Closet Case: Andre Benjamin

It's the man that makes the clothes.
It's the man that makes the clothes.

Andre Benjamin, rapper, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and actor, perhaps best known by his nom-de-music Andre 3000 in the group OutKast, can add a new gig to his resume: fashion designer. Last Fall, Benjamin launched his Benjamin Bixby line, inspired by American college football culture circa 1935. He took a moment to speak editor Daedalus Howell about the nature of fashion, costume and what we might expect from his Spring line.

Daedalus Howell: How is it that you?ve come to arrive, finally, at a branded fashion line? Has this always been part of the career trajectory that you have seen for yourself?? Did you know you were going to experiment with this?

Andre Benjamin: Didn?t know. It didn?t come until becoming the Outkast brand, then that gave me the stage to do shows and tours and things like that, and then people started to pay attention to the styles. That gave me a stage to design, and at that point, I decided to start this company, which is now Benjamin Bixby.

DH: Yeah, and that?s a really cool name. I like the line, too.

AB: Thank you, thank you. I?m glad you like it.

DH: Where does the line get drawn between costume and fashion? In many ways, it seems that you evolved from costume into fashion.

AB: Right, right. Once again, it?s the story. When I?m designing, I?m designing for a character. So, a lot of times, these pieces, they may end up looking like a costume from that movie, that I?m designing. But I do expect the Benjamin Bixby customer to mix and match. I wouldn?t expect you to wear the complete outfit. You may find a sweater, I mean, somebody could pull it off, but when I look internationally, what we?re seeing from the Lookbook and that kind of thing, we want to do a strong, strong, strong image. We went extreme with it. So we may look custom, but when you break it down to the separates, you can pair it with whatever.

DH: Still, you can tell that it?s a Benjamin Bixby piece of apparel. It is that distinct no matter what you mix it with.

AB: Right.

DH: It seems that you focused right into 1935, sort of the collegiate look, or East Coast. What drove you to that particular style? It?s very distinct.

AB: Pictures, and me knowing that I would be hitting stores for fall/winter collections. I?m a huge football fan, for one. Doing my research, I?d see these pictures of these early 1900s Notre Dame pictures, and I was like, ?I?ve never seen anybody design these football jerseys.? I want this, but I can?t buy it. So I want to design it. I want to make it, make it my own. That was one of the first pieces, so you build around this character. What would this character wear on the football field? What would he wear off the field? What would he wear in the dorm room? What would his coach wear? So you kind of build this little adventure. So, it came from a lot of pictures, pictures in books.

DH: So you visualize a character, and then you see their attire and sort of project an era.

AB: A character, or just a story. What would you be wearing for different events in this story? Going for different scenes, basically. To me, it?s an experience company. I want to be able to tell stories, because I believe that is our fashion. I?m not in fashion in the sense of ?high fashion,? like a guy who would design a shirt sleeve longer than the other [laughs]. I respect it, I really do, but I?m based on the classics. So, my thing that changes every season is these adventures, these stories, these characters.

DH: I get accused of having what?s been called an ?action-figure outfit? because I generally have on a blazer and jeans, or some permutation, so if I was going to be an action-figure, I?d probably have to have that kind of get-up.

AB: [laughing)] I?ve never heard of that!

DH: Well, I mean everybody kind of has an action-figure outfit.

AB: Yeah, that?s true. I mean, that?s your style, your personal style.

DH: So, would the Benjamin Bixby line be your action-figure style?

[pause]

AB: No, because it changes. I mean, my action figure would come with the whole closet. [both laugh] It would look different, you know? That?s the thing. I want people to come and look at the Benjamin Bixby stage almost like Benjamin Bixby was a movie director. Some people are in to Steven Spielberg. What he puts out, they come, and I want people to come to the Benjamin Bixby show to see what?s coming season to season, and if you can buy your Star Wars shirt from George Lucas, that?s like our movie. This is the story we?re telling. One time, I was actually thinking about making the labels where it was ?Benjamin Bixby, Directed By.? So it was like these little movies, but there?s just too many f—ing syallables. [both laugh] The label was just too long.

DH: That?s a nice way to extend a metaphor throughout the entire thing. It gives you a real sense of what you?re trying to achieve by giving people the means to sort of explore aspects of themselves by being a character. Some people need the freedom to be a certain way.

AB: Everybody, well, I won?t say everybody, but most people dream about something else. Even if it?s intangible things like women dreaming of being a princess, or some dude might dream of being a f—ing pirate.

DH: Or a princess.

AB: [laughter] Some men do, but imagine if you could go to a movie and you saw something in a movie and you said, ?Man, that sweater is dope.? Then you leave the movie theater and go to a store and you find that sweater.

DH: Right, and take a little bit with you. Dude, when I saw that last James Bond movie, I hadn?t been affected by a movie like that since I was a kid, and I said, ?I want to get a tux.? [laugh]

AB: Right! See? It?s that thing, man. You know, we dream, man, and that?s what it?s all about. Dreaming and adventure, and I just want to make theses little stories and I want to know what it?s like. I?ve never ever been to India, but for spring/summer, it?s this colonial Indian thing. What would you wear? So that?s the thing.