Turkish law gives Umit Benan another seven years, at which time he'll turn 38, to complete his compulsory military service. Right now, that's not such a pressure. Still, Benan has seen his friends honor their obligation—and he's noted the positive effect it had on them. It's typical of him that he would turn that awareness into a fashion rumination on the military. A soldier's uniform is the genesis of the suit that we recognize today as the staple of a man's wardrobe, and the suit has been the staple of this season in Milan. Benan's evocation of the uniform's military context was a timely reminder of the suit's roots.
But he is a man who is absorbed by the bigger picture, so he cast his show in the context of young soldiers preparing themselves to return home the day after a truce is declared. It was a theatrical conceit, and it was as stunningly, audaciously realized as the kind of production that would drive critics wild off-Broadway: male nudity, actual on-stage tattooing, and all.
Benan is a multiple threat. He doesn't just design a collection, he agonizes over how he wants the world to be introduced to his concept. So he stages his show as well, handpicking a cast of "real" men who are as far from your standard model offering as it's possible to get. It's almost ridiculous that such an idea should be novel in the fashion industry, but Miuccia Prada galvanized her audience by employing the same trick last night. And, like her, Benan zeroed in on character. His show used 15 distinct scenarios, each of which refracted an element of military tailoring to produce clothes that looked absolutely right for civilians. The paratrooper suit recut in a cashmere plaid, for instance, or the army green jacket with bellows pockets, or a khaki cutaway with brown leather sleeves.
Everything was distinguished by precision of cut and—it should be said—the military inspiration was not so oppressive as to create a downbeat mood. In fact, Benan said he'd been inspired by the Police Academy version of a closed male society. We could save his dignity and make that Inglourious Basterds. Either way, this show was a huge step forward for the designer, and a startling counterpoint to his retro romp for Trussardi the other day.