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An Exclusive Q&A with Earnest Sewn’s Benjamin Talley Smith

Earnest Sewn recently announced the return of their original designer, Benjamin Talley SmithDenim Therapy caught up with Mr. Smith to get the scoop on what we can expect from him, now that he’s returned from a sabbatical of sorts, spending the last few years consulting for denim brands like Rag & Bone, Evisu, Helmut Lang and 3×1. His first full collection as Creative Director is expected to debut in Fall 2012.

Denim Therapy: How would you compare your perspective as a designer for Earnest Sewn now, the second time around?

Benjamin Talley Smith: I feel more evolved. Earnest Sewn has always been about beautiful jeans and I don’t plan on changing that. I have evolved as a designer… I feel more educated, more innovative and I have a slightly more modern point of view.  I plan on bringing that to Earnest Sewn.

DT How does your experience with the other brands you’ve worked with in the past reflect in your thought process today?

BTS: Each brand that I’ve work for since 2009 has taught me something uniquely different.  Rag &Bone taught me about building a line and developing subtle yet relevant washes. Evisu taught me about designing for multiple markets around the world as well as developing a brand globally. Helmut Lang taught me about innovative styling and mixing of fabrics and washes. And 3×1 reminded me how to make the best quality jean possible and what Earnest Sewn has always stood for.

DT: When you think of Earnest Sewn, do you personify the brand in any way (and who would that be?), or do you think more of an idea of what the brand should be?

BTS: I represent a small part of the brand since I was born in Vermont and grew up in the country, but Earnest Sewn is about so much more. The Earnest Sewn image is about a guy that understands and believes in quality product whether it is a jean or watch or pair of shoes. Earnest Sewn is about a lifestyle more than a specific jean.  The Earnest Sewn girl is a bit more fashion forward and aspirational. I have the most fun trying to figure out what that means and how to achieve it. Creating a girl’s jean that is effortlessly cool is what Earnest Sewn women’s line is about.

DT: How do you differentiate yourself from the hundreds of popular denim brands afloat right now?

BTS: Integrity of product quality and innovation in silhouette and wash. Sewn was built on amazing washes and I will continue to push the envelope in development and innovation.

DT: Do you have any pre-designing rituals?

BTS: I don’t really have any rituals. I’m usually designing multiple seasons at the same time so there’s really no beginning or end.  Most of the real design work takes place at the laundry so that’s usually where I find the most inspiration.  Sketching and ideas come everywhere and since I live in NY but work in LA I spend a lot of time on planes and in airports.  A great many ideas are drawn on napkins or sketchbooks on the road.  Inspiration usually comes from being out in the city or at concerts and watching people on the street.

DTWhat would be your dream collaboration? Any plans of that in the future?

BTS: A think the partnership between high fashion lines and denim has been great recently. That is what we are looking into. I’m also a big fan of Parisian fashion so I might do something in that line but I don’t want to give anything away. I’m also very interested in collaborating on non-denim and non-clothing related items. Earnest Sewn is about a lifestyle brand so the concept of bags, shoes or furniture are not out of the picture. I think each collaboration is about bringing two innovative companies together. We are experts in denim so that’s what we bring and it would be great to get the same kind of expertise in another field in collaboration with us.

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DT: What are the most popular washes/fits in the line? What are your favorites, and how would you style them?

BTS: Currently I’ve developed something called “Lightening” for the SP12 women’s line that I love and has gotten a good response. Given that I’ve only been on board for 3 weeks I’ve only been able to design a little but this is my favorite so far. It’s an over-dye program in multiple colors that looks like a lightening storm on a coated color. It’s a pretty fashion forward skinny and needs to be worn with heels. It’s a real downtown-girl jean, very rock n roll inspired.

DT: Do you have any favorite/least favorite denim trends right now?

BTS: I love coating and color so right now is a good time for me. I’ve always like process and treatment so I’m in a place that is familiar to me. I’m not really all that into prints and patterns on denim but I know that’s happening, I’m just looking for new ways to do it.

DT: Street style and style blogs are huge in the industry right now as a source of inspiration, influencing the high-end labels rather than vice versa. How much does street style influence your designing

BTS: All day everyday! I get most of my inspiration from photos of how people wear their jeans, either on the internet or on the street or at concerts. Blogs have changed the way I design and see trends and how quickly things can evolve in the market. I also think that it has made trends much more global.

DT: How many pairs of jeans do you own?

BTS: Not as many as you might think. Like most people, I usually wear the same jeans until I come up with something new that I absolutely have to have, but in my archive in Brooklyn, probably around 250. I’ve always ended up with the amazing first developments that for one reason or another didn’t make it into the line. Those are my prize jeans, the true one-of-a-kinds.

DT: How do you store/keep your jeans at home? (e.g. hanging a specific way, folded in a closet?)

BTS: Back when Earnest Sewn started we shipped every jean in an ornate slide out cardboard box. This became incredibly expensive and the stores were not using them so we’ve had an excess of these great boxes for years. I store most in these boxes or rolled in old vintage ammo boxes.

DT: What are you excited about in your next collection? Can you give us hint about what’s next?

BTS: I’m excited for the continuation and evolution of the Sateen denim group we are showing for Spring 2012. But really there’s a ton of work to be done and I won’t be happy until we are done! You’ll just have to wait and see!

—Kathy Ng Hassan




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Posted Sep 27 2011 in Denim News » Interviews
« How To Make Denim-On-Denim Super Cute & Feminine!       Need Some Color In Your Closet? Joe’s Jeans Is Giving You 55 To Choose From »
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