On Thursday, Aug. 30, the designer Chris Benz answered the door of his sleek studio space in the Garment District wearing Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers, cutoff khaki pants, and a rumpled pink Ascot Chang button-down shirt worn Tom Ford-style—that is, revealing a respectable amount of chest hair.
Inside an expansive gray room, hanging in an orderly manner around a large black antique table, was the Technicolor women’s collection he plans to show at the New York Yacht Club on Monday. “I’m just ready for it to be over—done and done!” said Mr. Benz, 24, using one of his favorite expressions. Yet he was exuding preternatural confidence and calm. “As long as you put your heart into something, you can’t be nervous,” he said.
Ever since Mr. Benz showed his first namesake collection in February of this year the designer has achieved a loyal following among fashion editors and the type of women who hang out at Sant Ambroeus in the West Village: media-shy, well-bred, student-like if not actually students. The clothes had an “art-school nerdy vibe,” as the designer put it: boyish and slouchy, wearable, even sensible; improbable color combinations worn by models in eyeglasses or jockey caps pulled low. Mr. Benz had made them for his friends—girls with an effortless glamour, he said, who “throw on lip gloss and mascara and just go. Done and done!”
The New York Times raved. Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann, the young Lancôme model, daughter of Isabella and a close friend of Mr. Benz’s, hosted a dinner for him at Raoul’s in SoHo, and he landed accounts with Fred Segal, Linda Dresner, Saks, Bloomingdale’s, and later the online designer mecca Shopbop.com. Mr. Benz began appearing in paparazzi pictures, always draped in scarves and pulchritudinous young ingénues. Not celebrities, he said, but “a specific girl who gets the attitude of the clothes,”
“He’s one of the most promising arrivals to the New York design scene right now,” e-mailed Nylon fashion news editor Jenny Feldman. Ms. Feldman, who been spotted on the widely read blog Fashionista.com wearing head-to-toe Chris Benz (“I’m so obsessed with Chris Benz”), said that the designer has “buzz, youth, talent, vision, and a nascent celebrity following … He can be quite daring—for fall, he combined surprising colors like electro-orange with acid turquoise, and somehow managed to maintain a sophisticated look.”
Faran Krentcil, editor of Fashionista.com and a friend of Mr. Benz’s, agreed. “A lot of girls want to find a good medium between things they want to wear every day and things that are more forward-thinking and fresh,” she said. “And Chris has that perfect balance of what’s chic and fashionable and what’s easy to pick up off your floor in the morning and throw on.” It doesn’t hurt that he’s engaging and popular with the social set, she said, but “there have been designers way more connected than Chris who’ve lasted only a season or two because no one wanted to wear their clothes.”
In Mr. Benz’s office, behind an understated black desk, hung a giant sketch by Mr. Benz’s friend Lola Schnabel (daughter of Julian) and several personal notes on Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar letterhead. A huge plant lent the whole room a hotel-in-the-tropics feel, and a giant inspiration board leaning against one wall featured fabrics, found objects, and pictures—among them the model Gemma Ward done up in 50’s bouffant and the large, menacing tentacle of an octopus. “I just kind of collect a folder of stuff that I like,” Mr. Benz said. Beneath the board, was a line of several retro-looking pairs of colorful women’s platform shoes. “That’s my shoe collection!” he said.
Next up was his famous photo booth, which a friend of his business partner, Ashley Abess, sent up as a gift after they founded the company. Tacked outside the booth was a pictorial record of all Mr. Benz’s well-known visitors, each hamming it up for the camera: Cuba Gooding Jr.; the socialite Fabian Basabe and his wife, Martina; Ms. Wiedemann; Ms. Krentcil; and various other models, stylists, and otherwise attractive people. No one looked better in these photos than Mr. Benz himself, who appeared in an exhaustive array of poses and hairstyles, like the scraggly ponytail he was wearing today. He’s had a lot of practice, he explained sheepishly.
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