Les Benjamins has evolved in becoming the definition of a lifestyle from just a t-shirt brand. It is one of the most sui generis brands you can ever see Its creator Bünyamin Aydın is a mirror of the brand and he is a naughty, stylish, hiphop loving young entrepreneur who set his sights on the world.
You need to know Bünyamin to understand Les Benjamins and vice versa. Each gives to the other and it is without saying that Les Benjamins’ founder Bünyamin Aydın has a story to discover having created his brand in 2011 based originally on the young Turks and its eclectic vision through the printing of t-shirts. Receiving a great deal of interest, Les Benjamins became a ready-made clothing brand both for men and women. Everyone knows the brand, everyone knows the guy behind the brand.
Upon entering the place where I shall meet Bünyamin along with a few from his team, I am surprised to see a man who is silent and simple. Given he is so young, having been born in ‘89’, his vision and background are beyond the worldly rush far from the typical day to day gossips, Bünyamin knew what he wanted to do with his life from such an early age. Perhaps this is due to his family who runs a textile business with a great working discipline. He had the idea of Les Benjamins in his mind for the first time when he was 19 and it only took him a few years to develop upon this idea. Now he is 25 and he is the owner of a 4-year-old brand preferred by people such as Cara Delevigne, Robert Downey Jr. and even Jared Letto. He does whatever he sets his mind to and he doesn’t care about the obstacles facing him. If he wants something, he gets it. He says “I aimed at being the first worldwide brand of Turkish origin which would make a real difference. I gave myself a ten-year-time period and I’m just in the middle of it.”
“My departure point was t-shirts because I wanted to start by dressing up men and I believe that they express themselves best with their t-shirts.”
Bünyamin is a well-educated and highbrowed person thanks to his upbringing. He was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, lived there for 12 years and continued with his elementary school education at The German High School (Deutsche Schule) in Istanbul. And then comes Switzerland. He doesn’t judge anyone, so nobody feels limited around him. That’s the source of the magic. Because he’s been surrounded by similar personalities for as long as he can remember. Even today he spends most of his time in Istanbul with open-minded Turkish people or foreigners, just like himself. In fact two foreigners occupy two of the key positions in his core team. His designer is from Hong Kong and the Public Relations Manager is French of Moroccan origin. Bünyamin is a world citizen; he doesn’t discriminate against or bestow privileges upon anyone. Les Benjamins adopts the same point of view, too. “After finishing high school in Lugano, Switzerland, I came to Istanbul in order to study Management at Bahçeşehir University. I dropped out of it after six months realizing that it’s not my cup of tea and returned to Geneva, Switzerland. I tried to study International Relations there for another six months but I couldn’t commit myself to it either and dropped out one more time. I came back and promised myself to study Advertising at Bilgi University in Istanbul. However, again it took only 6 months until I dropped out that department, too. I always had this idea in my mind of founding my own brand. Then I thought it’s high time I got it started.” That’s how Les Benjamins was born in 2011. This brand is just the result of a synthesis composed of 12 years in Germany, 4 years in Switzerland and 8 years in Turkey.
“My departure point was t-shirts because I wanted to start by dressing up men and I believe that they express themselves best with their t-shirts. I’ve been to many fairs as a child since my family is in textile business. My mum’s store imported brands unavailable in Turkey and I used to go and buy them. My father is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to textile know-how. My 21-year-old brother is studying Management and Psychology in London. My sister is in London, too. She’s studying game design. And our 16-year-old little one wants to be an artist. I’m the oldest, so I took over from my father after he passed away. By the way, believe me this is the first time I’m telling these details about my life.”
Of course it makes me happy to hear that. He continues with his story: “I’d like to correct one misinformation about Les Benjamins. It isn’t based in London, it’s based in Turkey. I just opened another office in London with the aim of making it easier for us to reach and commute to the sales network there. My efforts were rewarded and Harrods London became our first point-of-sale that offered my untitled collection of 30 t-shirts for men. We also offered the same collection in other stores at six important locations including Tokyo.” As is known in this industry, this is no easy task to achieve. However, Bünyamin has an explanation for this; “My creative side has always been strong since my childhood but my main advantage is having been raised by parents who have full knowledge of the business practice.”
“I greatly admire our history and culture. I make the East confront the West. I use this as details in my designs at every possible opportunity. That’s who I am, too. I am not taken in by clichés for I combine the historical and cultural elements with technical details, fabrics and accessories that are the products of cutting-edge technology. Following this path, we’ve grown up step by step: from t-shirts to sweatshirts, and then to hoodies, shirts next… Meanwhile our team has also grown up. Now we’ve almost become a ready-made garment brand. We even offer purses and wallets. We’re designing shoes too and they will be released in the 2016/17 season. Of course it’s easier to penetrate the market when concentrating only one product but you cannot take that path if you’d like to be a brand. You need to set long-term goals. Nevertheless, I have to add something: I believe in neither ready-made clothing nor seasons anymore. Even climates do not run like that! Everything is ambiguous. For instance, today is a very hot summer day. Could you guarantee that it’s not going to start pouring down suddenly? However, you cannot find a raincoat in stores now. I think fashion will also realise this soon and seasons will become nonfunctional. To give an example, Nike does not have any seasons. Who cares about the seasons?”
It is important to note that Bünyamin is not the designer; he is the creative director of this brand. He is the one to set the theme of the collection whilst developing it along with the design team. “Take 2016 Spring/Fall collection we presented in Paris, titled Back to the Roots. My starting point was street food in Istanbul. I chose the fabrics, found some stories, decided on the colors. Although they’ve been there all the time, no one has ever taken a look at them so far. Guys slicing watermelons, selling doner kebab…” One might ask how does a creative director nurture himself and knowing which direction he should take? If that creative director is Bünyamin, he sure gets carried away with hiphop. “I also listen to pop and deep house but my priority is hiphop. I’ve become the first person to be called when there is hiphop around. There was a ‘barbecue hiphop party’ on the roof of Soho House last Sunday. It was an event just cut-out for me.”
Bünyamin cares a lot about the right collaborations regarding the positioning of his brand. The most recent of those collaborations is the capsule collection consisting of three t-shirts he designed together with DJ Doğuş Çabakçor with the aim of promoting the pop-up store they launched in Alaçatı, Hacımemiş neighborhood. There are also other numerous collaborations in the short history of Les Benjamins whilst he is looking towards new foreign names for upcoming collections.
“Our collections were all untitled before 2014 Fall-Winter. The same season, we started to give names to our creations and started with ‘Riots’. Riots came into life as a consequence of my concern about the violation of human rights throughout the world. I’m quite interested in socio-cultural issues. I love military details in designs. I wanted to design pieces that would make people feel powerful when they put them on and that’s why I used military and police-related details a lot. Hoodies had police-related details, patterns had masked rebels on them.” And later? “Peace arrives. And then Back to the Roots follows, as you already know… I’d like to say this: People and real experiences influence me. Just like history and biography.”
If you take all this into consideration, Bünyamin is a real naughty boy. He plays basketball, loves hamburgers, cannot get enough of PC games, is overwhelmed with military references, and listens to hiphop. What else do you need? He laughs. It means he somehow approves. Now he’s preparing for his new show for Paris Fashion Week to be held in January. “We started to work with Pitti Uomo for 2015 Spring/ Summer season in Florence, continuing in Milan and then presenting a private fashion show special to the members of press at the showroom where we worked together. Then we hit Paris and presented another show at our pop-up store that is located nearby brands such as Rick Owens and Acne. After that, we threw a party.”
I asked Bünyamin how he defines Les Benjamins as a brand. He cannot just appeal to hiphop and comfort fans; “We worked with Skepta for instance. We collaborated with Travis Scott in June. Even if I don’t know in person, I definitely find a common friend with the person I’d like to meet. I don’t make too much of anybody. I’m particularly close to two people from the team of Kanye West and I’m sure we may collaborate with him soon. Young talents from the Turkish underground hiphop scene also contact me. I support them. This suits me very well. I prefer everything to be comfortable in life.” I was just going to ask about that. I wonder what kind of a lifestyle Bünyamin has. “I’m so weird. You can see me at a no-name kebab restaurant at noon, having fun and earing sushi at Soho House in the evening …”
He states that “Les Benjamins is a lifestyle brand” and goes on to say, “a creative person sharing the same point of view with me and Les Benjamins will reach the world via us. I’d like to create such a platform. For example, Kamufle is a very young, determined and talented rapper. I’m very happy to support him by making him appear in a magazine like Dazed & Confused.” Now the products of Les Benjamins are being sold at more than 300 points worldwide. Some of them are in Harvey Nichols London, Baku, Dubai, London Browns, Denmark, and their own mono boutique at Galata, Istanbul… Bünyamin, you told me at the beginning of the interview that you wanted Les Benjamins to be a world brand. When will you believe that it has become one? “I’ll believe it when I have mono boutiques at all those points. It’s never just about shopping anymore. People want to be involved in a process and live with it. I love, believe and find inspiration in digital communication and technology. I’m a big fan of PC games, I’m one of those who try new products such as Google Glass, Apple watches first. You can’t turn your back on them. We address globally thinking and entrepreneurship in a spirited sense, freed from prejudices and tasteful. We’d like to grow in this way.” Please count me in Bünyamin. (www.lesbenjamins.com)