Purposely Tacky: Umit Benan

Umit Benan’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection is inspired by an imaginary Cuba, filtered through cinematographic references.

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S/S 10 'Cuba' Collection
Umit Benan is not thirty yet, but he has already travelled extensively in his life, moving around the world from one country to the other. Born in Germany in 1980, Benan worked and studied in Istanbul, London and New York, before finally settling down in Milan. After contributing to collections for Marc Jacobs and Motu Tane by François Nars and Sophie Théallet, Benan became head designer at Cacharel Homme in 2008 and launched in the same year his own line. Benan’s first menswear collection, entitled “Day 77” (A/W 2009-10) was inspired by his own life experiences. For the next Spring/Summer season the young designer has instead focused on cinematographic references, mixing them with his passion for Slim Aarons’ work. Benan has showed through his collections he has a genuine talent for tailoring and a passion for researching fabrics and materials.

Dazed Digital: What inspired your S/S 2010 collection?
Umit Benan: This collection is inspired mainly by Cuba. I imagined a Cuba of my own through the lenses of Slim Aarons, a very famous photographer who used to take pictures of jetsetters and wealthy people around the world from the 50s to the 80s. The looks and the moods are inspired by an imaginary mansion in Cuba and the collection revolves around a couple of characters, modern versions of Scarface’s Tony Montana and Blow’s Diego Delgado. The collection is essentially about these two guys hanging around this Cuban mansion and wearing very masculine and old school yet luxurious clothes, such as baggy pants and rough shirts, garments characterised by big volumes and exaggerated silhouettes. Most of the garments are based on traditional Cuban colours and fabrics, so I used a lot of linen, but also jerseys and rough fabrics. Though the collection features also a few overalls, they are not inspired by workwear, but they represent the wealthy lifestyle of my characters. As a whole I would define the collection purposely tacky yet modern. My models are usually bearded and this allows me to create contrasts also with my more feminine pieces such as ruffled and draped shirts or coloured soft jersey suits that I imagined my characters wearing while walking around Havana. Many men are afraid of wearing garments with feminine details and in my collection they represent the antitheses to my more masculine designs.   

Dazed Digital: Your previous collection was inspired by your autobiographical experiences, can you tell us more about it?
Umit Benan: In my first collection I focused on myself and on my move from New York to Milan. I faced a lot of problems in Milan since the city revealed itself to me as a very narrow-minded place. Every time I got in the building where I stayed my neighbours would ask me if I lived there and they would check if I really had the keys to my apartment. I guess they would do it because I’m not clean-shaven nor I usually wear a three-piece suit, so I just looked different to them. To accompany the collection I did a photographic exhibition that you can also see on my website. I shaved, then I let my beard grow for 77 days and took photos of myself every week. The exhibition shows the changes in my face from the first until the last day of my project, yet, though my face changes, all the photographs portray the same person, and obviously my personality didn’t change. I wanted to question people with this project and ask them why I was treated in a different way when I had a beard, reminding them not to judge human beings from the way they look. This mood inspired the entire collection and I tried to design my garments basing them on these connections. I bought very expensive British and Italian fabrics and turned them inside out, applying the same idea of the photographs to the garments. The fabrics don’t look luxurious on the outside, in fact they are rather rough, but you shouldn’t be judging them from their external and rather shabby appearance, but from the inside. The fabrics are to be considered as a metaphor for what I look like on the outside.

Dazed Digital: The man who modelled your first collection looked rather mature compared to the young fresh-faced men who usually model contemporary menswear collections. Who is Umit Benan’s ideal customer?
Umit Benan: Both young and mature men. For my A/W collection I was looking for a model who could express what I felt and I met Giovanni in the street and did a great look book with him. He was perfect because I was looking for a rough guy and he looked rather aggressive, so having him modelling my designs was perfect.
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