Ben de Lisi: The Interview

110914_SE_InterviewBenDeLisi_Adspot_01The name Ben de Lisi is synonymous with elegant, sophisticated fashion. A long-standing member of the Designers at Debenhams portfolio, many a style-savvy shopper has come to rely on the modern-day chic of his Principles by Ben de Lisi range.

A New Yorker in London, Ben arrived from the Big Apple back in 1982, intent on learning his craft. Two years later he established his own label, with Rachel Weisz, Helena Bonham Carter and Anjelica Huston among the many celebrities soon to fall for the effortless charm of a de Lisi design.

Fast forward twenty years and Ben is now solely dedicated to designing for Debenhams, following a decision in 2008 to ‘simplify his life’. His collections cover women’s clothing and accessories, homeware accessories and, most recently, a furniture range that beautifully embodies Ben’s unique taste.

We already know Ben as the creator of Kate Winslet’s iconic red gown at the 2002 Oscars, we admit we’ve even seen his Battersea home in all its glory in ‘Hello’ magazine – but how much do we, or you, know about his career for Designers at Debenhams?

With a new season focus on the AW14 trends, we’ve opted to showcase the hero pieces from Ben’s AW14 womenswear collection – and discover one or two career highlights from the man behind the brand. As a matter of principle, of course.

Ben, tell us about your memories of ‘the early years’…
The initial approach from Debenhams of course stands out – twenty years ago. It didn’t start as ‘Brand Ben’ though. I was first asked to design with a private label, J. Taylor. A year into my collaboration I decided that perhaps using a derivative of my label would be better, to give the line more relevance; hence BDL by Ben de Lisi was born – as it was then known.

Did you expect this level success?
A big moment for me was definitely being invited to the British Fashion Awards and proudly receiving their ‘Glamour Designer of the Year’ award two years in a row. A great accolade and definite indication we were creating something that really worked.

Your collection is perfect for the stylish, contemporary woman. Any key inspirations or a notable muse?
During the American elections, when Michelle Obama was first on the campaign trail with Barack, her signature look was wearing high street labels such as J. Crew, together with designers of the ilk of Phillip Lim. I decided I could put together a collection of Ben de Lisi daywear that would reflect the same type of aesthetic. With the help of my friend and designer Fran White, we presented it to Debenhams. It worked – and Ben de Lisi daywear was born.

The collection we now know as ‘Principles by Ben de Lisi’?
Yes, three months later Debenhams asked me if I had heard of their Principles label, and asked how would I feel about taking it over and calling it ‘Principles by Ben de Lisi’. I was told my life would change – and it certainly did. One week my collection was in 30 stores, the next it went to 120 stores. Two weeks later I was given Principles Petites, then came handbags and shoes, small leather goods, evening accessories, jewellery and watches. I also launched a hugely popular swimwear collection in 2013 – that was a dream come true.

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Your home range is also huge success – particularly the French Bulldog prints, which we know have a personal association for you (Ben owns three gorgeous little French bulldogs, Luca, Noa and Téa).
Well the first print was the Ella cushion, homage to my bulldog after she passed away. After making its debut it became something of an iconic piece – that year it was the fastest selling item at Debenhams. It was even re-sold on ebay for 4 times its original amount, which is incredible. 
After that, as with Principles the homeware range just grew and grew. Today it includes ‘Dine by Ben de Lisi’, not to mention a recently launched furniture collection, all inspired by my signature style.

And how would you define that style?
The aim is always to not be too commercial – it has to have a deliberate point of view and reflect who I am personally. For example, the reason I expanded into homeware was because my own homes were featured in magazines, so it makes sense to reflect their distinct look and feel.
I strive to be individual and unique, to give something people won’t expect to see. It has a sense of fun and makes people smile.

See if Ben can make you smile with his latest collections for AW14.

Principles by Ben de Lisi

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