With his hot-pink hair and quippy, affable personality, Chris Benz is the kind of young designer who generates a lot of good will. He takes a great picture and provides a pithy sound bite, which editors love. Bon Appétit is hosting his 30th birthday party tonight, for example. Yet like many of his peers, Benz has found that good looks and wit do not a business make. Five years after launching in the designer market, with the average dress priced around $1,295, Benz is adjusting his attitude. His spring collection, which he presents today, will be repositioned at the contemporary — or upper contemporary, as the industry has taken to calling it — price point.
“The feedback we get is that so many people love it, but they can’t afford it,” said Benz at his 36th Street studio. “I really didn’t like the idea of dividing out the collection. It’s been suggested that we do a jersey capsule and some simple pieces to merchandise back to. But I didn’t want to simplify it, I wanted to make it more accessible.” Benz went out on his own after graduating from Parsons The New School for Design and, in short order, interned at Marc Jacobs and clocked time on Mickey Drexler’s watch at J. Crew, then decided he was ready to be his own boss and shoot for the big leagues. When he made the introductory rounds to editorial offices, it was with a trunk full of cashmeres he produced with Loro Piana. “That was a different time,” said Benz. “Now the customer is going into a designer boutique and buying a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, sparkly top and a dress.”
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