Each of the menswear spectacles that Umit Benan used to stage in Milan revolved around a contemporary male archetype: the hedge funder, the graffiti artist, the army grunt, and so on. Embodiments—some more ambiguous than others—of a type of hero. Benan relocated to Paris for his latest presentation, and there was no ambiguity about this archetype: the sports hero. Titled "Home Run," it was inspired by Jackie Robinson, the African-American who, in the forties, was the first player to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Benan was keen to point out that this wasn't just me-too opportunism, trailing in the footsteps of the movie 42, as well as several other recent projects which have highlighted racial injustices in U.S. history. Benan said he'd been absorbed by the story for at least four years, since he bought some photos from a vendor on New York's Houston Street of Robinson playing baseball in Cuba.
Besides, Benan's always been fascinated by the facts and fictions of male identity—his models were memorably masked in a couple of the Milan presentations. Here, they initially walked with baseball mitts held over their faces. That was Benan's comment on the racism that rendered black players invisible to the major leagues in the unenlightened era before Robinson came along. Insofar as it's possible to engage with political and social issues in a fashion collection, Benan has never shied away from making statements. He took the fact that his show was scheduled the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a sign. "God loves me," he said with a relieved laugh afterward.
Robinson was renowned for his elegance. Benan has always been a master tailor, so it was easy for him to capture the classic essence of the stylish legend's wardrobe: three-piece suits in houndstooth and tweed, with maybe a slight forties edge to the high-waisted, pleated, cropped, and cuffed pants, alongside a dressy take on the baseball theme. "How would Hermès have done a baseball shirt?" the designer asked himself. Not a bad yardstick to be using. Hermès has already shown a puffa jacket in croc this week. Benan's puffa in navy suede made a more accessible complement. Reversible varsity jackets were his new contribution to the canon of luxury menswear. They put the seal on what is probably Benan's real signature as a designer: his combination of dressy urbanity and masculine physicality.