Growing up in a small town in Germany, Bunyamin Aydin, the grandson of Turkish immigrants, said he felt like he never fit in.
Ten years ago, at the age of 21, he launched his brand, Les Benjamins, in Istanbul. “Even going back there, I was seen as an outsider.” That struggle with identity and acceptance fueled his entire hybrid design philosophy. “I realized after many years, this duality is my DNA. I don’t need to be accepted in any one place.”
Les Benjamins captures Eastern heritage in a modern, street style-inspired brand, a product of his own obsession with fitting in. His clothes merge culture and comfort through textures and digital prints that are inspired by his heritage. “For me, the East is the nostalgia. The West is my tools. There is always this tension between East and West, even when you look at East Berlin versus West, the East Side of New York compared to the West,” Aydin said.
This month, the 32-year-old opens the doors to his first flagship store outside of Istanbul. Situated in one of the world’s busiest malls, next to Hermès, his new location blends those two worlds while also incorporating the subcultures that have inspired him.
The store’s hallmark is its sand-colored pillars and archways, an ode to old Istanbul. “I wanted to give a nod to our heritage, but in a contemporary setting, so we used concrete to connect with steel, giving it a balance between old and new. It’s about the juxtaposition of both ideas,” Aydin said. At the center is a community table, which can be used as a coworking space or to host talks and roundtable discussions. There is also a turntable with a selection from Aydin’s personal vinyl collection and a sound set up designed by Devon Ojas.
Aydin commissioned architect Dong-Ping Wong of Food New York, who also did Yeezy’s Calabasas, Calif., studio, to bring his vision to life. “Les Benjamins Dubai is about contrasts: old and new, open and intimate, gleaming and earthen. We used a traditional plaster technique most directly seen around the souks and structures of Old Dubai to balance out the classic luxury, glossy materials of both the mall and new Dubai as a whole,” Dong said. “It’s a material with history, depth and texture, interspersed with reflective, graphic and neon details.”
Aydin sees his retail stores as meeting places. The designer has spent more than a decade building his creative community. Their stories, cultures, traditions and rituals have been his central inspiration, he said. “For me, Les Benjamins represents creatives with an Eastern background all around the world.” He describes his community as “DJs, rappers, people into skate culture, basketball culture, hip-hop culture, but within that if you go more niche, it’s Turkish hip-hop culture. I’m actually collecting vinyls right now from Turkish, young, hip-hop artists.”
After successful international collaborations with Nike and Puma under his belt, as well as dressing celebrities from Justin Bieber to Jay-Z, Aydin is very focused on growing and supporting his community. “There was time when I was obsessed with dressing celebrities. And while that is still a huge honor, now I would say I’m very focused on my niche. I know the subculture that influences and inspires me and I also want to contribute and grow that.”
Les Benjamins is expanding existing categories and moving into new ones. Aydin’s wife, Lamia AlOtaishan Aydin, is his creative collaborator, leading women’s wear as well as designing handbags and small leather goods, which are debuting in the Dubai flagship. Dubai will also have a multibrand sneaker area and kids’ wear.
Aydin, who also maintains a home in Dubai, said it’s been a natural extension for the brand to have their first global flagship store here. “We’ve always had a warm welcome from the region, especially as we’re unified in our vision of spreading a progressive Eastern movement. I’m always interested in amplifying the voices of the youth in the Middle East.”
Asked about his growth in Western markets, Aydin said he is eager to increase his footprint. During Art Basel in Miami, the brand hosted a successful pop-up at the The Webster. “I love unfolding stories from the East that are untold and redefining culture by moving it forward. It’s like giving an update on culture. I feel like designers from the East are misunderstood.”