While the man behind the label might be most notably known for his skills on the court, he’s been working front and center to create a lifestyle brand that envelops his alter ego, ultimately manifesting a wardrobe of sophisticated wearables that infuse basketball and music into its DNA. Upholding the values of passion, ambition, generosity and sharing, he’s made a world he loves accessible to everyone through a collection of timeless pieces meant, in its latest iteration, to take us backstage. Check out his latest collection below.
1.) To start, tell us how BENKLARK came to be.
When I was seven years old, I used to watch NBA games and I was dreaming about being a part of this fantastic event. The first thing that I saw inside the NBA was obviously the basketball. So I started playing basketball with the ambition to become a professional player. And at 19 years old, I signed my first contract with a French professional team. At this time, I started to realize that what I liked in the NBA was not only basketball, but all the different cultures inside the NBA. There are a lot of references represented inside it: music, art, fashion, architecture, dance, and show. It’s a real entertainment that makes my eyes shine at every game. I was so inspired by all of them that, I wanted to represent them around a label. So in response, I founded BENKLARK in 2012 with the idea to elevate the “Off-Court” side of the NBA. I then took the time to find some great partners like Rudy Gobert (NBA Player), Evan Fournier (NBA Player) and Fabien Laclau (Professional of the entertainment) and I launched the brand in 2016.
2.) On your website, you describe BENKLARK as a multidisciplinary fashion house representing passions inside the basketball culture. Please explain.
Inside the basketball culture, you have many things that give the sport its power: music, art, show, dance, fashion, etc. Those are the passions of many people and they are all gathered inside the basketball. As a fashion house designing premium menswear first, and then by the collaboration with artists from music and art, our goal is to share our collective vision to sublimate the global basketball culture.
3.) You go on to state that “if you find and believe in your passion, whatever you do will allow you to be at peace with yourself.” How does this notion translate into creating a wearable collection of garments?
To have a strong belief in your passion is a hard feeling to have. But when you find it, it allows you to stay confident. Even when everything doesn’t work as you want. I felt this when I was working to be a professional basketball player. When I had a bad practice or a bad game, I had to find a state of mind that would give me the strength and the motivation to continue and never give up. When you start a company, or if you are an unknown artist with a big talent, you have to be patient and never stop thinking that you will find a way to succeed. The key is to love what you do, to be passionate and feel happy when you do it. That’s what I feel right now when I’m designing and when I’m working with my team. I’m only sharing good moments, exactly like I’m playing basketball.
4.) With advertising campaigns embracing former basketball players like Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, who would you tout as your ideal customer? What are you trying to say to them?
The story of Rudy is not well known. But I’ve known him since I was 15 years old and saw him grow up and get better step by step. He never listened to all of the guys who told him that he would never be an NBA player. Now, he’s the masterpiece of the Utah Jazz team and his values precisely represent our message “Trust Your Passion.” He talks to his fans with positivity and our customers are people from the basketball community, like NBA fans. In addition, we work with artists and companies inspired by basketball to help us to say to our customers that there is a lot of different ways to live your passion. For example, two of my friends were passionate about basketball when they were young and they wanted to play in the NBA. They did not succeed at playing in the league, but one of them is now recognized as one of the best photographer/directors within basketball culture and works with the NBA on a regular basis. The second, founded the most significant basketball gym concept in Europe and had the NBA as a partner. So for both of them, it’s like they’re playing in the NBA.
5.) When describing Rudy, you mentioned that his values perfectly epitomize the values of the brand: passion, ambition, generosity and sharing. When thinking of your brand and personal history, where do these values come from?
When I was six years old, I used to go to a basketball court on the way to school. On my way back home, another child asked me to play with him. A couple of minutes after, we saw other guys watching us play. So we asked them if they wanted to play with us. There was only one child playing basketball at the beginning and at the end there were eight. We played four on four. It was only because one guy was passionate and was doing his thing on the court, sharing his generosity and love for basketball, that it was enough to feel the desire to play with him. When I came back home, I said to my mom, “can you register me in a basketball club?” At that point, I started to feel the ambition and I transformed my love and passion for the sport into a career goal. Rudy has the same story. And I think the majority of basketball players have a similar story. Some with more or less success, but always the same passion. Basketball is like a big family and I’m just trying to pay tribute to this sport in a different way.
6.) Give us some insight into your creative process and how France might influence it. Then, describe your creative style in three (3) words.
The first thing that I’m doing during the creative process trying to stay focused on the DNA of BENKLARK, which is to create timeless and elegant menswear pieces with high-end details. As for the influence France has, well, it helps me to work on sophisticated pieces and excellent fittings. You know, everything’s designed in France in collaboration with some of the best French workshops. It allows me to have perfect control of the manufacturing of samples.
As for the three words to describe my creative style, I’d say that they’d be: TIMELESS, ELEGANT & CONTEMPORARY.
7.) Started in 2012, your collections seem to draw inspiration from the worlds of art, music, and, as we mentioned earlier, sports and basketball. How do you go about starting a new collection? Can you give us some specific examples of artistic provocation (inspiration) that draw on the general ideas mentioned earlier in the question?
To date, I haven’t revealed my entire vision yet. But for SS19, I will present a total look collection with accessories and maybe sneakers. So to help me design, while maintaining the DNA of BENKLARK, I also split the collection into three categories:
1.) The Masterpieces: this is the outerwear pieces in which I push a little more originality.
2.) The Game Pieces: these are the intermediate pieces that will be associated with the masterpieces. They could be all kinds of creations that will take on the codes of “the masterpieces.”
3.) The Classics: these are essential pieces of a man’s wardrobe: the t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweater, shirts, jeans, trousers, and underwear.
Around these three categories, I then let my inspiration do the work. My first sources are contemporary art and Parisian style, which I mix with a combination of New York and LA’s vibes.
Then, after I have created the fashion part of BENKLARK, I look for a way to represent the basketball culture. It’s at this point that I’m getting closer to what I really want to represent. Eventually, I want to work with artists like Victor Solomon and other musical artists who have their own vision and even NBA players to create a show to celebrate art inside basketball. It’s this conviction that takes the upper hand on my young basketball career. So, I simply chose to do what I wanted to do most.
8.) In 2014, you changed course and decided to devote more time to the direction and development of BENKLARK, ultimately taking time away from your basketball ventures. Some might say that kind of decision is a bit risky. What made you come to such a verdict and change course? Why move from basketball to menswear at that particular time in your career?
I can tell you, the decision was not easy. Becoming a professional basketball player was my first dream. But when I realized it, playing in France was not really like what I had expected. In reality, I actually started BENKLARK a couples of months after my official signing date. Now that I was an official player, I wanted to do more around basketball rather than just playing. You know, even if I had just passed the last 10 years to practice almost every day to realize my dream, I always saw something more significant in the creation of BENKLARK that could allow my team, my friends, my family, my customers and even myself, much more.
9.) For your latest collection, you imagined both artists (musicians) and players wearing your pieces in a FW18 lookbook editorial that took us backstage as it embraced the fusion of urban culture and stage performance found in both professions. Tell us about the process behind the shoot as artistic director and stylist. Then, describe how your relationship with music producer Fabian Laclau has helped the brand and it’s DNA evolve. What role did he play in the creation of the collection?
For the process behind the shoot, the first thing is always to have a good relationship with your photographer. This is the reason we work with Guillaume Landry every time. He’s known the brand since the beginning and understands quickly what I want to represent. As for the others things, it’s just having the right organization. I mean, I met Fabien at a party and I saw that he was doing things differently. Then, I showed him the BENKLARK project and he was one of the first to believe in it. He has a good vision of what works and what doesn’t work. So for that reason, I make sure I talk with him every time about marketing strategy and new artistic projects.
As for the collections, he has entire confidence in what I sketch. He makes some comments and lets me decide whether to follow them or not. On the other hand, for the management of our events, the opposite is true. I let him go with his vision and I just add in some details.
10.) What’s next for the company? What are your goals as a brand? Is Benklark Records still on for 2020?
After one year of opening “pop-up” stores in France, we now have some international stores, too. Like always, we continue our work with the basketball community and in 2019 we will present our SS19 collection in Los Angeles this June. As for BENKLARK Records, we plan for it will take shape from a YouTube Chanel in which we will present musical talents around and across artistic direction between BENKLARK and each collaborating artist.