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WWD – UMIT BENAN, THE ANTI-HYPE WIZARD TAILOR

The Turkish designer’s latest fashion venture B+ is all about desirable and luxurious men’s wear conveying an attitude.

By Martino Carrera

AFTER A 10-YEAR-PLUS CAREER, Umit Benan was losing himself and his relationship with his clients until his latest fashion venture, B+, brought back joy and passion.

Since the B+ launch in 2019, Benan has carved out a strong niche of customers, fueled by word of mouth and clients’ enthusiasm for his made-to-measure creations, and scooped up online and physical distribution at premium retailers.

Now he is ready to slowly but steadily grow the scope of his business.

The Turkish designer launched his namesake Umit Benan label in 2009, becoming an independent hot name on the Italian scene at a time of transformation for men’s wear in Europe, when Raf Simons’ gender-bending fashion and Hedi Slimane’s shrunken suits and skinny jeans at Dior Homme were reshaping the industry.

He traveled through Paris, Tokyo and Barcelona with his highly conceptualized fashion shows and was credited with portraying characters and their charm, via clothing and oftentimes discomforting runway experiences.

That approach shows in his latest fashion venture.

The B+ label is testament to Benan’s men’s wear expertise as well as his ability to convey a charming attitude in a luxurious offering that feels current.

“With Umit Benan I really wanted to disturb people, to take anger out of people, question them. It was my tool to do all these things. I wanted to show the world my way of thinking,” the designer said.

Fabrics, silhouettes and colors were no-go topics back then and although his concerns for quality and high-end manufacturing were key, concept and storytelling always stole the spotlight.

“I started as a rebel, and the idea behind being a rebel was that I wanted the whole thing to be an experience,” he explained.

“Today if you ask me, I could never continue Umit Benan as it was because I’m a different person for the past three to four years. I completely changed, I grew… I have no problems working hard, but that was so much work mentally. I had to be very concentrated on that and plus it was a different time. I wanted to close those 10 years of my career because today if I look at it I would say to that guy that he was a kid just out of school, just trying to have fun,” the designer said.

He had fun, until he didn’t.

“At the end of 10 or 11 years I told myself that this was not funny anymore, it’s not about passion anymore. It’s just pure business, it’s just numbers I see… I had completely lost the contact with final clients,” he noted.

Rather than shuttering his Umit Benan line, he rebooted it to focus on well-executed men’s wear tropes sold online, via his e-commerce site.

Benan has bowed out of the system. No more fashion shows. No more merchandising. No quest for hype.

Although he does not necessarily feel he has cut ties with the establishment, he contends he’s definitely pursuing his own instincts.

In a wide-ranging interview with WWD retracing his career, which included stints as creative director of Trussardi for two years until 2013, he said he could no longer bear the pressure coming from budget and business restrictions.

For someone so fixated on details — adding one pocket here, one horn button there and seeing retail prices skyrocketing as a result of those amendments — the business side was always hard to digest. “I was limiting myself,” he said.

Benan responded by aiming higher and tapping into the premium luxury segment, somewhat feeding his forever dream of using superluxurious fabrics and incredibly talented suppliers, thus playing in the same arena as luxury juggernauts like Loro Piana and Hermès.

“I always say that in fashion instead of being a creative director at whatever brand, I’d rather clean the floors at Hermès, I need to be close to this luxurious [feel],” he said with a chuckle.

This prompted him to launch made to measure, which somehow served as a stress test ahead of launching B+ in 2019. “I’m a little kid in a candy store when it comes to made to measure,” he said, noting that getting direct feedback from thankful clients for their 35,000-euro vicuña overcoats is unparalleled.

B+ is the designer’s hotbed for creative freedom and deep-pocketed research into high-end textiles — think waterproof silks lined in cashmere or Loro Piana’s finest wools — and relying on manufacturing partners known for their craftsmanship and reliability, including Caruso.

Benan downplays his intuition of rebooting ’80s silhouettes — broad and boxy shoulders, longer jackets and pleated fluid pants — and the decade’s loose elegance which, he admitted, is largely inspired by masters such as Giorgio Armani, Gianfranco Ferré and Nino Cerruti.

“Of course, I present it in a more modern way, of course it’s different, but actually is the same thing. When two cooks cook pasta, each dish comes out differently,” he noted.

He works with a former Armani suit supplier and has insisted on resurrecting the use of viscose, which gives fluidity that wool cannot achieve.

“I’m trying to do what all these masters and guys I grew up with did, and I’m rebooting it — because I’m passionate about these guys — with my own vision,” he said.

The fall collection reflects his current state of mind and ability to let go, with the introduction of touches of colors — canary yellow, green, navy blue — complementing the brand’s signature sharp and graphic tone-on-tone palette of blacks and whites.

A strong mix of myriad nuances of browns and camel tones translate into a refined and eclectic look.

The roomy pleated pants, pajama sets worn under impeccably cut blazers, canary yellow suits crafted from double cashmere, and strong-shouldered overcoats, some with a British inflection, others quintessentially Neapolitan in their gentle proportions, exude languid elegance and masculine ease.

For all its references to the sartorial rules, the collection eschews any vintage feel, looking luxuriously nonchalant.

With B+, the designer is tapping into a premium clientele: wealthy managers and fashion executives who can afford 6,000 euro suits with hand-stitched buttonholes.

Ditto for a growing club of female fans, to whom Benan offers the “men’s tailor experience.”.

He’s not offering genderless fashion, however — rather, he’s translating masculine silhouettes and proportions for the female body, with little to no alteration. “It’s real men’s clothing fitting to a woman,” he said.

Boasting several premium stockists worldwide — including China’s Le Monde, United Arrows, Milan’s Boule de Neige and at the Hotel Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole, Italy — B+ also has drawn the interest of online players such as Mr Porter and Matchesfashion.

Benan’s aim is to embrace the slow-business approach and count on one single store in each key city, in anticipation of a flagship retail rollout sometime in the future. Next spring a B+ shop-in-shop will bow at Sauvage in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Presenting his fall collection via a look book release for the first time in two years (the last press-facing opportunity was in 2019 when the label was launched), one could argue he’s sort of getting back into the system.

Benan believes he’s not.

“Even if I’m going to be in the system, I’m never going to be really part of it, because it’s a very high level [project]. I’m not trying to make this crazy turnover; we need to go slowly and just stay true to ourselves.I want to be happy, it’s not just that I want to eschew what the system forces you to do, and whether this means being part of the system or not, I don’t care,” he explained.

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