Mary Benson AW16, Wonderland report

Skater girls and vampire slayers joined forces for an energetic display at Mary Benson.

Look 1

Bewitched 

Taking inspiration from cult 90s TV series’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Mary Benson conjured some witchy numbers that will have many under their spell this season. A floor length hooded denim dress, beautifully illustrated with gold, was adorned with Swarovski crystals to give a magic finish. Similarly a cream silk slip dress was covered in silver stars, with distorted eyes and bright pink lips printed on top of them. 

Greenday chic 

Soundtracked by the great punk pop anthems of the early noughties, Benson’s presentation brought together a fluorescent colour palette to recreate that skater girl, give-a-fuck style of youth. Silhouettes were loud and daring, with honourable mention going to the neon green tutu speckled in silver. Denim jackets were cut with long sleeves that hung over the wrists, printed in silver and layered with playful illustrations. On tee-shirts, long sleeves were printed with illustrations of leather cuffs. Neon pink cropped up under jackets and in earphone based headpieces. Trousers were high waisted and wide, throwing a nice 70s spin into the mix. In homage to Avril Lavigne, converse were the shoe of the hour, worn with bright ankle socks and bare legs. 

Girl Band

In a refreshing twist, Mary Benson took her clothes off the stage this year, mixing the aesthetic into the overall experience of the presentation. At the entrance, models in neon gear manned a stall of “merch”, jumping along to the songs with infectious energy. Throughout the presentation, tops were emblazoned with “Mary”, adding to the gig feel of the show. In an eclectic presentation, one thing is clear, Benson’s band is going to gain a whole hoard of groupies this year.

Look 2

Leeds born Mary Benson has quickly made a name for herself with loud, theatrical designs which effortlessly marry art, theatre and fashion. Having graduated from Westminster, Benson then joined Fashion East, showing alongside Ed Marler and Caitlin Price for AW15. On the afternoon of her AW16 presentation and immersed in putting the final touches to her collection, we grabbed a quick chat with the designer to talk Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blink 182 and making it as a new designer. 

Did you always know that you wanted to be a designer? 

No! As a kid I was really into graphic design. I wanted to make games and design packages for games. It was all graphic based with lots of funny images. But that’s kind of translated into what I do now.

Tell us about your AW16 collection! What are you excited about? 

Well I usually use heat pressed vinyl, but I’ve been trying to do new things for AW16. So in the run up to this presentation I’ve been doing loads of screen printing, vinyl and embroidery. I’ve also been working with lots of Swarovski crystal embellishments. I think my prints have a lot more depth to them this season. There’s a lot of focus on layering, not only in the clothes but also a layering of all of those those techniques!

What was the inspiration behind the collection? 

The context is about when I was younger and I went to gigs and saw bands, it’s kind of the best band ever type thing. The way it came about was really random, but natural as well. I was listening to Blink 182, Greenday and that kind of trashy pop punk all the time but mixed with lots of 70’s music as well. Then I got inspired by Blink 182 and Greenday, their music videos and the whole attitude around it: you can do whatever you want, I don’t care and chill out. That stoner kind of vibe. It was also inspired by the way the whole fashion industry is going at the moment. Everything is so fast track now that it’s hard for a young designer like me to keep up, with money and with everything. I wanted to try and put things on the clothing that are a bit of a statement. Sort of like, ‘slow down don’t worry, don’t hurry’, that kind of thing. It’s quite like going back to my youth, when you didn’t have to worry and had that freedom to do what you wanted. 

Were there any songs that particularly inspired you or helped to visualise the collection? 

It’s based on a few a songs in particular. ‘Basket Case’ by Greenday, ‘Feeling This’ and ‘What’s My Age Again?’ by Blink 182. The whole concept is like, “this is all too much, what the hell! I’ve grown up too fast and this is all crazy!” Every season I always do something that’s super personal. It was the love letters last season. I’m quite open about how i’m thinking and feeling. I’ve got things like ‘not sorry’ written on clothes because it’s kind of like ‘I don’t have to apologise for anything, and this is how I think’.

How do you prepare for a collection, do you do a lot of research? 

So for this collection I was also really inspired by Buffy. I watched it almost every day when I was doing the collection. It’s very based on the bar in Buffy. I wanted to create this whole vibe of weird 90’s misfits; they’re all a bit undercover and they have lots of secrets. Like the Scooby gang, fighting zombies and stuff! I was looking a lot at what Willow wears, because she’s quite a nerd but then she’s really cool and has a crazy dark side as well. The collection is quite like that, half fun and young and half dramatic and dark and a bit more witchy I guess! 

What are you looking forward to in this presentation? 

I’m really excited because I’ve basically tried to do something that’s not a traditional fashion event. I’m trying to step away and do something really interactive and not so stationary. You kind of need to go into my world. I think it’s better if it’s a cross between a catwalk and presentation, where models are walking around and aren’t just standing there. I like it to be really immersive because it’s really important for me that everyone understands whats going on and literally like you’re there. I guess I’m trying to do something a little bit different and create my own group of misfits. 

Your designs are very intricate. How long does it take to make each piece? 

The ones for Swarovski took months. The embroidery has been drawn, then put through the computer and has had to be tested over and over again. I’ve put lots of eyes and faces in this collection as well because thats what I like to draw the most. I love drawing faces with weird expressions, like really goofy ones with crooked noses, a bit odd! I’ve spent a lot of time been drawing those and Swarovski bits take ages as well because you have to make it look gorgeous. And the then screen printing as well… Yeah there’s a lot (of time) for each piece!

After you graduated you were with Fashion East. How have you found going it alone as a designer?

Because I’m not with any platform I’ve literally had to solely organise and put on this whole event. So I’m not only a designer I’m like an events planner and a gig promoter. I’m doing all of the social media as well. And I work 5 days a week in a pub so it has been absolutely mental. I like to be quite open about that because I want people to know that you can do it if you put your mind to it. But it’s been crazy! I feel like I could go into events planning! It’s weird because I’m doing this weird hybrid of quite a lot of art pieces which are expressive and trying to make a statement, but I’m still doing commercial clothes at the same time so I’m kind of in my own bubble. But I’m just going to keep doing these kind of shows because I’ve found what I’m into now. 

How did you find your aesthetic and style? 

It’s weird because I change my personal style like daily. I don’t have one way that I dress. Some days I just want dress like Marc Bolan and other days it will be like a weird little skater boy. So I feel like each collection it could be any kind of style of everything. I do like the 70’s but i also love every other decade as well. I literally live and breathe whatever the concept is that season. I’ve only been listening to Blink 182, I think everyone’s going mad at me now! I design collections for an imaginary person.

What’s in store for the rest of 2016?

I’m trying to go down the route of collaborations because that’s what I’m really into. I’ll obviously do sales and that kind of thing but I’ve got some cool collaborations coming up (I can’t say what they are) but that kind of thing. I want to keep making show pieces!

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First published on Wonderland, Feb 22nd 2016

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