Pitti Uomo: Umit Benan Gets Low, Not Too Low


It’s hard to imagine menswear designer Umit Benan living and working in Milan, that fastidious industrial city where the entire population is styled in perfect cashmere each winter. Benan won the first menswear edition of “Who Is On Next,” the young designer prize from Pitti Immagine, L’Uomo Vogue and Rome’s Alta Moda. Florence’s prestigious Pitti Uomo menswear fair invited Benan to show this season and he did not disappoint. His Fall 2010 “Retired Rockers” collection, which he presented in an old self-service restaurant in Florence’s Santa Maria Novella train station during the fair last Thursday, is a celebration of everything that goes fashionably downhill for guys like Keith, Mick and Johnny Halliday (otherwise known as the Gallic Elvis). Benan has a penchant for dressing senior citizens. He launched his menswear brand last year with a lookbook featuring old men as models, and for spring he took the louche Tony Montana from Scarface as the inspiration for a collection overflowing with mid-century Cuban flash.

Benan’s uncle came from Istanbul to model in the show, as did a friend of his dad’s and the man who runs the factory where me produces his collection in Italy. “People have found out about what I’m doing and I get calls from friends who tell me they’ve found the perfect guy for my show,” he says. 
Born in Turkey; Benan, 30, has lived and worked in Istanbul, London, New York and now Milan.  He has a BA from Boston University, has studied fashion at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martin’s, worked for Marc Jacobs and Rifat Ozbek at Pollini, François Nars and Sophie Theallet on Motu Tane. In just its third season, Umit Benan sells to Paris’s Colette, Dover Street Market in London, Saks 5th Avenue in New York and Bloomingdale’s in Chicago. (LEFT: BENAN)
For the show, Benan’s salt and pepper Lotharios feasted at a long banquet table with young models like it was still 1979 dressed in low crotch pants, grandpa cardigans, pyjama bottoms, raggedy bathrobe coats and lots of leopard prints.  A closer look at Benan’s clothes reveals impeccable made-in-Italy craftsmanship and fine fabrics including lots of that cashmere the Milanese love so much.
“When I look at older men, I get a picture of the past, and it’s a strong one in the case of my characters,” says Benan. “They’ve experienced life and that allows me to write and create my own story.  It’s hard for me to design based on a beautiful young guy.  It’s not that it won’t happen, but at the moment these old cats are more than fine for me.” For his previous fall collection called “77 Days” Benan shaved his beard and posed for photographs seven times over a 77-day period while his hair grew back. As he became progressively scruffy, Benan took in the startled reactions of his neighbors in dapper Milan: “It’s hard to be accepted here with my mentality because classic clothes equal classic minds, but when you are accepted here, you’re basically one of very few and unique,” he says.
Benan’s favorite piece in the collection are his dropped-crotch pants. “I’m not the first to do them, but I think I’ve found the perfect shape,” he says. “I always wanted a pleated, low crotch style that was sartorial—low, but not too low.  And these are it.  I think they’re going to be a classic.”