Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chris Benz: The King of Color

One short year after debuting his collection at New York Fashion Week, Chris Benz is a star in the fashion world and a force to be reckoned with. Known for his bold eye for color and his easy, carefree silhouettes, Benz is making waves and living the New York dream, and he’s soaking up every minute of it from the stoop of his West Village tenement building.

shopbop: You consistently choose bold colors for your collections. What’s the inspiration behind your color palette?

Chris Benz: I really can’t say. I just try to use colors that feel right to me. There’s no mystery or mathematics to it, it just materializes for me. In that way, color is one of the best parts about design for me!

sb: Your stoop obviously plays a big role in your New York experience. How does it influence your designs?

CB: A stoop is such a New York manifest. It really is about seeing the street, and in my case, a very funny mix of West Village neighbors and drag queens. It’s about seeing people today, seeing how they are layering, seeing how real clothes are worn. I think there is a great decompression when you can sit and watch people, which helps alleviate the vacuum of fashion.

sb: Do you have a muse or a type of woman you are inspired by?

CB: I am always inspired by my friends, the kind of girls and women I think are chic. It’s usually the girls that are having the most fun.

sb: I've read in various interviews that you are inspired by fashion icons from the past. What current fashion icons would you like to see in your clothes?

CB: I like those reckless girls – the Vanessa Paradis, the Shalom Harlow – those ageless women that are a bit haphazard with their style, a bit sloppy, but always beautifully carefree.

sb: How does the process of conceptualizing a collection begin? And, how has your design aesthetic changed, if at all, since your first collection?

CB: I think that the puzzle of American Sportswear is really what we are trying to solve. It’s about color, proportion, fabric, fit, all of these variables that come together in a sort of clever way that still feels fresh and effortless. This has always been the bulwark of the collection, and I know that with the start of the design process each season, I rely on these smaller attributes to help move forward with the bigger concept for the season.

sb: You experienced a pretty swift rise to fashion stardom after you presented your first solo collection. How do you keep that from going to your head?

CB: Well, I suppose so. It’s a funny thing, just doing what you love to do and getting a good reaction for it. We are so busy every day, all day, that it’s difficult to rest or enjoy. My enjoyment comes from moving onto the next thing, the next season, the next color.

sb: The Los Angeles Times described you as “cool without really trying.” How would you describe yourself?

CB: I don’t know! I was pretty awkward growing up, and I think a lot of that sticks with you! I always relied on preppy to get me through the day. I’m more about feeling like the glass is always half full, rather than feeling cool.

sb: How do you feel when you see a woman walking down the street, in the airport, etc., wearing one of your designs?

CB: It’s always a very funny thing. I always think, “That turquoise (or red, or mustard) is so great! I have to remember that!”

sb: Nylon magazine described your Fall 2008 collection as “a sort of costume study of The Great Gatsby mashing up against Electric Kool Aid Acid,” which seems pretty fitting. What were you going for with this collection?

CB: My friend and I were in Paris watching all of these batty old women wearing clothes from all over, from all decades of the 20th century, and I was really into creating that aesthetic – very carefree, very haphazard, but all working together through fabrication, color, proportion, and ease. This is definitely our heirloom collection. A ’50s hat, a ’70s trouser, ’30s camisole... It’s all about mixing (prints, colors, textures).

sb: What’s on the idea board in your studio? What are you working on now?

CB: Full-speed ahead with our Resort 2009 collection… yes, 2009!

5 Fast Questions for Chris Benz

1. What’s the last book you read?
Hotel Babylon [by Imogen Edwards-Jones]

2. What’s your favorite New York restaurant?

3. Who’s your personal style icon?
Johnny Depp

4. The one piece from your wardrobe you could never throw out?
Ralph Lauren boys’ blazer

5. Describe the “Chris Benz woman” in 5 words.
Effortless, easy, preppy, reckless, inspired

Shop the Chris Benz Spring Collection at shopbop!

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