Chris Benz Q&A

By Nancy Macdonell

With his penchant for classic American sportswear, his gentlemanly manners and his coterie of well-bred friends — Elettra Wiedemann, the model/grad student is his muse — Chris Benz is a designer who evokes a courtlier time. He likes to sift through his grandmother’s attic for inspiration and he recently traded in an old photo booth for a digital camera, but as Benz acknowledges with a sigh, “it’s not the same.” Even the lipstick color he created for Lancôme, the hotly anticipated Chris and Tell, due out next month, is a “Mad Men”-era peach.

It’s January — any New Year’s resolutions?
Well, I just started working out. It’s something that I swore I would never do, but then I turned 27 and I thought, O.K., this is the end of my 20s — I don’t want to be 30 and still have my skinny boy body.

What’s your workout look?

I like to keep it simple: a white T-shirt and tank top, Adidas shorts and New Balance tennis shoes.

That sounds fairly subdued, considering you like to encourage women to wear color.

Definitely! Though it’s a difficult thing, I’ve come to learn. I’ll do a trunk show and there will be a blond lady who only wears black and I’ll say, “Try this yellow dress.” And she’ll say, “No, I only wear black, I look terrible in yellow.’’ And then she’ll try it on and her husband’s eyes will shoot out of his head. It’s a slow process, to encourage people to wear color. But that’s O.K. Just try it.

You recently moved into a new studio space, but you didn’t bring along your famous photo booth.
It was getting to be a bit of an albatross. It broke down. There was only one company in the tristate area that sold them and serviced them, and it closed. So it was just sitting there, all 2,000 pounds of it. We ended up begging this guy in Pennsylvania to take it. At first he didn’t want to, because he said it was worth so much money. We were like, “Just take it!”

Speaking of ’70s TV icons, you’ve said that Carol Burnett is one of your inspirations. Please explain.
I love her! I remember watching “The Carol Burnett Show” with my parents as a kid. All those weird outfits she wore, like turtlenecks and long skirts, really stayed in my head. I love that she’s kind of goofy and dorky. I actually have a lot of women like that that I love: Phyllis Diller, Elizabeth Taylor, Lily Tomlin. When I was 7 or 8, I wrote fan letters to all of them and I got back personally signed photographs. Except Elizabeth Taylor’s — hers wasn’t personally signed, it was a copy. So I kind of went off her, though I do follow her on Twitter.

Elizabeth Taylor Twitters?
Yeah, she’ll be like, “I’m going in for open-heart surgery, pray for me.”

I know!

© by T Magazine

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