Chris Benz has built a solid reputation for himself as a designer who can take specific historical points of reference (say, a thirties starlet or an old French woman) and make them thoroughly apropos for today's girls-about-town. In the past, his specific brand of quirk has been love-it-or-hate-it, but a crowd-pleasing Spring collection should win him a broader fan base.
"I looked at Revolutionary War-era dressing," the young designer said, "but interpreted it in supermodern fabrics." There were a number of military jackets, sure, but done up in slub linen with an abstract chrysanthemum print and the muted-bright palette that's become a signature. Benz deserves props for his measured approach to femininity. A silk T-shirt dress with tiers of ruffles could have gone very wrong, but in his hands it looked very right. And while a parade of ripped and rumpled low-slung pants worn with boxer shorts felt forced, slouchy burlap engineer pants and silk two-toned trousers hit the nail on the head.
Instead of showing his clothes in tableaux vivants, as he has in the past, Benz mounted a full-on runway show at the 37 Arts off-Broadway theater. Though less atmospheric than his past venueslike the New York Yacht Clubit was also less of a precious gesture. An elaborate whitewashed and drip-painted structure of found objects ("this, like, temple thing we put together," Benz semi-explained) was the only set, leaving the audience to appreciate the clothes on their own terms.