Menswear Monday: Umit Benan

Published December 16, 2013

There’s more to menswear than suits and ties. Every other Monday, we’re giving the fastest developing facet of fashion the attention it deserves and introducing the designers, buyers, trendsetters, and stylists you need to know.

On Wednesday Umit Benan, one of the few budding talents that has kept Milan’s menswear in competition with other cities’ in recent seasons, announced that he would be showing in Paris starting this January. The move says a lot about the shifting gravitational pulls of menswear’s different metropoles, but also speaks to Benan’s success at establishing an international market for his clothes since he debuted in 2009.

The designer is used to living and working across borders: Born in Stuttgart, Germany, he grew up in Istanbul before relocating to Lugano, Switzerland for high school, Boston for college, and Milan for work, with a brief stint in New York. His line features heavily in the type of tech-y sportswear that overruns London runways, but also indulges his interest in classically Italian, Old-World formal wear. In effect, he’s native to both of menswear’s warring camps—and designs from the winning vantage point that he is staking out between them.

We reached out to Benan, who celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, as he was gearing up for winter in Paris.

DESIGNER: Umit Benan

ESTABLISHED: 2009

BASED IN: Milan

SHOWING IN: Paris

SIGNATURES: An exploration of contrasts; a sense of theatricality rooted in classical design technique; an inherent masculinity. I like to work with classical fabrics and sartorial elements—like a three-piece suit in a Prince of Wales check—but I don’t limit myself or the men I dress to just this. I am inspired by so many arenas and characters, and the sartorial quest is a never-ending and personal journey. I am always looking for new references, exploring new cultures and bringing these influences into the fold of the design process.

ORIGIN STORY: I had two reasons [to become a designer]. When I realized I was too old to become soccer player. And when I realized I had to earn a name myself other than attached to my father’s. After that, I just dedicated 100% of my time to design.

THE BIG REVEAL: For Spring 2014 I commissioned La Scala to model the masks after faces I recalled from old Turkish movies. These were a play on the clichés of Turkish masculinity, almost cartoon-like, and enhanced the theatrical mise-en-scène of the presentation. The masks were not meant to conceal. Instead, they drew out the character of the clothing and its wearer: a Turkish gentleman. I also liked that despite the masks, the personality of each man came across in his manner of walking and gestures. Fall 2013’s Art by Night collection had a different approach. The “masks” and visors were meant to conceal and protect these men—artists who work in the shadows, and according to their own codes.

MARKET HIGHS: I think the establishment recognizes that new voices and aesthetics are essential to driving the overall industry forward. I also believe outside influences in music, art, and design are driving those in fashion to expand their reach and repertoire. The exchange of ideas has become fluid, and people are receptive. It’s an exciting time, but difficulties remain in setting up the infrastructure to grow businesses. Every market—every country—has its challenges when it comes to this aspect, and the question of how to get things right will become more important in the seasons ahead.

CITY LIMITS: I moved to Milan for work. Then, after I quit my job in Milan, I wanted to move back to New York and start over, but financially I couldn’t manage to relocate. So I just showed in Italy. This season I will be showing in Paris for the first time. It is the next step in the brand’s trajectory. Paris will be fresh, and will bring renewed international perspective and exposure—it’s time for a change, and that challenge of something new.

BOYS VS. GIRLS: Menswear is for both men and women. I did a collection—”I Once Loved a Woman Who Loves Menswear”—and everything is flexible, made to be worn by a man, and to look amazing on a woman. Menswear is rooted in classical shapes and tailoring, and this stands on its own.

THE FUTURE OF MENSWEAR: Tailors and Nikes.

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