From Designing Luxury Streetwear to Decorating a Plane, This is Les Benjamins
If you’ve ever thought about a power couple, the team at Les Benjamins might come to mind. Let me introduce Bunyamin Aydin and Lamia AlOtaishan Aydin, the duo behind Istanbul’s most exciting label.
Celebrating its 10-year-anniversary, Les Benjamins has had a journey that is far from ordinary. Going back to childhood, founder Bunyamin Aydin was immersed in fashion from a young age, traveling with his mother in search of new boutique goodies and jumping into trade fairs with his father to research new fabrics. “My dream was always to be a designer. I was always really inspired by Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, it felt like they were ahead of their time and I felt that,” the designer tells me on a Zoom call from his Istanbul home. “I always followed what Hiroshi Fujiwara did for Japan, and I thought I could do the same for Turkey.”
Les Benjamins wants to represent the East and the deep cultural roots that lie within it, this is why the brand is always in constant evolution. “It started off just designing sweats, T-shirts and hoodies, but our identity is always evolving because we are also evolving as designers. Back then I used to say ‘East Meets West’, but what does East mean? What does the Middle East stand for?” The brand is bringing a new perspective of ‘East’ to westernised fashion – its unique design style and cultural motifs have become recognisable, and Anatolian carpet patterns are a signature.
Lamia AlOtaishan Aydin joined as Les Benjamins’ head of womenswear in 2018, coming from a fashion background herself. The couple makes the perfect luxury streetwear pairing and design collections side-by-side. She mentions how the brand slogan quickly changed to ‘East Now’ and embodies the brand’s DNA and aesthetic. “East doesn’t mean just Turkey or the Middle East or the Far East, it’s all of it. We want to translate stories from history and cultures into fashion,” says Lamia.
Streetwear isn’t all that the 10-year-old label has to offer. The brand has collaborations with the likes of Coca-Cola, Puma and Hennessy under its belt. This summer, the pair even designed Turkish Olympic uniforms. Nike approached Bunyamin two years ago, asking him to design the country’s kit for the 2020 Olympic Games. “I got to meet athletes from different disciplines and I got to hear what they do and don’t like about the jersey,” he says. Inspired by Turkish Anatolian rugs, the design consists of four combined logos, each holding different meanings: unity, creativity, diversity and authenticity, “This is what I wanted to give to the next generations and to inspire the creatives of Turkey,” says Bunyamin. Globally broadcasted uniforms aren’t all. The founder was tapped to design Turkey’s Olympic plane just a week before its departure. “I received a phone call asking me to design an airbus that’s gonna take our athletes to Tokyo. It’s not every day that you receive a phone call to design a plane. Designing these things for my country was a huge honour,” he proudly states.
Les Benjamins intertwines culture and emotion into everything that it does, and its AW21 collection is an ideal reflection. Dubbed Forgotten Pacenotes, the collection and emotional catwalk show paid tribute to Turkey’s legendary rally culture. “There was and still is a huge rally community in Turkey that a lot of people don’t know about. I wanted to bring it back and educate people,” he says. The designers took Turkish rally icons Renç Koçibey, Ali Sipahi and Serdar Bostanci as muses for the collection, aiming to bring a streetwear twist to old uniform aesthetics. The show took place in Belgrad Forest, where the country’s first rallies were held decades ago. “You always think about the pilot when you look at racing, but you never think about the co-pilots. They are taking pacenotes during the race, I called it Forgotten Pacenotes to pay homage to them,” Bunyamin says.
Aydin met Turkish rally star Serdar Bostanci during his research time and they instantly hit it off. “He brought his cars and decided to race them for my runway.” Serdar opened the show, driving beside his son in vintage yellow and white sports cars, making for a heart-warming entrance. “There’s always an element of emotion or romance in our shows, even with the names,” mentions Lamia.
Les Benjamins’s classic mix between sleek tailoring and street silhouettes are maintained across the collection, translated with a variety of experimental fabrics and earthy hues with popping dashes of colour. Distressed carpet jacquard, car-printed denim, race-inspired coach jackets and vegetal leather branded suits are showcased throughout the co-ed offering. “I designed a curve-cut leather jacket that comes from the design of the jackets that were worn during racing. Our pieces are more feminine and tailored for women, for men it’s more relaxed, we need to have that balance,” adds Lamia.
The duo shows no signs of slowing down. From teasing new categories including fragrance and home goods to another flagship store opening soon, you can only expect the unexpected from Les Benjamins.