Fashion has its hubs. The likes of Seoul, Tokyo and, increasingly, Moscow are routinely peppering the fashion calendar alongside the usual big four. However, Istanbul – the city on the Bosphorus that for centuries has straddled the geographies and cultures of east and west – is fast making its own esoteric mark.
Les Benjamins, the streetwear brand founded by its Creative Director, Bunyamin Aydin, in 2011, is at the center of this. Based in the city’s creative hub of Galata, the label first caught our attention with their Spring/Summer 2015 Collection, shown as part of the roving Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. However, we began to take the brand seriously with their storming parties in Paris for their fall/winter collections and where even Skepta and Travis Scott made an appearance. It was also around this time that they held their unique Fall/Winter 2015 Collection showcase in Istanbul’s ancient subterranean reservoir, the Binbirdirek Cistern. And this, in a way, provides a pointed sub-narrative for the brand: Istanbul’s old and new worlds uniting through fashion.
But, this being Istanbul, its easy to form clichés for the label: tropes such as their uniting of ‘east’ and ‘west’ abound. But the truth is a lot more interesting and positive. As Aydin admits, cultures do crash into each other in this city – as they have always done. But Les Benjamins‘s democratic approach produces a look that is highly wearable, thoroughly rooted in contemporary silhouettes and one that actively, joyfully mixes western pop-culture with ancient Ottoman design, and all without taking itself too seriously. Their fall and winter 2015 “Space Soldiers” collection (shown above) was a case in point.
We sat down with Aydin to talk about his label, about Istanbul, as well as what we can expect from the rising streetwear brand soon.
What’s your background? How and why did you start Les Benjamins?
My Mother and Father were in the fashion industry for over 40 years, and growing up I was always surrounded by fabrics, designers, and so on. My dream of my own fashion brand started during my high school years in Switzerland, where I designed T-Shirts for pleasure and gifted them to close friends. After graduation, I attended university both in Istanbul, Turkey and in Geneva, Switzerland. Finally in 2011, I decided to drop out to establish my own brand, Les Benjamins, to pursue my dream.
What has been the biggest challenge since you started in 2011?
For any new start up, it’s finding the first believers. Whether they’re influencers, buyers, or even just your relatives, it’s always hard to convince someone when you don’t have a track record as it’s your first experience and project.
So what has been the greatest accomplishment of Les Benjamins so far?
Les Benjamins has a growing fan base in over 20 countries – that’s the greatest accomplishment in my opinion. In the end, I design clothes for people to wear so seeing people just wearing what I create is the greatest accomplishment for me.
What’s in a name? What does the brand stand for and how does it see itself?
The name Benjamin shows the richness of different cultures, because every language, religion, and nation has the name “Benjamin” in a different version. Apart from it also being my first name, I’d like to think that it represents all the Benjamins around the world as well. I want the brand to promote togetherness and peace, which is what I stand for as well.
European brands seem to approach streetwear through an abstract lens, Japan often innovates pre-existing American aesthetics, America does its thing and Russia is confidently defining things for itself. Where do you see Les Benjamins in the global fashion landscape?
Les Benjamins definitely owns the streetwear scene in Turkey, and people in Turkey feel a certain sense of national pride for the brand. However, my vision is to be a global streetwear brand that happens to have been launched and is based in Istanbul. We live in a global world with no borders. The next step for Les Benjamins is to become a global streetwear brand that promotes togetherness of different cultures, all mixing into each other. East into west and positively united.
Les Benjamins’s look focuses heavily on prints and bold, abstract graphics. Tell us about the design process. Who inspires you and where do you look to for inspiration more generally?
It all starts with research. I love music, and I take inspiration from the outdoors through sports or just walking. However, I have a big interest in history and the histories of innovative people. People like Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs – the list could go on and on. Social movements and social unrest is another inspiration for me. I get inspired by the negative because I want to turn it into a positive.
Would you say Les Benjamins is more political than most then, in terms of what the brand stands for? For instance, does Turkey’s political situation impact on your work and does Les Benjamins choose to respond?
Les Benjamins is more socially aware than most I’d say. It has to be. Nobody can deny that politics and economics influence people, and people influence fashion. It’s a connected circle. Les Benjamins chooses to respond with positivity. We choose to rebuild. I would like to give hope to the youth in Turkey and abroad; to not give up fighting despite the negativity that surrounds us. Spreading love and positivity is our brand’s DNA.
What was the event, or was there a specific muse, behind your latest collection, “Space Soldiers”?
I was highly inspired by Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Space Odyssey, and obviously I can’t hide I am a big fan of all of them. Combining the space theme with a military aspect and Turkish details through graphic prints and embroideries is the perfect mash of cultures. The military aspect is actually a continuous inspiration for every season as I love functional detailing.
Talk us through some of your collaboration highlights, such as that Glastonbury collaboration. Who does the brand see collaborating with next?
We have many ongoing conversations and collaboration projects with renowned individuals and brands. However, right now I can’t share details. However, you can bet that things are cooking!
Your Paris summer fashion week party looked pretty fun. Anything similar in the pipeline?
All I can say at this point is expect some very interesting surprises in the upcoming Milan and Paris fashion weeks.
What does the future hold for brand Les Benjamins? Where do you see the brand going next?
I am planning on doing a catwalk or presentation during Milan Men’s Fashion Week. But we’ll keep you posted!
Take a look at Les Benjamins’ collections here.