André Benjamin, aka André 3000 of hip-hop duo Outkast, speaks to Khabi Mirza about swapping music for fashion with his Benjamin Bixby label.
What can we expect from your label, Benjamin Bixby?
There are two elements to the 70-piece range – a sporty side and a dress side with tailored styles. I had to reflect the way the stores buy into it. I love the dress side but the stores need items that people can buy into, so expect to see knits and polos. My favourite piece is a dark green duffel coat with wooden toggles because it fits so well.
Where did you get your inspiration for the collection?
I am a huge American football fan. The autumn comes, the leaves change colour
and fall, and I am at my happiest because the football season has returned. For a lot of the collection I looked back to the uniforms worn by college teams such as Notre Dame
and Michigan, which had a looser and more relaxed feel.
How did the collection come about?
It was an inch by inch process. It came about as so many people kept asking me where they could get hold of the things I wore in videos or on stage. The problem was that I designed all those pieces. I’ve always wanted to wear pieces that I couldn’t find.
How hands-on are you in the design process?
I have to be hands-on otherwise it wouldn’t be my collection. The toughest part was
not knowing the terminology involved in designing clothes. It’s hard to communicate what’s in my head without knowing that what I’m trying to describe is the placket on
a shirt, for example. But I’m learning fast.
What is the biggest distinction between fashion and music?
Fashion is 10 times harder to control. Unless I can draw, cut, and make patterns I am more limited than I am with music. With music, if I get a tune in my head I can pick up a guitar, work out the notes and get into a studio. The fashion process, from technical drawings to factory production, is new to me. We only have small orders and at the same time I have to make sure that everyone involved with the brand cares about it, from design to sales.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in putting the collection together?
I liken getting to grips with merchandising to a man who has never made music before, banging away and making lots of noise with a guitar. I didn’t even think about the science of selling a collection until our vice-president of design told me that I could design
what ever two pieces I liked, as long as I also created another six pieces that we could sell. Another piece of advice that I always stick to was given to me by the editor of US Vogue Anna Wintour, who told me that I have to always make sure I “stay consistent”.
What are you working on right now?
We’re preparing for autumn 09. I’ve just returned from Milano Unica, and tomorrow I’m travelling to Paris for Première Vision to select fabrics. Walking into Première Vision is like wading into a sea of fabrics. If you don’t have an idea of what you’re looking for it’s easy to get lost.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry what would it be?
I can’t make a difference to it but as a culture, US fashion is very safe. In Japan the buyers are far more adventurous. I just wish some buyers had more balls.
André Benjamin is a musician and the creator of premium menswear brand Benjamin Bixby
Who is your fashion icon and why?
I have a few – Sly Stone, whose style came from looking as otherworldly as possible. Fred Astaire, who was immaculate – he never appeared in a photograph unless
he looked perfect. Then I would say Jimi Hendrix, as he wasn’t polished, but the way he put a look together worked. I also love Slick Rick – he’d wear fur coats and an eye-patch. Finally, I’d say The Hives. They have a cool 1950s look.
Slick Rick and the hives
Most people can form a mental picture of Sly Stone, Fred Astaire and Jimi Hendrix. But Slick Rick is another story. Born in London’s South Wimbledon, Slick Rick moved to the Bronx in New York in 1975. He partnered up with Dana Dane to form hip-hop
duo Kangol Crew, and became famed for his fur coats and jewellery.
Swedish rock band The Hives rode the garage rock revival of the early 2000s. But, where many of their contemporaries opted for drainpipe jeans and Converse trainers, The Hives wore 1950s-inspired matching suits in black and white.