Susan Korn and Benito Skinner Are Ready to Bring "Elevated Silliness" Back to Fashion
The "Susan Alexandra" designer and comedian behind @BennyDrama talk about missing fashion week and Harry Styles' skinny pants.
Fashion week changed in a major way this season, and it gave us all a chance to look at what the runways and the glitz and the glamour is really for. We asked questions like, do we really need new clothing every season? Is a traditional runway really the best use of time and money? And, why is this all so serious?
These are the same ideas that Susan Korn, designer of the New York-based, fashion girl-beloved beaded bag brand Susan Alexandra, and comedian/sometimes model Benito Skinner, AKA Benny Drama, have been ruminating on. Usually, the pair teams up every fashion week for an untraditional fashion show filled with New York comedians and influencers that incorporates the bright colors of Korn's work with the energy of the city she loves. As Skinner and Korn both put it, it's "elevated silliness" and a reprieve from the seriousness of a traditional fashion presentation.
This year, however, they skipped the show. Skinner moved to Los Angeles during quarantine, and traded dressing up for IRL events to dressing up his Instagram characters in increasingly extravagant outfits; Korn has been traveling (safely, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions), looking for inspiration for what's next for her brand. Both recognize that what we once had in fashion was great, but it's time to make a change in the industry.
The duo sat down with InStyle (via Zoom) to talk about everything from the future of fashion to Harry Style's skinny pants phase.
What do you love most about fashion week?
Susan Korn: The fashion weeks that I've been a guest at were so fabulous, and you can see all these people and amazing clothes and this vibrant energy that's just intoxicating. Since I've been showing at fashion week, though, it's a totally different thing. I think the best part about that is that it's like having a wedding. You're in a room with all these people that you love and there's this special warmth that washes over you.
Benito Skinner: I think [the warmth] is what is so exciting. Especially since so much of what I do is on the internet, I interact with so many things laying down in my bed and just scrolling. I think that's what's always so exciting about fashion week, is being in the same room with all these comedians and people that I look up to and call some of my best friends. It's such an interesting thing for me, because it's something that I dreamt about my whole life.
I had always loved fashion and wanted to be a part of it, but then I joined comedy and I was like, "Oh well, I couldn't have picked a more opposite thing." I feel like the two never interact, but then someone like Susan lets them interact in a really fun way, and shows that they can interact and do so in a really perfect, symbiotic way.
What were you happy to miss this fashion week?
SK: I miss the fact that the past couple of shows that I've done are such a creative expression, but, oh my god, I am so relieved I didn't have to deal with [fashion week]. I didn't have to be tethered to the office, and I didn't have to be working so much. It's so hard on your body and your mind. I'm so happy I got to skip it. Besides having fun and putting on this beautiful show, we're trying to sell the pieces, and now that we're selling in drops, I don't have to do a big collection.
I don't miss the FOMO either. This was a FOMO free September. Isn't that nice?
BS: It's so funny because at times, when people get FOMO for some of those things, I'm like, "I promise you that event was awful." It wasn't fun. I'm like, "No one had fun." I'm like, "I just ate in the corner the whole time. That was actually not fun. You didn't miss out." Maybe [what I'm happy to skip is] the elitism of some of it, and feeling like you have to be rude during the process, or that someone has to make you feel bad.
How has the pandemic changed your view on fashion?
SK: There's definitely the whole feeling of not needing as much, and I think that's another reason why I'm not producing in the same way, with these big collections [where I'm] just sitting on all this inventory. I think that when you're not going out as much, the things that you do wear are so much more impactful and special and you realize how much you care about the things that you have. I've definitely been consuming less and therefore not wanting to produce as much. I traveled around a little bit more and it was so funny how little I needed, and it just made me really want to focus on these really classic pieces that I really love, and that's what I have in mind when I'm creating. So, if anything I think the way that I'm going to be producing is a little bit more luxe and more thinking about quality and longevity.
BS: I've definitely consumed less and I've almost bought a few special things that I had always wanted to buy and I always had on my list. I really wanted some nice '50s penny loafers, so I finally did it.
I will say that I dress up my characters more because I'm just desperate to put on a full look. I'm obviously not out consuming a lot or going to a stylist. So it's like, what do we have and what can we easily pull from? I have become very good at shopping my closet. I'm finding some gems deep in there, and also a lot of skinny jeans that I'm like, "OK, these deserve to be burned." It's so funny I ever thought this was an acceptable look. Harry Styles did that to us and he needs to apologize.
How do you see the fashion industry changing after all of this?
SK: I think that we were all going so hard and exhausting ourselves in this unsustainable way, and I just don't know how I can keep on that same speed. Ben, even the times we've worked together, you're doing a show three minutes after you're done with rehearsal. So, I don't think we can keep on running ourselves ragged and I don't think that we can keep just pushing and pushing and producing and producing just because we're supposed to. I'm still very much on the fashion schedule and trying to produce seasonally, but I think that could change. I think we all have to just decide that we don't need to do things the same way that they've always been done, just because it's the way they've always been done.
BS: I love the idea of being on your own terms. I think that's definitely what this time has shown. I'm being really specific about the videos I'm making and pouring maybe just a little bit more love into each thing, taking my time and not feeling like I have to make four videos a week, which, at one point, I really did. I thought if I didn't, it would be over and everyone would forget about me. So, now it's more like how do I really make everything special, and something that I'm excited about and that people can feel the energy with.
With fashion week, there is a stress to it. The number of looks, the planning ... why have we made people do that? This is too many collections. I am excited to see maybe designers just come out with the things that they're really like, "this is the perfect thing I want to put out right now."
SK: I think it's just about a return to why we're doing these things, right? Because I think I'm in the same boat. I've been grinding. You don't really see your friends unless you're seeing them for work, and I feel like we sometimes have to arrive back at that point of why are we doing this? Yes, we want a great career and we want abundance, but there's that part about being in this biz that drives us.
How do you see the relationship between designers and influencers changing?
BK: There have been some designers and obviously Susan, at the top of the list, who have supported my work for so long and I'm inspired by her work. I saw that cow print purse and I was like oh my God, this is Benita. I think it's been a time of helping, a mutually beneficial moment to work together. I guess for me it's a love of fashion and wanting fashion to be there when this whole thing is done, just like I want comedy shows to be there and I want restaurants to be there.
SK: I think the other thing is just this community of people that we inexplicably all know after enough time in New York City, but we all have been hustling. We've all been in it. We all sort of know all the different sides of it and how hard it is to get to a certain point. So, I think what's really special is there's just so much support for each other and we just all try to come together to support our friends. I think something that I can say about my relationships with influencers, especially comedians, is when people really get what I'm doing or love it, that feels so validating. It really does make you keep going, even at this time. It's so funny how that works out because I think my stuff, it is an escape and it's comedic ... elevated silliness. I can see why we have a lot in common in our mindset and what we're trying to make and put out into the world. So, I love it when there's this connection with your community and I love the support that we're all in this. We're all together and that's a beautiful thing.