We live in a world with no sensory memory within itself. In the contrary of this idea, we meet with Dong Ping Wong and Bünyamin Aydın; two creatives who share love for the idea of community. With challenge comes surprise and interest! They created a 360 degree journey with the ‘’Cliff’’, Les Benjamins Flagship Store. New ideas for culture, comfort and discovery. The store became a representation of a new vision. We had the chance to have an inspring conversation with both the architecture and the founder/creative director of the brand. A new goal is set with each achievement for Les Benjamins.
Definition of authentic is not that interesting. It is sort of responding to the real world. Authentic to me is being honest with the environment you are in. Dong Ping Wong
How did you start being part of a creative world?
Dong Ping Wong:
I went to school for architecture but before that I grew up in a middle-class suburb. A place where all the homes looked the same. At some point when my parents wanted to move. In US when you want: to change homes. They are all the same You just have to choose if you want to pink one or the beige one. But I remember that I was getting so excited when I was noticing the slightest difference. I think that’s when I started getting interested in architecture. As a kid I wanted to see how little things make a difference. And eventually after working a bit we started to practice on 2011 and started inventing the first project which was a floating pool and then the other half was working with Kanye and then that obviously led to a whole another crazy world.
How did you get connected with each other to create this space?
We have common friends. So a friend of mine introduced me to him. And thats all started form that moment. I was already following his work and really like his approach in having a balance with retail and the community around it. And I wanted this place fort he people of Istanbul and the scene out here.
Dong Ping Wong:
Benji (Bünyamin Aydın) called us 2 years ago just wanted to do something together. And the flagship store project came together last year. The whole process started I think on February.
A brand is a promise, it is a personality. Bünyamin Aydın
What do you think about the hype towards streetwear and how everything from fashion, art and design relate to this one topic nowadays?
Dong Ping Wong:
I mean what’s interesting is that so many designers in this world not just fashion or art everybody started doing everything. Virgil and Benji is great example of that. Just designing clothes in itself that interesting enough with this kind of culture. So, you have to be involved in something else creative. And it even forms what kind of t-shirt you are making or the kind of style you have. But what nice is I think the entry point of this kind of fashion especially when it started from a graphic t-shirt. Doing business from social media allows anybody to reach a huge audience. I am very curious where it will go in 5 years because there is so many brands and styles I feel like it needs to evolve but I don’t know into what. I love that now so many designers are so young, and you don’t have to have a lot of experience or Money necessarily to start it up.
Les Benjamins as a brand achieved to create a cultural connection around the world. Why is being connected is such an important topic in your designs?
It is my personality I like to bring people together where in the world there are lots of groups to always separate people. It is a message in a way to build a community, to give your hand to someone. And help the to be better and achieve their goals. That’s very important to me. Community and culture is key word for what we are doing.
Why do you think it is important to have in-store experience rather than online?
Dong Ping Wong:
It is very transactional. Like you see the clothes you buy the clothes, but you can’t actually experience it. Eventhough when you come into the store just to buy a t-shirt, the fact that you can hear the traffic, can hear the music, there is a smell to it, you can feel when you are walking on the conquer let alone touching the t-shirt itself. The t-shirt is hung in a certain way with a certain lighting. I think it all gives an experience and a memory, buying that shirt which you won’t have when you do online. And so many pieces of clothing you own, there is some sort of memory related to the pieces. You miss a lot of that when you shop online. For me, my favourite pieces are because I got them in a specific way. The store has an opportunity.
For example, in Colette in Paris became this centre of community and social scene. People wants to go there to buy things but then you just go because you want to go to Collette. There are 3-4 places like that. So, when you are in the city, you just want to go there and check what goes around and who is there. I hope Les Benjamins Flagship Store will be that experience here. It is key to be around in that kind of concept. These stores are here not just for shopping but for you to have an experience. It is very different to have something original where it belongs rather that experiencing that certain thing in a different city. It is original because of people around it and real life context where you can’t have it online. That whole experience you can have that %100 online.
360 degree. It is never one thing. The brands we carry, the tech section, educational part, people work here, my team… I wanted everything in one place.
It is original because of people around it and real life context. Dong Ping Wong
It almost feels like the store has its own language. Can you tell us about the concept and the inspiration behind this design of Les Benjamins Flagship Store?
Dong Ping Wong:
The space itself. These conquered walls belong to the building. So, we had a shell. And we asked is there a one certain thing that organise the entire shop and that the idea behind the big Wall. Let’s put this big object. So, in the talks with Benji we decided we are not just creating a store you are kind of creating a central space and in that space, you need a place where people can gather around. Hopefully as we create more Les Benjamins globally, the idea will always stay the same have one big thing centralised in the space where people can gather around and create this iconic effect.
Mağazanın hikayesini anlatabilir misiniz? Sunduğunuz dünyanın konsepti nedir?
It is a concept store with an educatioanl side. We will be having lots of workshops.
When you start on creating a world, what is your first approach to a project?
Dong Ping Wong:
Come see the place. Spend couple of days inside and walk around. We try to understand what that whole area feels like. To figure out what existing environment is? What can we add to that? or What can we create around/within it? We do a lot of hand drawing and physical modelling because it is really fast. And to look at things and react to it. For even here when we were talking to Benji and understanding Les Benjamins a little bit. It seemed like it has a significant role in Istanbul and maybe even Turkey in terms of youth culture. We wanted to capture its DNA.
Les Benjamins is a brand carriying its own DNA. What is your working process to connect cultures for your brand?
I was always a social person. I love discovery and never been afraid to meet new people. I actually enjoy it. It kind of part of who I am. It is natural.
What is the reason choosing this location for Les Benjamings Flagship Store?
It is fashion-hub of Istanbul. It would only make sense in terms of retail but also educational part because we have lots of schools around. I wanted to be in the heart of the city. And it is in a way unexpected because you don’t expect a store like this in Nişantaşı, It is kind of a contrast idea which I love.
It is all about excitement. Retail is old now. People need to re-design retail. Bünyamin Aydın
As a creative what do you think is authentic in the world? And do you think there is a creative challenge with always connecting to a non-existing world such as social media?
Dong Ping Wong:
It is a lot about, working with the environment you are in. So, we wouldn’t design a same store anywhere else if it is not for Les Benjamin and in İstanbul. So, in that world everything is authentic. There are things that are originally authentic such as an antique chair and there is thing non-authentic like steel. But what with this project is authentic to me as long as you are honest with the environment you are in. You can do something that never existed in that environment because you will have a different take on it. I think definition of authentic is not that interesting. It is sort of responding to the real world.
It is not difficult to connect real into digital world for me because in architecture we do something physical and the put it into digital. For us that pathway for digital is very direct. What is nice in the architectural side it is slower it allows us to publish our work in our own terms. And what I like is if people like it they care about it if they won’t it just goes somewhere else.
As a brand Les Benjamins gave ‘’streetstyle’’ a new meaning? What is the idea behind creating a new world to your customers?
It is all about exictement. Retail is old now. People need to re-design retail. What I like Dong practise is that community first. People should come out and hang out, they dont have to neccecerily buy something it is a total space of discovery. Our new tag line fort he brand is ‘’joruney of discovery’’ so everything is a journey. Entering into the store is a journey. All of this is 360 degree experience. The concept of the cliff for the store came out; when you go on a cliff it is about discovery you walk, hike it is a representation of comfort so wherever we open a store I want to keep the idea of cliff.
When you think about architecture itself. What is important to you the design or the operation of it?
Dong Ping Wong:
Both are important, but neither are how we start. One of the experience you want to be face to this huge thing and that was the whole point of the wall for the store. It sorts of obnoxious but then you want to experience this big thing on the ground floor but then come up when you are above the wall the space is opening up and you can breathe. So that idea needs some kind of design but also should operate in a certain way. And again, the experience is the key. If you won’t feel you can have the experience inside design and operation both fails.
Throughout your projects, what was the one challenge you faced while creating?
Dong Ping Wong:
So many! They are always different. A lot of times it the budget problem. We would want to create something grand but then realise can’t effort it. And more than the budget problem, there is the schedule problem where you have to wait for the process. And those challenges actually make the projects more interesting. In general, the biggest challenge is how to do something that never done before? But not in a way just to be different or flashy. I think that is really hard balance to find. And to be honest in some projects we can’t find that balance. And as a creative it is important to do something never seen before, because other people did it and they probably continue doing it better than you. So, you always want to find something different which is very tiring. And I think that is the most challenging for any kind of creative. Is it worth doing it? Why do we need these? Why would need someone a need? All the good stuff has a quality that never been out there before and provide something people need and want. I think that’s the whole point of creating
From designing printed t-shirts for your friends and family, now you have a brand know by the world. After years of hard work you are living the life you dreamt. How does it feel?
It feels great. Everyday I have a new goal. Before it was opening this store and now opening a store somewhere abroad. It never stops for me. There will be always new goals, new challanges. For me it is new chapters opening up.
What does being a brand mean to you?
A brand is a promise, it is a personality. For me Les Benjamins is a storytelling of culture. What I do as a designer, each season I come up with a culture and find a balance between confort and culture. I marrinate both. You will have traditional cultural details from different backgrounds applied on streetwear with functional details. And then we have this new logo which is a representation of the culture of photography. So the range finder represnts my eye, how I see culture and how i see tradition onwards and actually maintaining that idea. We are signing with global photogtapher and doing art projects with them. So we have alot of upcoming projects.
With having a new logo, are you going into a different direction with your designs?
With SS19 you can see. It was a new branding launch. Our DNA remains but it creates its own niche! Culture was always there for Les Benjamins. Now I know where exacly as a designer where I want to go. So I took this risk with a new logo and a new path. It is kind of a revolution.
What do you think about the idea of locations having a connection to people’s personalities?
Dong Ping Wong
One is the place the project’s in and the other is the partner you are with. You have to understand these I a practical point of view but also in a way ‘’what do they dream of’’ It kind of you end up with being friend with them. We always try to have a big dinner with people. And ı think try to understand the personalities and it’s not always so direct. You do know that certain materials are going to recements what they think of the brand.
It usually clashes towards the end of the project. When it’s down to choosing the materials. Everybody has their own taste. At that point we are going to make sure you will love the result. As long as the bid ideas are there. And in the early discussions that generates what the project will be. And we usually meet in the middle with the people.
What excites you the most?
Dong Ping Wong:
Nature excites me Anything that connects you back to the nature. I live in NY, but I grew up in California so pacific oceans is this huge nature for me which was my Daily life and in NY I don’t have that, so the ideas are get out of the city a little bit. It always coming back to nature. Appreaciation for the nature again so we are working in a project in New York. It is a swimming pool but its filled with river water and it’s all filtered in clean and it will be the first time where people can swim in river water for about in 100 years in NY. And we are working on another project in the Caribbean it will be kind of a garden and it will be outdoors, and it will be very sensory where you can feel and touch. That kind of stuff really excites me where you actually can create to feel that new environment hopefully we can do a lot more of that.
How would you describe Les Benjamins to a person who never heard about the brand?
Dong Ping Wong:
The only streetwear brands in Turkey and itself it is very interesting and there is so much interest within fashion in here. My theory is it’s not about the clothes he is kind of the representation of young İstanbul and expanding beyond Turkey and attraction globally. The fact that in the opening of the store there were so many people from so many different places around the world it is exciting he is like an ambassador for İstanbul. So that why I find it very interesting. The fact that he loves people and loves to experience the world with globally reach I think that’s where the excitement comes in. The brand of Les Benjamins is kind of an extension of him and luckily, he is always excited about stuff, so the brand has so much depth to it and continues to grow.
It is journey of discovery. Discovering cultures and having a vision. And putting these together and creating a melting pot of culture, comfort and photography…
Photography by Ozan Tezvaran