The designer toyed with the category in the past while at Trussardi, for example, and four years ago for his own B+ Umit Benan brand, striking a partnership with a Japanese manufacturer that never hit retail.
“They offer eyewear à la [Aristotle] Onassis, thick and chunky, and I’ve always appreciated their quality and design, even years ago when the few styles they had did not necessarily fit my personality,” Benan said in an interview.
Rather than forging a manufacturing tie-up, Benan proposed a full-fledged, four-handed partnership that required several Zoom meetings over two years to come to life.
The pair is debuting a co-branded collection of sunglasses and ready-to-wear in a creative swap that has seen Benan deploy his design chops and sense of style to create four frames, three of which are entirely new styles, while Jerome Mage toy with fringed cowboy tuxedos, cashmere overcoats with golden buttons and bolo ties.
Benan described the result as a trip “from Jackson to Naples” in that it combines Mage’s flair for western references with Benan’s penchant for Italian quality and lifestyle.
“The impetus for the project began as a provocative rhetorical question: ‘What if the French poet Jean Cocteau traveled to the American West to meet Native American rodeo rider and folk-hero Jackson Sundown?’” Mage said.
“It was kind of a conversation between two artists and designers…the encounter between a French guy working in Wyoming and a Turkish boy in Italy,” Benan said, referring to his and Mage’s backgrounds.
“For me, the collaborative road with other designers and artists is a true injection of creativity…the exchange of creativity can bring us forward,” he said.
The designer insisted the tie-up is no marketing trick but stemmed from mutual respect and appreciation as well as from his desire to unleash creativity that is sometimes choked by business needs and daily operations.
Benan revisited “Dealan,” a subdued rectangular frame, and introduced three new styles named “Caan,” “Hulya” and “Belize,” after the designer’s family members.
Each style — handcrafted in Japan from plant-based acetate and embellished with responsibly sourced precious metals and undyed turquoise stones — is available in three colorways.
The eyewear collection retails between $850 and $1,000, while ready-to-wear pieces, all available in a limited quantity of 25, range from $1,000 for pants and shirts to $10,000 for overcoats.
The lineup will debut on Jan. 13 on both brands’ e-commerce sites as well as at Jacques Marie Mage stores in Venice and Hollywood, California, and at select retailers.
A dedicated campaign by Boo George is fronted by Erin Wasson, the Texan model who shot to fame after opening the fall 2001 Gucci by Tom Ford show. She is seen dressed in head-to-toe Jacques Marie Mage and Umit Benan gear and accessories around Naples, mingling with locals.
“The concept is a Texan native traveling all the way to Naples, enjoying local dishes and having clothes made to measure according to western style,” Benan said.