Les Benjamins is no stranger to cultural storytelling. It weaves its East-meets-West narrative into a premium streetwear offering, a recipe that has carved a cult-like following in its home turf, Turkey, and beyond.
Despite the brand’s worldwide reach, it has looked closer to home for its Fall/Winter 2024 collection, “Eastern Punk,” which dives into the underground. The offering is centred on Turkish Punk, a subgenre born from the riotous disruption first heard in New York and London and reinterpreted through an Eastern lens. In 1978, Eastern punk pioneer Tünay Akdeniz publicly announced that his band were punk rock, aligning with an anarchistic, youth-rallying movement that left conservatives quaking.
While not gaining the quick-moving momentum of Western punk, Akendiz left a mark in Turkey’s underground scene, going against the grain to produce something truly unique. For Fall/Winter 2024, Les Benjamins looked to the tenacity of Tünay Akdeniz’s pioneering sound for a Turkish-punk-inspired collection, something founder Bunyamin Aydin describes as “linking the youth with the heritage and culture and wonderful stories of the region.”
To celebrate the launch, we headed to Istanbul, immersing ourselves in the world of Les Benjamins, where the city’s longstanding history was explored by day and its burgeoning music scene sampled by night, hearing first-hand how Turkish punk is being honoured by brand Founder Bunyamin Aydin and Womenswear Director Lamia Aydin. The duo worked on the collection together, and revelled in the gentle competitiveness that came with creating as a couple. “Working is very nice, but it is very challenging. It’s kind of like we are competing. While we are designing, my team is looking at what his team is doing and his team is looking at what my team is doing. But at the end, you can see the outcome. They are talking together. It’s fun,” shares Lamia
Following the collection’s reveal, Bunyamin and Lamia looked relaxed as they surrounded a tinted glass-topped round table, taking small mouthfuls of water and ginger tea. They are both wearing all-black, a styling decision reflective of the designers’ hard work and dedication to their craft, where monochrome dressing offers a structured uniform free of the sensory distraction of colour. When asked about the roots of Turkish Punk, Bunyamin’s mannerisms are injected with energy as he leans forward to share his passion. “Tünay Akendiz was one of the first Turkish punk artists, and, unfortunately, no one understood [him] in the late ‘70s. So he would hang out with rock stars and rock n’ roll communities. It was like the dark side of punk because no one understood what it [was].”
This encyclopaedic knowledge punctuates the collection, a passion project for the designer and reflective of the time taken to research and explore. Despite Les Benjamins’ Turkish roots, it is time spent on the road that helped inform the collection, which is revealed later in the conversation when discussing the unexpected excitement of meeting a fellow punk enthusiast and documentary filmmaker in Japan.
“I love subculture at its purest form because when it is very pure, it’s real. I feel so comfortable meeting them, going into their world, because it’s so pure and that pureness welcomes people,” he explains before continuing: “For me, I like to support progress. It’s not about hunting which is cool, but I love the progress part. If I can support someone [and help them grow], that is something that excites me.” This love of subculture was reflected later in the evening when the brand threw a party in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, a vibrant neighbourhood with a subtle spirit of hedonism that brings together the city’s nocturnal outsiders. The evening’s festivities were soundtracked by Bunu Sen Istedin, a masked punk singer, who serenaded party guests with fast-paced guitar tracks and a confrontational lyricism that nodded to the roots of the collection.
These anarchic vocals that have punctuated punk’s twangy guitar sounds from the ‘70s until now are rooted in struggle. When asked if any challenges inspired his creative process, Bunyamin shares a formative experience behind the collection and the wider Les Benjamins brand. “At age 19, I lost my father. That was a huge trauma for me. That was when I decided to quit university and start my own brand after that trauma,” before offering further information: “He was a carpet collector. He would get carpets from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Anatolia. After he passed away, that collection passed onto me, so I tried to collect more carpets and rugs and tried to make him live on with my designs, seeing those patterns.”
Besides throwing a packed-out party in a fashionable part of town, channelling Tünay’s resilience into the Fall/Winter 2024 collection was vital for Bunyamin and Lamia. “No one [understood] what he was doing. I have a parallel with him. I feel strongly similar to him,” Bunyamin explains. “Maybe what I’m designing now, the youth will be like, ‘Why are we talking about ‘70s punk now Benji?’ Long term, they’re going back and be like, ‘Okay, he was actually going to connect what we are doing in music now with the past.’’’ This desire to share knowledge spills out from Bunyamin’s brand and into other mediums, namely a Discord platform called Carpetizm with over 1700 members. Here, tips for making it in the fashion industry are shared alongside sneaker release information, with the online space providing the perfect platform for gaming meet-ups.
This drive to connect with the youth is rooted in the Les Benjamins DNA, seen in how the design duo revels in the power of TikTok. “It’s crazy how TikTok connects the youth right now. One person may come up with one thing, and you can’t imagine how it travels. Everything is synced right now. It’s crazy.” While Bunyamin is aware of the platform’s power, Lamia sings its praises, announcing her love of the platform. For Bunyamin, it can be “overwhelming,” but he sees the power in social media both for the brand and its designs, which have gradually incorporated a more tradition-rooted tailoring-heavy offering. “Now Gen-Z is more curious about collecting vinyl [and] 35mm film because digital has been so excessive, you want to discover what’s in the past. It’s a beautiful time for us to tap into it.”
The brand’s latest collection combines carpet prints with a trippy take on tartan, seen across tailored jackets, cut-out dresses, denim jackets, cut-off waxed denim vests and bomber jackets, fusing the iconography of punk album covers with Turkish calligraphy and rug motifs. Punk accenting arrives in the form of added zippers, studs and textures, with tongue-in-cheek body piercings adorning leather jackets.
The androgyny displayed by the punk-style tribe is reflected across the men’s and womenswear components of the collection. Lamia responded enthusiastically when discussing the creative opportunities of designing the gender binary-blurring collection: “To be honest, when you see the full collection, you don’t know specifically which is women’s and which is men’s. I wear menswear, and I wear womenswear, you know. I would say it’s super gender-fluid in a way. You would see a lot of masculine shoulder pads [and] structured coats for women and also super feminine dresses with lace and crystals.”
As our time together draws to a close, Bunyamin and Lamia relax back into their seats, following our passionate exchange. The Les Benjamins’ “Eastern Punk” collection is rooted in a shared passion for storytelling, where Turkish Punk’s East meets West Legacy is honoured and shared with a new generation of underground tastemakers. Before we leave, Bunyamin offers a punchy roundup of the collection, encapsulating the deeply personal sentiment of the Fall/Winter collection, “Be yourself, and speak out.”
More on Culted