Christian Benner custom Spring 2018: Infusing punk, rock and attitude. The ascent of a nascent indie glam fashion designer.
I must admit, this writer doesn’t know much about the fashion world. This was thrown at me unexpectedly by my editor who was looking for a new angle on the NYFashion week Spring/ Summer 2017 collections that jut past.
With sufficient naivety, I was an apt byline and reporter to ply the outsider’s approach. We all should know, Fashion Week in New York 2017 is that time again for designers to show off their new work. RSVP’ed and prepared for the unexpected. Attending the Christian Benner fashion event enabled this insouciant naif to look through one window into this glamorous world.
The fashionable affair was held Sept. 11 in Chinatown, at the Hotel 50 Bowery, a new boutique hotel with luxury rooms and suites. There was a long line waiting to enter (who knew? – not me), when I arrived, counting approximately 130 people initially arriving early. All told, I estimate the attendance was upwards of 220 event-goers at the swanky location. Not too shabby for a little party on a Monday.
Finding myself amongst swarming Benner fans and fashionistas, I knew little to nothing about this clique of humans. I had not done the basic research that the reader can now study herein. So I tried to make myself comfortable, observing the quirks of this group and sizing up the bigger picture.
There was a wide range of ages represented, plenty of young teenager types and 20 somethings, into the adult set and middle-aged. The demographics were even sprinkled with those in their 60’s and 70’s; believe it or not. It seemed to be an upscale crowd, well-heeled and attentive to their appearances (perhaps the word fashionista springs to mind). It was a mix of ethnicities, but very cosmopolitan urban style. The overwhelmingly strongest theme was apparent – it is the glorified Rock and Roll with a hint of Punk.
That’s what the whole style is seething with. You could hear it immediately as you entered the showcase room with the models. I saw the girls modeling the jackets and skirts and tees, while I simultaneously heard the loud music playing. These parts fit together. Yes, maybe by now I was sufficiently perked.
Christian Benner custom Spring 2018: Understanding the background.
There was a guy spinning the tunes, DJ Steve Powers. He’s a close friend of Benner’s. He told me they were originally thinking of cranking the music even louder for the event – a total rock concert ambiance. Powers was going to set up huge amps, speakers, woofers, the whole 9 yards I’m sure. But they opted for a more soft approach because they wanted the audience to be able to converse, yet still hear the music.
They played classic rock from the 70’s into the 80’s, even some similar newer stuff. There was Ratt, AC DC, Aerosmith, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, even Elvis Presley, and I heard Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil”. It takes you way back to those days when real rock and roll was being forged. And that’s the effect of the fashion line as well.
Taking a closer look at what the nine models were wearing, we find leather pieces, studded and painted. The leather is of various colors, all the way from white to black and brown shades. Most of the models which showcased the jackets were not wearing any shirts underneath. They did wear jewelry though. Their faces were adorned with a bluish greenish eye mask decoration, directly painted-on. Quite a stunning visual, especially the bare-skinned torsos. Let’s assume that is the best technique in fashion showing. Don’t want to distract from the featured jackets, by any loud undergarment (I guess).
I noted the fashion sense of the crowd was liberally adorned with their own leather, some of which was gotten from Benner’s earlier collections. Of the several hundred I observed, about one-third were sporting hats. The style of choice was a black sort of urban cowboy hat. Sometimes it has a band around the brim, metallic, studded, or plain. Most of them were worn by the males, although it appears a good percentage were also adorning the female guests. Hats are definitely “in” and it is an integral part of the Benner style as can be observed in his imagery.
Christian Benner custom Spring 2018: A fan explains the big picture.
Midway through the event, J. Impz, a younger, rock and roller musician struck up a conversation. He declared that there was a movement inherent in this lifestyle, the personality, and everything that has to do with it. It has to do with “beautiful women, bad ass music, and kick ass fashion”.
He further added that the dirty-minded rock and roll lifestyle and attitude is definitely about daring to grow out your hair long. Before the 1960’s, that was not possible, it wasn’t allowed. It’s about freedom of expression. Who knew?
He reminds us that this counter-culture was pioneered by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, all the way through the 70’s when Punk rescued Rock and Roll for that phase. J. notes that people are wearing leather jackets again and real rock and roll is staging a comeback. “It’s coming back around! There’s a 30 year cycle and the clocks turn back”.
The really striking thing about this Revolution is its return to the roots of Rock n Roll. J. claimed that listening to music these days, it’s all digital, but now he’s finding “they’re starting to use real instruments again,” Adding, “They haven’t done that in years!”. Could this really be occurring and is Benner out to clothe the fashionable revolutionaries?
Christian Benner custom Spring 2018: Rock legend and auteur Mark Hudson weighs in.
Which led me to inquire with somebody who would know – none other than rock god and legend, Mark Hudson. From his accomplished career of producing Ringo Starr (after the Beatles), Ozzy Osbourne, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, then the Baha Men, and many others, he has to know what is going on.
“That’s all I do. That’s my stuff. And I wanna have guys in the room playing instruments. I wanna have a guy singing like Steven (Tyler)!” the eclectic aesthete said.
He informed me it’s all about unique, one of a kind personalities. These are the trend-setters, these icons. They are the starters, the innovators, and he includes designer, Benner amongst these influencers.
“Christian is the real deal,” Hudson raved. “He’s kind of new, he’s starting out.”
Hudson explained that these figures are artists and they launch their creations unto great fanfare. Only to be imitated and incessantly copied by those who latch on later. It’s really a shame to deal with the copycat unoriginals, but Mark Hudson gives a solution. It’s something he has done consistently throughout his illustrious path to fame. He says you have to have branding and you have to constantly innovate, reinvent yourself.
Widely-experienced in the ways of the industry, Mark Hudson gave a wary assessment, “The fashion world is just like the rock and roll world. It’s really really fun, really really perverted, really really giving and really really backstabbing.”
He warns about the actual way that business goes down, “You try to keep your stuff one of a kind. Then somebody comes around and copies it. They only change it slightly. They make a rip-off version, that’s cheaper.”
You only have to look at his multi-coloured beard and moustache to know he knows what he’s talking about. With his nickname “Weird Beard”, he wears it well. He is a true original and sails through as a real artist, musician, “I’m kind of like in my own parade.” “Once again, to thine own self be true,” he paraphrases Shakespeare.
Hudson added about Benner’s rising status, “Axl Rose wears all of his jackets. The girl from ‘Orange is the New Black’ wears all of his stuff.”
Christian Benner custom fashion: And then there were the models too.
While the crowd was mingling and chatting, the models had been standing for longer than an hour, motionless. What it must be like to be a living mannequin! They eventually took a break and had some refreshments at the bar. What was the experience like for them?
Speaking to one of the models after they were finished with being frozen on the stage, I had to ask.
She said, “I had a great time.” Naively, I wondered how they all knew Christian Benner.
It was Shima Safa who told me all the stunning models on display were from Fenton Model agency. They were hired to do the job and no connection to the designer. So that’s how it’s done (how would I know unless I asked?). Shima is a student and actively involved in modeling gigs. But she and all the models were off to another engagement and their glamorous lifestyle. Why wasn’t I invited, I wondered later?
I had kept careful note of Benner’s whereabouts, as I mingled. He seemed to be very at home and casual with all of it. He was in his element and being cool, you could say. He was cordial with the crowd. I watched as dozens of smiling people, friends and fans, greeted him. He did the frequent photo opp.
Christian Benner: But who is the f#cking designer?
But, as he exclaims with a slogan neatly graffitied onto the urban canvas of choice, “Who the f@#% is Christian Benner?” He’s a major up and coming fashion designer based out of New York. He’s been creating his unique wares for 5 years since the fall 2012.
“I first started this project in the basement of an east village apartment.” explained Benner.
Wikipedia states he is “known for his custom distressed leather jackets and band tees that he produces by hand at his store in the South Street Seaport.”
He’s the Rebel in Leather according to an Interview report, having spent a decade working as a window dresser for Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret. One day Benner decided to get ‘sober’ and pal it with Jimmy Webb of ‘Trash and Vaudeville’ on St. Marks who helped inspire a new direction. That’s when punk and rock and thrift and attitude came in.
Wrote Natalie Suarez Vivala Creator in one recent article, “He brings jackets to life and gives them personality by soaking and drying, and studding each one through his signature process.”
But what is Christian Benner really about? That’s when I started looking for the designer as he was enmeshed by fans and supporters alike.
Needless to say, by now, post model bonanza, Benner was not very available. He gave me his last business card as I departed at the closing. I’ve reached out for a more involved interview, but at the time of releasing this story, it has not happened yet.
So who else has made the radical choice to wear Christian Benner? As you might guess, a lot of musicians and other artists. His own website compiles this list: Benner’s designs have catered to the likes of today’s top celebrities including Kate Moss, Lady Gaga, Lenny Kravitz, Bruno Mars, 5 Seconds of Summer, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, The Rascal Flatts, Jared Leto, Brandon Boyd, Jimmy Gnecco, Taylor Momsen, Axl Rose, and Machine Gun Kelly. That is a pretty hefty clientele.
Now I am no longer a naive outsider of the fashion world and that part which is being created for the Rock and Roll culture. For those who have been tantalized to find out more and wish to have Rock and Roll save your soul, Benner has his store in the South Street Seaport.