Chris Benz Dishes On The Top Trend You Shouldn't Buy Into

Untitled-1Photo: Courtesy of The New Potato.
On a quest for the next big thing in the food industry, sisters Danielle and Laura Kosann have begun the journey with The New Potato. Profiling chefs, restauranteurs, and celebrities alike with cuisine questionnaires, the world of dining has reached a whole new level of delish. This week, the ladies talk with designer Chris Benz.
Before designer Chris Benz was — well — Chris Benz, he was quite busy fishing through vintage treasures in his grandmother’s attic. Like any great designer, Benz has an appreciation for what’s timeless (from a young age apparently), which is why we had him pick out an outfit from his own closet that he can see someone coveting two generations from now.
What was our role? We brought over a classic dish to accompany the outfit — because what’s a photo shoot without great fashion and great food? The never-gets-old bacon, egg, and cheese is Benz’s go-to each morning; it went perfectly with a Brooks Brothers blazer, Levi’s, and white Margiela sneakers (an outfit sure to be relevant two generations from now). Benz also filled us in on everything from his most memorable dinner, to the most memorable subject he’s ever dressed, to his one piece of advice for those of us stumped in front of the mirror this morning (we know some of you are doing that right now).
What, personally, would be your ideal food day from start to finish?
"Well, no matter what else happens, I always start with two fried eggs and cheese on whole wheat toast and a large iced black coffee. Middle-of-the-day meals are negligible to me and ideally I would skip these, heading straight into a martini and a steak at The Odeon. Consistency is key."
What’s your go-to drink after a long day?
"Ordinarily it’s a vodka martini up, but a good old fashioned vodka and soda works just as well."
A typical studio lunch?
"Like I said, it’s never really been about a midday meal for me. Ever since middle school I’ve kept it to a minimum. If I can grab another iced coffee or a diet coke, then I’m all good."
How do you always start your day on a good note?
"Well this is hardly an easy task — but a good routine keeps me in a good mood."
What are your favorite places to travel to?
"I travel very often for work, and I have fallen in love with Tokyo and everything Japanese, really. I learned a bit of Japanese as a kid and it almost seems like a second home in a very nostalgic way. But of course, Paris in the spring or fall is magical. Rome is the best in high summer with all the gorgeous Italians in dark glasses, shimmering hair, at café tables, smoking and carrying on into the night. I love Greece; it feels like the edge of the earth sometimes — the energy in that part of the world is unbelievable — the light, and the fig-scented air.
I do love going home to Seattle, too — so much easier to enjoy as an adult, and Bainbridge Island is quite charming when you can appreciate it from afar and don’t feel trapped on a tiny island. It’s really the most beautiful place if you can catch the two weeks of sun in the late summer."
What won’t you travel without?
"I always travel with my phone — regardless of roaming charges or concern. It’s shameful but I just really love having it in hand at all times. I also love having my Rimowa luggage — I try to be carry-on only as much as possible and have been covering my luggage with travel stickers for years."
Untitled-2Photo: Courtesy of The New Potato.
Do you dress differently for different restaurants? How so?
"I have pretty much dressed exactly the same since I was a little kid. It’s always ripped jeans, vintage t-shirt, flannel shirts, and navy blazers. I have a slight pass as a designer because no one ever wants to comment on your outfit. So in that case, I don’t dress differently for different restaurants. Unless it’s like a wedding or very fancy place, in which case I’d swap out ripped for clean denim."
Who is the most memorable person you’ve dressed? Why?
"Well, the First Lady Michelle Obama was quite a thrill — as you can imagine. And, it’s quite rare, really, that I get to see my clothing worn by very important people, since we hardly ever do red-carpet gowns. But, everyone is always exciting for me, even a non-celebrity. It’s fun to see real women feeling colorful and glamorous in something you’ve worked very hard to create. Katy Perry was fun, and Rihanna in a giant feather jacket for her tour."
Who is the most memorable person who’s come into the studio?
"I love when Iman drops by — she’s very glamorous and grand. You know, always in capes and sunglasses and turbans and things. She’s the master of the drop-by, which is something people very rarely do!"
The most memorable dinner you’ve had and why?
"Oh God — I’ve literally eaten dinner every night for the past thirty years! Well, I do look back very fondly at a dinner I had at Villa San Michele in Fiesole, Italy (an old monastery overlooking Florence, now turned into a hotel). I was dying to go, and booked a room for only one night after a trade show in Florence. It’s where Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had their honeymoon — the views are out of this world. Red geraniums spill out of every terra cotta pot and off of every sill. The restaurant is all along this enormous pergola with these sort of low upholstered chairs, and you just sit back and watch the sun set over the Duomo. It’s really quite amazing. And, always get the Bolognese."
Do you have a most memorable speech made at a CFDA event? What was it, and why did you love it so much?
"Oh, I did love Kim Hastreiter’s speech a few years ago, upon receiving the Eleanor Lambert award. It was very pro-fringe, very pro-creativity as you can imagine. She’s wonderful, don’t you think? Like a nutty downtown fairy godmother. They’re all geniuses at Paper Magazine actually. Geniuses!"
Who are your personal mentors?
"Oh I have many — I defer always to Robert Duffy and Marc Jacobs for having me intern for such a long time while I was at Parsons. It was really the time I look back on most fondly from my life in New York so far. And of course Mickey Drexler and Jenna Lyons, who really shaped my taste level and taught me to ask the right questions and to not sacrifice important elements of business and design. I don’t think anyone has better taste than Jenna Lyons, actually."
Untitled-3Photo: Courtesy of The New Potato.
What’s the outfit you chose to wear today? Why will someone be coveting it two generations from now?
"Oh, it’s basically my daily uniform. [Brooks Brothers jacket, vintage t-shirt, Levi's jeans, and Margiela sneakers]. I think that pieces that feel timeless to us today, will have a special place in the future. Fabric simply will not last for ages and ages, and at some point will just disintegrate. It’s quite melancholy when you think about it too much. I read an interview recently with Liz Goldwyn — you know that marvelous redhead from Los Angeles, whom I adore and wears loads of vintage. And, she said that same thing, that she has incredible vintage dresses from the twenties and thirties that she goes out dancing in and they literally disintegrate on her body on the dance floor. I think that’s such a wonderful notion! That’s why I like to just wear things into the ground, in the present, and move on. Like, I’m sure in two generations there will still be Brooks Brothers’ navy blazers for people to buy off-the-rack, unchanged in style.
How do you create a collection that’s both relevant and timeless?
"Well, sadly, I just do what I feel like doing at that exact moment, and then it really has to be both by definition, no? I mean, all designers are seeing the same movies, reading the same books, going to the same exhibitions all at the same time, and each filter all of that information into one gesture for the season. That’s really why we’re designers in the first place, right? It’s like an affliction, really."
In the same vein as ‘what is the new black,’ what is ‘the new potato’ in fashion right now?
"Well, I really think I stepped back from fashion at just the right time. There is simply too much content at the moment that really means nothing. I think a $1,200 luxury sneaker is about the worst thing in the world. Thank goodness we still have tireless and intelligent editors to cut through the insanity. Plus, with the schedule moving faster than ever, the retail landscape as dire as it is, it’s just very overwhelming for everyone. Who can even see what the hot new thing is when there is so much going on? However, I have always been steadfastly fixed in the idea of the customer finding her own voice. We’re really in a special time, with street style and the ability to formulate and solidify a very personal style and promote it as a customer. It’s not really about a head-to-toe look from any designer in particular, as we all understand. It’s not modern. What is modern is being funny and consistent in your style."
If you could switch closets with one person in the world, who would it be and why?
"Well, it goes without saying — and I’m sure plenty of guys would agree — that Lapo Elkann inherited quite the outrageous menswear closet, which is magnificent. All of those rumpled double-breasted suits and fedoras and scarves!"
The person you’d like to dress that you haven’t before?
"Oh, there are loads, of course. But who has the energy to go after trying to get your clothes on people, really? Cher has a pair of my tweed trousers and I’m perfectly content with that."
What are your five favorite things right now?
"Juice Press, Girls, Instagram, oversized white shirts, and camel coats."
Your one piece of advice for those of us getting up to get dressed in the morning?
"Get your look together and keep replicating it with only new pieces that fit into the mold. Everyone has to find their comfort zone — their ideal voice which always falls somewhere between what they’re most comfortable in and what looks best on them. Consistency is the key to all great style icons. The keystone to modernity is efficiency and automation, so why not apply that to your closet?"
Five people you’re dying to sit down to dinner with?
"Living or dead? Lets go for dead — Chas Addams, J.D. Salinger, Candy Darling, Bette Davis, and Truman Capote."

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