A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend an intimate evening at the home/studio of Clark Sabbat and Lynn Levoy, the designers behind Friends with Benefits.
When I asked about the interesting name, Sabbat shares that the label was created with the intention to collaborate with their friends. They eventually would like to create a lifestyle brand that also benefits others by donating a percentage of the profits to select charities. They also liked the other connotation that it is a little sexy because every woman wants to look a little sexy. I mention the movie with the same title and they groan a little because their name was long existing before the movie ever came into being.
Sabbat states that in some ways he like Rick Owens and Haider Ackermann is a student of Madame Gres. He loves drape and 90% of the collection is created through draping and working with the fabrics and simplicity. His background in architecture also plays a key in the clean and sculptural lines. For this reason the designer does not use any buttons in the collection as they are a distraction but instead rely on invisible zipper and snaps as the closures on all pieces.
When talking about why he made the transition from architecture to clothing he shares that it is about instant gratification. Buildings take years to create and the most successful architects are now in their nineties. With fashion you can come up with a new idea and make the dress within the same day. I got a sneak peek at some of some of the designs in progress for Friends with Benefits. The wall is full of inspiration and although there are some design sketches they are only a jumping off point for the designs as they develop.
With the collection the intention is to make clothes that make it easy for women. Clothes that take you from day to night, clothes that can be comfortable and yet still professional. And surprisingly I learn that everything is machine washable for real women, who don't want to bother with dry cleaning. Even the leathers which could be delicate washed on a cool setting and laid flat to dry. It is clothing that is both beautiful and functional. Fabrication is of the utmost importance and the collection is more about texture than color. Sequin is intentionally left off parts of printed denim to show that it is still denim. The designer feels that it is important to enjoy the reflective quality that remind him of shimmering pools but still show off the raw materials. They might spend two hours at a fabric mill but only walk away with two qualities they want to go forward with. Sometimes a fabric speaks to them and they know it will work. All the dip dyed and tie dyed pieces are hand done in house by Chrissie an intern who eventually became staff. The designer says how he saw her potential and pushed her to the next level in order to succeed and as a result she has come out stronger and now she helps creates the special fabrics in the collection.
Some of my favorite pieces in the collection maintain a clean architectural feel and are simultaneously cozy and stylish. I love the attention to detail, the unusual zippers built into seam lines and the strong shoulders.
When I ask Sabbat for advice for aspiring designers he said it is very important to find your own voice and stay true to yourself. For young designers who work for someone else they may have to find their own way to express the vision of who they work for but if you are an independent designer you must stay true to who you are. So many times its easy to get clouded by people telling them constantly what they should do or who they should be but a designer should think of what they want the woman who wears their label to look like. Fashion is a tough business and because he works easily 10-12 hour days and up to 16 hours before a launch he says its part of the reason their studio is set up in their home so that they can spend time with their family still. It's no easy road for an independent designer but in some way its a numbers game because over time those who are not truly passionate about what they do will quit but persistence pays off and those who stick with it will succeed. As a designer one must get used to rejection and overcome depression.
I left for the night feeling uplifted, encouraged and excited to see what’s next for Friends with Benefits.