Designer's Journal: Chris Benz Prepares for Fashion Week

Chris Benz
A raffish Chris Benz with his Spring 2008 collection. Photo: Getty Images

We know what we go through getting ready for Fashion Week — the frantic calls, the faxes, the begging and pleading for access. If it’s this insane for us, what must the designers go through? So we asked up-and-comer Chris Benz to keep a pre—Fashion Week diary of the chaos, the caffeine runs, the status of the candy-colored raccoon collars, and more. Feel the pressure!

(Plus: See where Chris Benz works! Watch a video tour of his studio on the eve of Fashion Week.)

Monday, January 7
The office is abuzz: a flurry of fabric-cutting, color, buttons flying, and packages being compiled to be sent via intern to our garment-district factories. Almost all samples for the fall 2008 collection are now in the sewers’ hands. A few straggler Italian fabrications have yet to clear customs, so for those we sit with scissors spread.

Number of completed samples in house: 42

Tuesday, January 8
A marathon fitting begins at 9 a.m. These are everyone’s favorite days — where the collection really comes together. Notes taken, fitting complete, and with changes and corrections in hand, the patterns go back into the oven.

At 3:15 p.m. I have to run out to approve silk flower buds in the Flatiron district. No cabs, of course. Only seventeen blocks away, and I did just download the Sweeney Todd soundtrack. I group the flowers into posies and think, Wait, weren’t posies the little bouquets girls used to carry around during the bubonic plague to hold over their noses so the smell of the dead bodies wouldn’t overwhelm them? Very Sweeney Todd.

Number of completed samples in house: 53

Wednesday, January 9
At the studio, much of the same. Today is a major iced-coffee-IV day pursuant to a mildly late night at the Beatrice Inn. Again, a flurry of samples in and out of the studio.

Number of completed samples in house: 68

Thursday, January 10
Today, three sweater samples arrive. For fall, we are doing half Italian cashmere, half Irish Shetland wool. I love a scratchy wool sweater — like the ones your grandmother used to wear and stick her tissue in the cuff of. The cashmere pieces will act as underpinnings for the Shetland — knits on knits on knits!

David, our casting director for the show models (and my Parsons-era roommate), stops in to preview the collection. He twirls around the showroom and gives his approval. “Major,” he says. I sit down in my office for what seems like seven minutes, and snap it’s 3:45. I grab my tote and boy blazer and I’m off to Glamour! I meet with the editorial team in their conference room and style two looks for an upcoming shoot.

Number of completed samples in house: 74

Friday, January 11
I arrive in the studio at 9:35 a.m. and call our garment dyer, Mona. She has been in Hong Kong and Thailand for the past few weeks, and I have been stalking her on an international level. Finally, she is back in New York, and we make a date for Monday to pick up samples for dyeing.

Our Manolo Blahnik shoe collection is being made in Italy this week. I run up to their office in midtown to review some substitution materials with their team and arrive to find the first sample. I now have one half-pair out of eighteen pairs for the show.

The trek from 54th Street to 38th Street is a bit convoluted, so again I opt for a quick walk.
It starts to pour rain, but I’m right by that Army-Navy shop on Eighth Avenue that I’ve been meaning to check out. I pick up a creepy pair of all-white formal marine oxfords. They are kind of amazing, yet akin to the sensation of wearing wooden clogs. I leave them in the studio and change back into my white Chucks.

Completed samples in house: 76

Saturday, January 12
I realize that the studio needs to be rearranged: I move the sewing machines, clear off the twelve-foot cutting table, and decide that there is nowhere to put anything — a major offense for those of us who were born into the acute trifecta of Wasp, Virgo, and Montessori preschool. So, I order two shelving units and my blood pressure lowers from jack-in-the-box to mild fright.

Completed samples in house: 76

Sunday, January 13
I hit up the indoor flea market at 24th Street and Sixth Avenue. I remember the old outdoor Chelsea flea market that was magical, where there now stands a mammoth, plasticine condominium like a giant elephant foot. I careen through the flea market, fruitless, and head back down Seventh Avenue toward an open house on 16th Street. I treat the Sunday open-house schedule like a sports fan treats the football lineup.

Completed samples in house: 76

Monday and Tuesday, January 14 and 15
Mona comes to pick up the pre-dyed samples. I review color standards with her and let them go. They’ll be back in a week and we shall see. By 1 p.m. all of the samples are officially in work. This is very good. With 21 days until the show, there is a lot of time for tweaking and styling.

I spend most of these two days working with the production team on fabric yields, style numbers, and trim notes for the new collection. Not only does the physical collection have to be completed by showtime, but so does costing, line sheets, and hangtags. It’s a tornado of coordination! Two more sweater samples arrive.

Completed samples in house: 79

Wednesday, January 16
We continue to setting up the showroom with the fall collection — more and more pieces are arriving each day. Today our candy-colored raccoon collars will be ready for pickup as well as our funny candlestick-shaped velour chapeaus.

I have an iced coffee for lunch, and a couple more sweaters arrive as I’m running out. I’m going to a Chanel event at the Plaza Hotel tonight and will wear my black peak-lapel suit, dove-gray rumpled shirt, and black chiffon ruffle collar. Very Chanel.

Completed samples in house: 82

Thursday, January 17
Mona’s father, who is adorable, Chinese, and cannot speak a word of English, drops in at 12:33 p.m. with lab dips for the garment-dyed pieces. We struggle through swatch selection, and I think/hope he understood that the yellow needed to be at least 10 percent more green and that the mauve needed about 25 percent less red.

At 5 p.m., my publicist calls to say that Vogue would like to preview the collection next week at their office. I always feel like an antebellum elixir salesman or a Tibetan Sherpa, checking into the Condé Nast building with my ten garment bags of the next year’s collection!

Completed samples in house: 85

Friday, January 18
By now we are only waiting on a few samples that are taking extra time to be sewn. The showroom is looking beautiful. If only the shoes would arrive! They are scheduled to get here two days prior to the show, which is frightening, but somehow shoes always work out. We have our collective fingers crossed.

Completed samples in house: 88

Saturday and Sunday, January 19 and 20
I spend the entire weekend at the studio on a loop, cleaning, rearranging the showroom, reorganizing the studio, and generally preparing for the whirlwind of Fashion Week. I hit the 24-hour doughnut stand on Eighth and 36th (held in high regard by all in the garment district) a few times. It’s Antarctica outside, and I wear my grandmother’s goat-fur coat out of necessity. Somehow with it this cold outside it seems less outrageous.

Completed samples in house: 88

Monday, January 21
The raccoon hats arrive at 10:15. They are hilarious — very Fred Flintstone at the Loyal Order of the Buffalo meetings, minus the horns. Production has taken over the showroom for the day, working out the details of each style from the new collection. Every bit of thread, detail, piping, lining, and button must be taken into account. I do my rounds to the factories around noon and grab six more samples. The cleaning crew arrives at three to give the office an overhaul before the madness. By 6:15 they’re done, with nary a chiffon-thread dust bunny hiding in the farthest corner of the studio. It’s all coming together now. No looking back!

Completed samples in house: 94