, because "the chain seems so much more modern," he says.
The collection also features rich details like custom Italian resin buttons, top-notch cashmere, and decadent army caps made of sheared mink. "We didn"t know if the hats were going to be super-scary or amazing," Benz says. "So when they came in, we all let out a huge sigh of relief." When asked if there is a name for an angular, cropped mohair pea coat, the designer shrugs. "I just call it a jacket. It's that weird Chanel thing, you know, classic, boxy."

I always go for someone who looks like Wednesday Addams. She's the barometer of style.
—Chris Benz

As for his chosen palette, this too is slightly reminiscent of his rainy Seattle childhood. "Gray and black, sulfuric colors," he says. "But then with shots of petrol blue or shocking turquoise." Benz says that his muse for fall was his best friend, Elettra Wiedemann Rossellini (daughter of Isabel Rossellini as well as the new face of Lancôme).
"She has the coolest style," Benz sighs. For his show, Benz cast a bevy of lanky, androgynous girls, plus a few quirky types. "I always go for someone who looks like Wednesday Addams. She's, like, the barometer of style," he says. "But basically, the question I ask myself before giving the green light to any of my designs is: Would it look perfect with a wife-beater and jeans? If the answer is yes, it's a go."
For information and availability for fall, go to
Designer Chris Benz reveals how neo-grunge has grown up.

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