Umit Benan: The Family Man - Features - Fashion - The Independent

Umit Benan: The Family Man

Umit Benan’s inspired creations are making waves at the menswear shows. But the designer’s biggest influence is his clothing manufacturer father, he tells Rebecca Gonsalves

If all had gone to plan, Umit Benan Sahin would be working in Hollywood now. As a teenager, The Stuttgart-born, Istanbul-raised designer had high hopes of moving to Los Angeles and getting involved in the film industry. “I was obsessed by the movie business, the LA lifestyle, acting,” says Benan, when we meet on his recent trip to London. Having attended summer school in the city in his teens, Benan had his heart set on continuing his studies there, but his parents had other ideas. “My family wouldn’t let me – I don’t think they would have trusted me enough. My brother was two years older than me, so they sent me where he was. It’s always been like that: ‘Your older brother will take care of you, keep you out of trouble.’ He was the good boy and I was the mess – well, kind of.”

Benan’s brother was living in Boston at the time, so this was where he, too, ended up. But rather than thinking about what could have been, he is pragmatic about it, trusting the instincts of his parents, to whom he is very close. “I don’t feel like I missed out because I don’t know what I missed. I don’t know what I could have become.”

Being in Boston allowed him to stay connected to the family that both inspires him and keeps him grounded. “At one point, I had to decide what I wanted to become. I didn’t want to continue studying [marketing] so I started thinking about fashion.”

Benan began following his “idol” father’s footsteps into the fashion industry with a masters degree in fashion design from the Marangoni Institute in Milan, styling courses at Central Saint Martins in London and time spent on the job at his father’s clothing manufacturing business in Turkey. Later, Benan returned to the US to study pattern-making at Parsons The New School for Design in New York.

"It’s always been planned that we would go back to the family business,” says Benan, of his parents’ expectations of him and his brother. “We didn’t, but we created another family business. It’s all the same, just in a different department. My father has always been in production, never creating – he taught me all my life. But the production part couldn’t satisfy me in the long run. Maybe I had more ego, but I really believed in creating something new, not working for other people.”

Since he graduated, Benan has had his share of taking orders – working for designers in New York, including Marc Jacobs, and Milan, where he settled in 2006 before launching his eponymous menswear line three years later. His second collection caught the attention of many in the industry, winning Benan the 2009 edition of “Who’s on Next?”, which celebrates emerging Italian-based fashion talent.

Looks from the spring/summer 14 catwalk Looks from the spring/summer 14 catwalk In June 2011, the buzz around Benan amplified further when he was appointed to design men’s and womenswear for Italian house Trussardi which, though founded in 1911 as a glove manufacturer, was expanded in the 1970s to include accessories, luggage and apparel.

An important domestic brand in Italy, Trussardi has not managed to match the ascent to the international stage of rivals such as Gucci and Prada. During his two-year tenure at the house, Benan’s collections met with somewhat mixed reviews, but he seemed to be hitting his stride when his departure was announced, days after he showed a womenswear collection in February 2013. The designer published the news on Twitter, pipping the official announcement to the post and committing a final act of rebellion. “Of course I had a sign [that it was happening],” says Benan, about the speculation that swirled around the news. “I knew three months before. The reality was that it was going really well in one part – and in the other it wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t my family business, it wasn’t personal. When I signed the contract, I was so happy, because there was huge potential for the company, but I had to fight for every decision.”

Umit Benan's vision for autumn/winter 13 Umit Benan's vision for autumn/winter 13 His ingrained pragmatism came back in to play: “It didn’t make sense – if you block every decision, it means you know what you want, and if you know what you want, you should just do it. I didn’t want to fight for every single piece or image. It became very unhealthy for me – in the mind and physically. When I left, I thought I would feel weird for a while, but after just 10 days, there was a sense of peace.”

While Benan tries to remain discreet about his experience at Trussardi, it has clearly made him wary of selling a stake in his business and losing control again. “Control of my name is very important,” he says. “I’ve had some offers but they’ve never satisfied that feeling of trust. It’s about the dream – you can make the dream come true together but I can’t hand over my dream.”

So now that he answers only to himself, Benan has focused on his collection with renewed vigour. “It’s not a bad thing, but I feel like I’ve messed up a little in the past. The show went on, but I lost contact with myself, but now I have the time and the mind to refocus. It’s a very fine line – it became a job but it should never become just a job.” Later this week, he will show his vision for autumn/winter 14, moving from Milan to show in Paris for the first time.

While Benan’s teenage dreams of directing  films may have been thwarted, they have manifested in another way – with the sense of narrative that he creates for his collections. “It’s the most important thing. It’s how I start. Maybe it’s my obsession with movies, but when I start a collection, I never start sketching pants or jackets. I always have in mind what I’m trying to present, what story I’m trying to tell. I create a scene first, then I find the people that will go in the scene, and then I start sketching for them.”

When designing, Benan focuses on the past, adding a sense of the present for balance. “The future is fake, I feel, very fake, but the past is real, nostalgic and honest. That’s what you can see in my work – there is a story behind it. When I present someone, he has lived something. I like older things and older people.”

It’s a philosophy, however, that he leaves in the studio. “I don’t think I’ve ever lived in the present, I’m only thinking about the future.” As to the future of his company, Benan doubts it will become a dynasty, but has a sense it will “die with me”.

Whatever the next step for his career, he knows that he will always have support from his family, most importantly from his father, whom he still cites as his biggest fashion influence. “He was obsessed about quality, fashion, production. He would take me to Switzerland for a day shopping, and he would explain everything he tried on. I remember sitting and just watching him – I’ve always watched him, and I’ve always tried to please him, even today.”

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week