Over the past seven years, German-born Turkish designer Umit Benan has created a nice niche for himself by avoiding the more trendy looks that have dominated the runway, instead drawing on his years growing up in Istanbul to create an aesthetic all his own. Long a favorite of Carson Street Clothiers, Benan recently sat down with the guys behind the Manhattan retailer. Over brunch in Soho, on a two-day stop between Milan and Los Angeles, Benan shed light on his background, what drove him to become a designer, his latest seasonal collection, his interests beyond fashion, and more. While an excerpt appears below, the interview can be read in its entirety over at Carson Street’s website.
Tell us about your background — where you’re from, your education, your family and upbringing.
I was born in Germany. When I was two years old, my family moved to Istanbul because my father went into the textile business, creating a factory. I lived there until I turned 14, then went to boarding school in Switzerland. From there, I moved to Boston for college. In my sophomore year, I started taking fashion classes because I realized that’s what I really wanted to do. Once I graduated, I went to Marangoni in Milan to study fashion design, then I studied at Central Saint Martins for half a semester for styling. I went back to Istanbul for a year to work for my father at his factory. He trained me in knitwear and general production. Finally, I moved to New York and studied pattern-making for a year at Parsons. I had an internship at Marc Jacobs and I went on to work in womenswear.
In 2009, I started my line. My fashion background is entirely thanks to my family and father because when I was growing up, I would spend my summers in the factory. Even when I was in elementary school, we had to work in the factory all summer long. The reason I wanted to go in to fashion design is because I hated production. All the designers would show up at the factory and they would leave strict sketches we had to follow. I wanted to be the one leaving the sketches. Working on the production side was great experience, though. When designers first start, they might be able to sketch, but they have no idea how the behind-the-scenes processes involved with production work. I wanted to start in New York as I loved it there but, as I worked in Milan for three years before launching my own business, I knew all the factories there and realized that was where I had to start.
I presented my first season at Pitti Uomo — I figured that was the only way for me to be able to present it—for exposure. It picked up attention from press and two days after the Tuesday I launched it, I was written about in The New York Times as a new designer to watch. Next season, I won the best new designer in Italy, organized by Pitti. I’ve been working at it for seven years now.
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