I've made some lovely connections through Twitter and one of my favorites is fashion designer Chris Benz. He was sweet enough to invite me to his very fun fashion presentations and also to visit his chic showroom and studio. As soon as I saw the gallery wall of art, I knew it would make a great story for a piece I was working on for StyleCaster. Unfortunately, they decided not to run it because someone had already posted photos but they were kind enough to let me use the photos by Joseph D'Arco on my blog.
What's funny is that I actually met Chris Benz well over six years ago through a friend at Marc Jacobs. Chris had interned for the downtown designer before joining J.Crew as a designer. It's been fun to watch him successfully launch his own line and come into his own.
I know you moved to New York from Seattle at 17 to attend Parsons. When did you know you wanted to become a fashion designer? I feel like in one way or another I’ve always wanted to be a designer. I went to Montessori school when I was very young, and all I would do would be to sit at the table and draw all day long! I’ve always been very specific about how I put clothing together – much to the chagrin of my modest parents, incidentally. I remember loving Lycra bike shorts, oversized men’s shirts, and little blazers as a very young child. Who knows where I got it from, but I still wear kids’ blazers today!
A lot of people have come to think of you as the King of Color, especially after your Spring 2011 show. But for Fall 2011 you showed a lot more black. Was that a conscious decision or did that evolve from your trips to Savannah during your mentor trips for SCAD? It's funny, I think there is so much attitude and variation in darker colors, and I really anted to experiment with that notion for the Fall collection. The shading between darkest browns, greys, navy and all of the tonal blacks felt like a really robust foundation to make some of the brighter hits of color feel even more important within the collection. I think there is a lot of emphasis on these color variations in the American South, as well, what with all of the shaded gardens and staid, weathered Italianate architecture.
You mentioned that some of your Spring 2011 prints were “vintage inspired wallpaper florals.” Does interior design or home décor ever inspire your fashion designs? I love interior design, and I think the line between fashion and interiors is almost completely blurred at this point. There is such crossover in both design disciplines in terms of color, fabrication, silhouette, proportion ... In fact almost all of the terminology is the same! I am consistently inspired by interiors and likewise inspire myself to create complimentary spaces for my own life and in which to see each collection.
I love the gallery wall of art in your studio. Where do you go to shop for pieces for your office and home? I am a die hard eBay disciple, and that is where I have amassed much of my decorative pieces. I furnished nearly my entire apartment via eBay and flea markets, and it looks so modern and eclectic, just the kind of space I feel the Chris Benz woman would inhabit --- timeless, comfortable, and eccentric. I am always looking for new things to add to existing tableaus and wallscapes, anywhere from the flea markets to street vendors, to estate auctions.
Do you ever see yourself designing a home collection like DVF and Oscar de la Renta? Since interior design is such an important component to my aesthetic, yes, I do hope to one day have a home collection. It’s really just another extension of the acute vision of our main womenswear collection. What chair is she sitting on while wearing this particular dress, what do her sheets feel like? What pillows are on her sofa? It’s like taking our inspiration one step farther than the end of the runway, which is very exciting.
I know you travel a lot. Where are you planning to head to this year? I am flying to Paris next week for the buyers’ market, travelling with the entire Fall collection! Then, back to Savannah to wrap up my mentorship program with the senior fashion class. Besides that, only traveling in my imagination while I work on the Resort 2012 collection which will debut in June.
I know I for one can't wait to see what Chris Benz creates for Resort and his future home collection!
This room is the first one you enter and it hints at all the fun surprises that are in store for your visit.
Chris said that he does move art around and change things up from time to time.
A next logical step for the Chris Benz brand will be a store he said. If it's anything like the showroom and studio, it is sure to be well designed!
Funny photos of Chris and stylist Brad Goreski.
I love the mix of industrial accents and warm wood in the showroom area.
The floral patterns for fall 2011 mix well with the darker pieces in the collection.
I love this plaid jacket.
Chris told me that the showroom had actually been more sparse and white at first but his friends kept asking to meet at his apartment instead because it was so fun and cozy. That's when he decided to change things up.
The showroom is now full of interesting details everywhere you turn.
Most everything that Chris designs is actually made in New York. While some of the knits are sourced from Loro Piana in Italy.
I love the rainbow assortment of furs.
There is a lot more black this season but it's definitely not boring.
The front of this blouse is actually felt that Chris had made from a woman in Vermont.
The pattern in the felt is carried through the collection and onto marketing materials.
The shoes at Chris Benz are made in collaboration with shoe designer Alejandro Ingelmo.
The beading detail on this blouse was gorgeous in person.
The hats are designed with Patricia Underwood.
Even the ladies lounge door gets a fun paint job.
This is the studio or where the magic happens. It was actually quiet on the day of our visit since it was right after the show.
The fall 2011 inspiration board would soon come down and be replaced by resort 2012.
Moodboards are fascinating!
I love that a piece of the felt and a necklace are mixed with photos.
How exciting must it be to have your own name on the tags?!
Even the rolls of fabrics were inspiring.
The most fun was being able to see the sketches and design boards. It's clear that Chris was very well trained at Parsons.
The color possibilities for a sweater.
These would look beautiful framed!
The door marked "design" leads into the office where Chris works.
The man himself and his colorful hair, Chris Benz. I have to say that I actually quite liked his hair in person. It actually suits his fun personality.
It's easy to see from some of the objects in his office that Chris can be inspired by anything.
It was fun to see the Farrow & Ball paint cards on the wall of his office.
I want to thank Chris Benz and his entire team for letting me invade their space and to Joseph D'Arco for the gorgeous photos. I hope this look into his world inspires you as much as it did me!
Photos by Joseph D'Arco