There was once a time, not all that long ago, when Christian Benner was just a 26 year old living in the East Village, strung out on coke, and working at Victoria’s Secret. The New York-based fashion designer who just premiered his ready to wear collection at New York Fashion Week has since come a long way, but photo shoots with Vogue, dressing celebrities like Kate Moss, Lady Gaga, and Axl Rose, all came much much later.
Working as a corporate merchandiser for the lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret for five years, Benner’s life alternated between long, labor intensive shifts and equally as long drug and alcohol induced benders, many of which occurred at the now defunct St. Jerome’s — a shitty dive bar in the Lower East Side. Which, as fate would have it, was the choice hangout of Lady Gaga during her pre-fame, gogo dancing days. “All I cared about was going out and just seeing these people, and I didn’t even really know who they were. I just knew them from going out.”
Three years, countless binges, and presumably thousands of dollars worth of cocaine later, Benner’s lowest low came at a bar he stumbled into one night. After many drinks, Benner started scribbling onto countless napkins. “I just started writing everything that I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I must have looked like a crazy person. I was blackout drunk.” After waking up, still in his clothes from the night before, Benner reached out to his friend to find out what happened. After explaining that she had babysat him and gotten him home in one piece, she made a life changing offer.
The divide between plummeting off the edge and narrowly avoiding a lifetime of regret is minuscule, so small that it may not even seem like a significant point at all. Benner narrowly escaped what could have been yet another harrowing tale of addiction, but instead of allowing his vices to consume him, he started life anew at age 30, securing himself a job at What Goes Around Comes Around — a designer vintage consignment store.
“[Donatella Versace’s] got these two bodyguards next to her, and she’s holding like 10 of my shirts like a baby, and she goes ‘Did you make these?’ and I go ‘yeah,’” recalls Benner. “‘You have a talent. I’ll take every one.’ And I just kinda stood there for a second, and my manager goes, ‘You heard her. Go get them.’” It wasn’t long before Benner had left his job, and decided to try his hand at designing full time at the encouragement of his friends.
Flash forward to 2017, and Benner has become a household name, with many a celebrity, editorial shoot, and luxury retail store knocking on his door. Some days he says he still can’t believe just how far he’s come, but this past summer after a meeting with his manager and Gary Wassner — who has backed brands like Saint Laurent and Alexander Wang — it became apparent that Benner was no longer fumbling around in the dark, trying to find his footing in an otherwise daunting industry. Luxury retailers like Barneys are already lining up to begin their buying for fall/winter 2017, and Benner is on the top of their list.