Fashion designer and social media’s pink-haired darling Chris Benz is not an unusual choice for reviving the American legendary name in fashion, Bill Blass. The former CFDA fashion fund winner and founder of his eponymous line received a call in October 2014 from Blass’ president Stuart M. Goldblatt when he least expected it. “After seven years of running my own label I decided to put my collection to bed so to speak,” Benz reveals. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular when I got a call from Stuart. I thought to myself, ‘He probably wants me to quickly scrap together a collection for Fashion Week, which is so exhausting,” he recalls. “But Stuart, an industry veteran, said he was ‘rethinking the way that fashion brands operate,’ and I would have plenty of time to work on designing and strategizing,” he says.
The strikingly handsome designer with a Cheshire smile, who is now sporting brown hair, was not only singled out for his design sense. His social media followers’ count is almost 200,000, and for a brand that will launch entirely on e-commerce, this is of prime significance. With Twitter comments like “Everyone who watched Sesame Street in the ‘80s has moved to Brooklyn,” and, “A UPS truck is the adult version of an ice cream truck,” it is clear his quirky sense of humor keeps people following.
“We are thinking of Bill Blass in the way that we would have hoped Mr. Blass himself would have. He had a direct dial to customers with this trunk shows,” he says, making the connection between himself and the legendary designer. We want to give our customer special products on an ongoing basis and we want to hear from them. Many e-commerce sites are built on a typical structured format, but we are developing the whole web experience from scratch. We’ll have a constant flow of content and products and be able to remerchandise easily to give our customer the best online shopping experience,” Benz says.
“Bill Blass was about a woman who was aristocratic, off- beat, independent with a bit of tongue-in-cheek,” he declares. “The way I see her now is all of those things, plus she’s on a plane—she uses a mobile—and she buys pieces that are spirited, but [versatile]. I see a lot of humor and cool attitude in the way woman are in real life, which I don’t see conveyed in the fashion world. Fashion is either dark and stoic or too high glamour. I think there is a cool way to speak to our consumer and make clothing that is witty and sophisticated. At Bill Blass it’s all about cool, comfortable American chic,” he says.
“My role here is different than when I headed my own label where I had to do everything from fixing someone’s mouse to remerchandising the line. Now I can flex my muscles in a way that is the most creative and put my best talents to work,” says Benz, who oversees all social media, marketing, PR and of course design. It’s the 360-degree approach minus all the boring stuff like shipping,” he says. His days revolve around the November launch of the site. For now it’s all work all the time, but it’s definitely a labor of love. Haute Living talked to this socially-connected fashion aggregator about his typical day.
6:00AM I get up early to take my dog Rudy out for a walk— he’s 85 pounds of muscle. I get coffee at Brooklyn Roasting Company and get a kick out of seeing the mopey customers sitting around waiting for their coffee. I drive to my office on 27th Street in my black Fiat, which sets my day on the fast track. [My team and I] sometimes think of Bill Blass and Fiat similarly—we are both iconic brands that have relaunched, or are getting ready to. It takes fresh, forward-thinking ideas to bring them to life.
8:30AM Starting a new label—we think of it as new—is a Herculean task, so I have to make sure that everything from social media to design has a consistent personality and attitude. To that end, my days are filled with meetings to assure each area of the company is on-point. When I arrive, I get my schedule from my assistant Nicolette and check-in with the different departments—handbags, shoes, and ready-to-wear—then meet with Stuart about PR and marketing. He has a countdown calendar in his office and as we cross off the days [until the launch], the intensity and excitement increases.
12:00PM: I almost never leave the office for lunch—we’re always hammering through design meetings, so we order a team lunch from Café 28 on Seamless. For now I keep focused on the November launch and designing future collections.
One of the first things I did when I accepted the job was to pull my favorite pieces out of the Bill Blass archives and dress the showroom mannequins in the most modern looks in line with what I wanted to do. The funny thing is that so much of what is in the archives are understandable and simple silhouettes, with beading and fabrications the clear star. I took this idea and brought it out in my designs. It’s about establishing a very specific look and proportion to the clothing, and isolating that perfect cashmere T-shirt or boy blazer, for example. Women want to feel pulled together, but not rigged up!
6:00PM I drive home after I get my car from its street parking spot, all the while thinking about the next day and the impending launch. I almost always eat at Saraghina in Bedford Stuyvesant, the epicenter of Brooklyn-cool.
Photographs Weston Wells