Chris Benz travels constantly promoting his collection and speaking engagements; just getting back from Savannah, Georgia a few hours ago, I managed to steal a little of Chris Benz’s time. When viewing his collection on his site, I was completely drawn to the collection, which doesn’t happen that often, where you can choose more than two pieces from a collection that looks flattering on your body. The first thing I wanted from the American designer’s resort and spring/summer 2011 collections, well, there were quite a few pieces; one in particular stood out; the off the shoulder stripped gold, brown and cream flowing dress. Great for the summer beaches in Florida.  Chris Benz replies; “Thank you”.

We have pretty much read about how his career started, but if you are not quite familiar with Benz’ story, here’s a highlight. The twenty-eight year old grew up in Seattle, Washington.  Chris Benz had, and still has, a fascination with antique jewelry and anything that is from the 50's and 60's era.  At the age of seventeen he studied at Parsons The New School of Design in New York City.  Graduating in 2004, he won the prestigious CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] Emerging Designer Award.  In February 2007, Chris Benz presented his first, ready-to-wear collection.

Having a clothing line can be quite challenging and at times, too darn impossible.  Benz says that a lot goes into the business of fashion than just being a designer, who merely designs. “I think in order to be well rounded in any creative industry, it is important to have as much education that you can have on the business side.”  For any designer, who is starting out, should consider interning and/or assisting an established designer. “It was important for me to work after I graduated from school.” Benz was selected to intern for Marc Jacobs while in school. It was a great experience for the inspired designer, “great from the creative stand point.”

After obtaining his fashion degree, Benz wanted to gain more experience in the industry.  He had another great opportunity to work for J. Crew, which is an epitome of an American brand. Gaining experience and knowledge with one of America's favorite designers [Marc Jacobs] and America's fashion brand [J. Crew], what was the next step for the CFDA winner?  I asked Benz what steps he made to find a private investor. He replies, “While working at J. Crew, I spent my weekends at night working on my business plan with my partner [Ashley Melisse Abess, who also graduated from Parsons, majoring in Design Management]. There's no mystery to it”, he says with his signature chuckle. “You can read thousands of books, but until you sit down with a pen and piece of paper, that's when you really start to figure things out.” Benz and Abess, who have been friends since the age of sixteen, spent a very long time improving and doing extensive research on their business plan. “It's important to have everything well thought out and have everything pretty much figured out, as much as possible.”

There are so many hopefuls desiring to become a successful fashion designer; you have successfully established yourself as a recognized American designer just after three years.  Have you always known that you would have this much success?  Or would you call it success at this point in your career, I said to him. “I love fashion.  I’ve always loved fashion.  I grew up reading so many magazines and books.  You have to allow yourself to follow the path of what the universe has in store for you.  For me, it wasn't ever a question whether or not I wanted to go to fashion school, it was what I felt was the right thing to do and where I wanted to be. I'm all about hard work, organization, and really thinking things through.  One of the worst things is to feel unprepared for something.”

 “Fashion moves very quickly,” says the twenty-eight year old designer. “You have to teach yourself to design on schedule. We're not just a bunch of designers hanging around fabric all day, we're very organized. I learned in school when a project is due, you better have it done on the due date because that is exactly how it is in the real world. Someone else’s project could potentially be better than yours.”

Chris Benz is now a SCAD [Savannah College of Art and Design] mentor. “They asked me to come on board as a mentor for this school year.” Benz' team was contacted by the college early last year, which took the young designer by surprise. “We were actually contacted by SCAD in early 2010, for the members of our team to come down and speak to the students.  It's called SCAD Style and they have a bunch of different industry people come down and give speeches and presentations to discuss the industry and in the enthusiastic, exciting kind of way to send off the graduating seniors on a high note. Myself and four others, [Eva Amurri, Eugene Migliaro, Ashley Abess, and Kelly Stinnett], had an hour long discussion for the graduating class; on starting a collection, the pit falls and the triumphs. It was really spectacular, such a great experience going there.” 

Benz thinks that it is very important to have a degree in fashion. “I am always a supporter of education and I think you can figure things out during your time of school.  Having a curriculum is great; to exercise your brain and just having that time in your life to experiment and to figure out the path you would like to go. There are a lot of benefits to that 'educational' experience.” Benz says that you need to make your own decisions.  For him, he says that it was very important to see himself through.

A fashion school cannot teach you how to be creative, but it is a tool to broaden your thinking and skills.  What essential skills have you learned, I asked Benz. “Parsons, at least when I was there, I'm not sure if the curriculum has shifted at all but, obviously it's a sportswear school.  I really took that seriously.  I like to design separates, layering sweaters and all these things. So for me, that sort of style specific education in fashion was very important. You learn how to be a pattern maker and seamstress; obviously you need those skills to be able to communicate.  Also, I learned all about fashion illustration how to translate things from illustration to a finished garment, how to merchandise and break a certain style into a different style that is going to be complementary in your showroom.  A lot of it is essential, and like you said, they really don't force the creativity down your throat; I mean they give you the tools, but it's up to you to kind of figure it out and utilize those tools.  The thing I liked about Parsons, in particular, there was a positive spirit in the school and I think that, in itself, raised the bar internally from student to student.”

I asked Benz if he listens to music while he sketches or does he like complete silence. “It depends, if you mean with pen and paper it's like 20%, maybe less, if you take our total of work. During those times, it really depends, we may have loud rap music or we might have classical music.  Recently, we have been listening to Brazilian.  We are feeling like we want to go on vacation.”

I find inspiration from strange places; says Benz when asked what gives him inspiration. “Often times an inspiration is like a muse or a painting.  You will find inspiration when you least expect it.  It can change everything about a collection.”

When viewing Chris Benz resort and spring/summer 2011 collection, it’s very inspiring.  I wanted to hear a little of what to expect from the fall/winter 2011 collection. “We just started,” he says in our phone interview in November.  “Just coming off our spring collection, which was like the very spirited 60's, Paris inspired, I still love those kinds of silhouettes.  I will still play with those fabrics, but with fall, sort of, fabrics.  It's so fun when things come together and I can see it on the model. It's a good feeling when you can close that chapter and start another season.”

What does the arising designer have to say to aspiring fashion designers? “The best advice that I can give, is just push yourself further. For example, if you've done 500 sketches do 500 more.  You may discover something that you would have never come to if you hadn't done more and more and pushed yourself.  It really takes that extra kind of spirit, kind of fire, to be able to observe yourself; am I doing enough? Keep pushing yourself and you will come up with the resolution. Just keep doing what you know how to do, that's my best advice.”

       VIEW RESORT 2011                               VIEW SPRING/SUMMER 2011




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