It's been a year of change for Umit Benan. In February he split with the house of Trussardi, making little attempt to hide the frustrations he'd encountered when trying to adapt the luxury Italian house. Questions have be flying around since about where this talented designer will go next - what could be the right fit for such a dynamic, emotional young man? It's natural then that Benan was also doing some soul searching and considering what he stands for and what's important to him.
Benan was going back to his childhood for S/S 14 by exploring Turkey and his native town of Istanbul. It's a tough time there now, a moment when freedom of expression and free speech are being questioned. Benan was riffing on these themes in his own way by exploring the culture of the 'meyhane', a place where men would go to socialise, listen to music and debate. The men that frequent these meeting places - usually older, upper class gentlemen - were reflected on the catwalk, their faces in the masks that disguised each model, and their natural elegance and ease in the clothes. The focus of the collection seemed to be simplicity and authenticity. It showed Benan's nostalgia for a time when men dressed in a 'masculine' way; only for themselves and for comfort. So, all unnecessary decorations were stripped away, leaving only solid, good pieces like bombers, field jackets and ankle-crop tailored trouser in a musty, rich palette of burgundy, olive and khaki. Remnants of traditional dress were also present in the caftans and three-piece suits. All the clothes had a well-worn feel, and the air of having been put on day after day after day. The message; Benan's clothes are made to be lived in.
Theatre is always important to Benan's work. Cynics may dub it attention-seeking, but in a city like Milan where new talent is rare, designers have to do what they can to make a splash. For S/S 14 Benan had enlisted the help of a Turkish band to set the mood. When he was at Trussardi you got the sense that Benan was using his own shows to let off stream, hence the riotous nature of his last two presentations. This collection seemed more sombre and subdued, perhaps even more considered - a firm contrast from the fun and frivolity of his A/W 13 graffiti-themed presentation. There was a melancholy to this collection. You got the sense that this was his most personal work to date. But then that makes sense, Benan has a lot in common with those 'meyhane' men - creative freedom and the chance to let his voice be heard is all he really wants.