Yes, he was born in Istanbul, but that's not why Umit Benan comes at fashion with such a fiercely outsider point of view. He thinks so long and hard about what he does—and why he does it—that his collections (and his shows) end up loaded with the kind of revelatory backstory you'd usually get from a celluloid auteur rather than a fashion designer. Today's presentation took that approach to new depths of intimacy. When the curtain parted, there were eight beds, eight couples, each of them acting out a morning ritual: reading papers, rubbing a lover's back, bickering, till the man hauled himself up, dressed, and left his partner alone in bed. A conventional fashion show was also integrated into this tableau, but at show's end, one of the women got up and put on some clothes that clearly belonged to her beau. There was some other crowd-pleasing horseplay with a boxer-clad Benan springing from beneath a duvet at the last minute to join the final bow, but the major point being made was clearly one that transcended gender to focus on the fluid pleasures of clothing. (Curiously, it was akin to the position that Miuccia Prada took with her show last night.)
"I once loved a woman who loves menswear" was the title Benan gave his collection. It was a theme painfully torn from the pages of his own life. It was also the starting point for a meditation on men, women, and the stuff they wear that parts them or brings them together. Benan was, for instance, brooding on the iconic French singer Françoise Hardy, who has never not dressed like a man. He was also curious about how a woman's relationship with her father is reflected in her attitude to clothes. OK, let's get a grip here. That is Umit Benan as a producer, a choreographer of "real" life. How did he do as a designer?
Well, this was the most complete wardrobe he has so far created, and it was filled with items that underscored his impeccable instincts as a man making clothes for men. The cut of Benan's jackets, for instance, gratifyingly broad across the shoulders, their accompanying trousers generous but not overtly exaggerated in cut. And his facility with color, which was really brought home with the way that leather was used. The safari jacket, the striped knits, the silk hoodie…it was not hard to picture Benan checking boxes as he composed this collection. But what ultimately elevated it—more than the emotional context he'd created—was instinct. The designer had done one of his usual real-people castings, so it was easy to see how an ordinary guy would relate to these clothes. The inspiration might have been a breakup, but the catwalk was all about getting together.