Interview Serge BENSIMON

This week, time for an interview with an extraordinary personality, that of Serge BENSIMON! On the occasion of the launch of a unique collaboration between Bensimon and Kulte, the famous designer agreed to answer some of our questions.

Hello Serge, it’s a huge honor that you do us today. We could have asked you 10,000 questions, but to start this interview, how could we not tell you about the most cult of your products, the Bensimon Tennis…

Vintage and color are your leitmotif. For what ?

Basically, my grandfather was a second-hand merchant and my father developed his company in the importation of military surplus. I have always been immersed in what we now call vintage fashion culture. When my brother and I created the Bensimon brand in the 80s, our creation was inspired by this movement. Create basic products in materials that stand the test of time. We also decided to never do black. This is how color became our trademark.

So-called vintage products are very strong pieces in principle, evocative of memories and good times. The Bensimon tennis shoe can be considered as such today, this must be a source of great pride for the bargain hunter that you have always been?

Tennis is a bit like a Proust madeleine! Besides, we call it Bensimon. Today it affects almost 4 generations and is passed down from generation to generation. So yes, it’s an iconic product that resonates in the French fashion landscape.

When you found these military surplus white tennis shoes almost 40 years ago, were you aware at that moment of the timeless aspect that your creation would have?

When my father found this stock of gymnastic tennis shoes from the French army, there were so many of them that we had to find an idea to sell the stock as quickly as possible. I then thought about dyeing them and it was already a bit of research work since I had to find a way to dye the fabric while sparing the sole. They sold like hot cakes! This success gave us the idea of ​​creating a model inspired by it. Thus was born Bensimon. The same goes for clothes, I reworked iconic pieces from the army to make “fashion” pieces. The press took a closer interest, the first publications in Elle, Madame Figaro, Cosmo, Marie Claire came out at the beginning of the 80's and tennis began its rise. I remember, journalists came to pick up these unique pieces in our surplus store at Kremlin Bicêtre.

In its original design, this tennis shoe was therefore not a fashion product, but a shoe which found reason to exist in its practical aspect?

As with clothing, what has always interested me in my job is reworking strong pieces: tennis shoes but also safari jackets, chinos, shorts from armies around the world, bombers. It was a bit of recycling and DIY before its time!

This takes us back to Coco Chanel, who had this philosophy of practicality in clothing, a philosophy that she established as a true motto throughout her work. Is there this same conscious desire in you?

As Coco Chanel said, I think that fashion only exists when it hits the streets.

There is a very interesting contrast between the initial vocation of these products, and their current design, sometimes very colorful and synonymous with lightness, simplicity, comfort. Was it this candid state of mind that dominated you when you designed them?

Precisely at this time, let's not forget that we are in the 70s - post May 68 -, what was interesting was that the people who came to get military products from us (we were the official distributor of surplus in France ), claimed the complete opposite of what war represents. There was this “Peace and love” trend that dominated. And then the press seized on the phenomenon and made Bensimon public.
And generally speaking, surplus has always been an inspiration for fashion designers.
Besides, they came to our house to look for these cult pieces!

Today Bensimon is very active from a cultural point of view, which makes the brand inseparable from French fashion. It's a name that takes us back to French savoir vivre and culture, and it's an even stronger idea abroad. So, in your opinion, what role does an institution like Bensimon have to play in the culture that we write and export every day?

Bensimon has always defended an art of living. From my travels and my meetings, I had the feeling that we had to share with our fans this taste for discovery, beyond fashion. We opened a first ready-to-wear boutique in 1986 and very quickly in 1989, we inaugurated what we call today a concept store, an atypical place at the time, a mix of fashion and decoration. I have always been sensitive to art and that is why in 2009, I decided to open my design gallery.
Highlighting young creation is, in my opinion, a way of showing that fashion does not stop at the borders of textiles.

Did you yourself design the pattern used on the 4 products in our capsule collection, the result of a collaboration between Bensimon and Kulte? Can you tell us more about this famous cactus?

During my trip to Mexico I fell in love with the colors and the multiplicity of cacti that we can discover there. Besides, I collect them in my showroom, at home, everywhere! Simply the desire of the moment.

In your opinion, what makes an object become a cult object?

An object becomes cult because it crosses generations. It is part of our culture.
Impressively, when tourists come to buy our tennis shoes in the shops, they take them for the whole family, from beige to pink to khaki, as a souvenir. I would even say that a cult object crosses borders.

Kulte is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, beyond a creative and colorful universe that unites our two names, what does Kulte mean to you?

For me, the Kulte brand has a very urban and graphic side. It represents Vintage revisited, and as our tennis is soon celebrating its 40th anniversary, it was an opportunity to get together!

Finally, could you give us a quote that represents you?

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” Eleanor ROOSEVELT

In these cultural pastilles that we offer to our readers, we like to highlight the inspirations and references of the personalities we question, so can you tell us about…

Your Kulte artist?

Jaume Plensa, my Catalan sculptor friend

Your Kulte clothing?

My cashmere cardigan and scarf, inseparable summer and winter

Your Kulte song?

“You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor

Your Kulte film? “Out of Africa”

Any advice for young creators who read you?

Don't listen to anyone, follow your instinct!

Find the exceptional Kulte X Bensimon collaboration on the e-shop Capsule tab.