Photograph by Stephen Tilley / Words by Britt Mann “Naked people have little or no influence on society. Clothes maketh the man.”
Benny Castles is quoting Mark Twain, but is himself well-qualified to comment on the topic. Born and bred in Auckland, Castles learnt the fashion business from the bottom up, working at World’s menswear store in High St after high school, eventually becoming a designer and director for the iconic Kiwi label. In public, he’s known for his bright trousers, waistcoats, jackets, and accessories: bow tie, a hat, and specs to match. It makes himself feel like himself, he says. At home, he’s partial to a tracksuit. “I enjoy the couch. I enjoy not only the love and the embrace of the couch, but becoming one with the couch. That’s not something I’m ashamed of.”
Back to fashion. I’d asked Castles, 34 – stepfather of two and judge on Project Runway New Zealand – a lingering existential question of the modern era: what is the point of it?
He says clothes should offer us something – he lists confidence, comfort, elegance, and fun as examples.
“There’s nothing in fashion that anyone ‘needs’ in a huntergatherer sense. But in the same way we can’t really live without the Eiffel Tower or the Mona Lisa, we can’t live without a way of actually representing who we are as individuals.
“Where I think people get confused with this conversation is they think that means you have to spend a lot of money or you need to give it huge amounts of thought, and that’s not the case. The guy who picks out the shirt at the top of his drawer and a pair of Stubbies is representing himself. And he is dressing himself to feel comfortable…”
Castles is not comfortable in Stubbies and a T-shirt. But, he says: “It doesn’t mean that me and this other gentleman won’t get on like a house on fire.”
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Project Runway New Zealand premieres tomorrow at 7.30pm on TVNZ 2.