After navigating the highs and lows of managing both the commercial and creative sides of a brand, and some spiritual soul-searching, Umit Benan seems to have a found a sweet spot: a see-now-buy-now collection available only on his web site.
Greeting guests at his Milan headquarters — lit cigar in hand, while waiters proffered trays of Bloody Marys — the designer said he’d been reflecting on “the controversial character of the black Muslim.” The starting point for his collection, titled “God Is Black, Part 1,” was seeing a Taqiyah (a Muslim skullcap) that his mother had crocheted that triggered memories of his time living in the Bronx, and “seeing African-American guys coming out of the mosque in their caftans — very stylish.”
Benan also looked to icons including Martin Luther King Jr., Denzel Washington in “Training Day” and Tupac Shakur. The most direct tribute there could be felt in the Tupac-style bandannas and a silk paisley shirt, based on the late rapper’s look.
Benan’s signature bohemian aristocrat protagonist still hogged the limelight, though, with a strong loungewear mood coming through in a series of silk pajamas — including a lovely pink pair — and soft Fifties-style shirts. A recent trip to Cuba inspired the coffee browns and soft blues, and a striped linen with blue metallic thread was based on a wallpaper he saw on a recent trip to the country.
The soft-pink corduroy basics and shorts and sweatshirts in hand-dyed Japanese cotton also telegraphed an easy summer mood in a collection reflective of Benan’s singular grasp on culture and style.