Spirituality is a very personal concept. It generally includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, a high power. A universal human experience that touches most of us that allows us to connect with other people.
For Benji Chandler, a Sydney based designer and the owner of the fashion label BlACK/KRSNA, spirituality is the essence behind his label. From his ability to design and create conceptual one-off garments to providing his clients with a spiritual experience when they come in for a fitting.
Benji comes from the corporate world. Like many of us, he got the corporate job, had the house, moved into a two bedroom apartment with his partner at the time and had nice things, and all before the age of 25.
‘I thought that’s what you did, you worked hard and you get a house and you work for the man. I completely burnt out. I took a year off and in a way I nearly lost everything and I got to the point of having nothing,’ Benji said.
‘I always wanted to be a fashion designer. I just never thought that being an artist was something you could make a living from.’
Benji’s inspiration comes from his spirituality and making an artistic impression, through fashion and spirituality. Fashion is the ultimate form of self-expression and through BLACK/KRSNA he is truly able to express himself by creating these elaborate garments.
‘Not so much that you have to believe in god, just in a sense of the spirituality inside of yourself, how you choose to express your own spirituality. That is where my creativity comes from,’ Benji said.
Benji’s fashion label, BLACK/KRSNA, came about in 2014, in his under graduate year at RMIT. His idea of making black spiritual wear was not received well by the panel of teachers, telling him to resubmit his proposal because no one would buy his garments.
BLACK/KRSNA was born from the doubt of his teachers, who nearly failed him in his first semester of his undergraduate degree. He was forced to get out there and see if people would buy it.
‘I was really confident. I have always been into spirituality and meditation. I was like, awesome, I get to make this type of spiritual wear. I made these massive drapey pants and these gowns,’ Benji said.
During a two month holiday, Benji set up a stall in the Rose Street Markets in Melbourne, to see if people would buy his garments and to prove to his teachers that he could sell his garments. This cemented his vision.
‘At the time, I was doing a type of meditation called, Kartar chanting, a type of divine chanting. I was also looking into Krishna and the gods and the Indian gods, even the things Hare Krishna’s wear is quite inspiring to me,’ Benji said.
‘And I have always been into the form of black. I love black, and the idea came when I was in the shower, I am doing it all in black.’
‘Krishna is the ultimate divine, the ultimate god, the ultimate energy, he is the god of gods. My label, BLACK/KRSNA means the black Krishna in yourself and the spirituality in yourself.’
Through his label, Benji is expressing the idea that anyone can wear anything. A garment is not just for one gender. He is breaking away from societal norms that a dress is just for females. His label is about expressing yourself in a genderless aesthetic, freeing yourself from this neuro-typical way of thinking and opening yourself up.
‘I really want to actually empower the man with the dress. I feel women have had the empowerment through trousers and suits. I don’t think men have received that empowerment from wearing a dress,’ Benji said.
‘In spiritual, religious forms, dresses are worn. In terms of a strong masculine man wearing a dress walking down the street, I don’t think that has been fully explored and addressed and I really want to push that envelope.’
Benji creates garments with no season and no trend in mind. Australia being a season behind the rest of the world, it doesn’t make sense for his label. He creates garments that can be bought and worn anytime.
‘Trends and seasons, it is this thought process, we just wear an item of clothing in summer or winter or we wear a trend for a year and then we discard the product. I am not into that,’ Benji said.
‘In a way, I am anti-fashion in the sense of this massed produced, fast fashion. I want to make an ethical label, garments that have value and a price to them, to keep forever, ultimately even pass it on, not contribute to this throw away culture.’
Benji believes that there is something special about wearing a cape or gown or draping a beautiful linen dress around you that gives you a celestial quality. The label is for people who are open minded, into meditation, well-being, health, and looking after the world. They are people who understand the meaning of benji chanting during fittings and they understand the meaning of being given a crystal with the garment.
‘When they put on the garment, I see their experiences, I see how they see themselves, it’s a heightened awareness in the way they hold themselves and the way they look at themselves,’ Benji said.
In 2014, during his final graduate semester, Benji created two collections, Imminent and Conceived. Imminent meaning, nothing pure, it was the breath, the absolute start of his journey to Sydney where he officially launched BLACK/KRSNA.
‘I am still in this phase of creating this label, creating what I want to do, who I want to be and where I want to take this label. All of these words refer to being inside of the womb about to be born,’ Benji said.
12 months ago, Benji officially launched his label with a collection called, Gestation. It was his first runaway, being both excited and nervous and in a new city where no one knew who he was, he created a runway experience that was everything he could have hoped for.
He created the garments himself, arranged the eight models that would walk the runway, got involved in the direction of hair and make-up, organised for the press to come to the show, and brought in Thomas Bradley, a Melbourne based dancer, to close out the show. Benji also organised the alcohol and the food, he set the stage, and while he did have some extra hands to help, it was entirely his vision that came into fruition.
‘I still don’t know how I pulled it off, it was magic, seeing all of these models in the garments that I actually couldn’t believe I had made. I really thought I had taken it to the next level. I had a runway and at the end, it was everything that I wanted,’ Benji said.
In 2015, Benji got invited to be part of the Melbourne Fashion Week and he had the opportunity to see his collection in a different light. One, where he did not have the same autonomy that he did during his launch.
Earlier this year, Benji took his collection, Contraction: Part 1 to Paris, to be part of the Paris Fashion Week, the Void Room Show. At the time, he had launched his collection and had just moved to Sydney from Melbourne and was running a pop-up store in Surry Hills, money was an issue. He almost turned down the opportunity because he wanted his collection to pay his way to Paris.
‘It’s all well and good to be invited to Paris, but you have to fly to Paris, you have to pay for the showroom, you have to pay to be there, it’s expensive,’ Benji said.
He created a crowd funding campaign through Pozible, which was highly successful. He originally asked for five thousand dollars but ended up with a little over six thousand dollars from friends and people he had never met before, but who all believed in what he was doing, his vision.
‘In Paris, I was like, I am just this Tassie boy with a dream label and in less than 12 months I am in Paris, showing my collection with these brands that are the top black wear labels,’ Benji said.
‘It was a surreal experience and I was totally out of my depths. It was an amazing experience that I would never have again. My first time in Paris, showing my collection, it changed me, it changed me as a designer, it’s really showed me the direction that I want to go in.’
It’s not all fashion shows and runways, being a niche label, Benji has faced some challenges. While he is in it for the self-expression and to be an artist, ultimately he has to make a living, he has to make money, he has to live.
‘Sometimes it’s hard, especially being an emerging label that is niche, and it’s tricky. I realised I have to travel around the world. My customers exist everywhere, I just have to find them and collect them and kind of cultivate them together to make a sustainable label that is niche,’ Benji said.
There are advantages to being a niche label, BLACK/KRSNA gets to be different. Benji believes there is a respect for a label that is niche, it requires a lot more work to create a viable label that makes money while collecting these pockets of people.
‘These are people who are hiding in the background, they are people hiding down in the alleys. It’s the underground. There is something appealing about the underground scene for me,’ Benji said.
Benji and his label, BLACK/KRSNA have a busy year ahead. With another two or three collections in the works, and growing to understand where he stands as a fashion designer. His next collection will be called, Contraction part 2.
In a few weeks, he will take part in an off shoot collection as part of the Mercedes Benz fashion week.
‘Going to Paris, I realised I wanted to do more conceptual artistic pieces. This next collection, Contraction: Part 2, it’s going back to the conceptual artistic one off garments,’ Benji said.
‘My ultimate is to just create one off garment, art pieces. Now that I feel like I have semi-established myself in this tiny market and I know who I am as a designer and where I want to take this label.’
Benji is open to collaborations, suggestions and ideas, you can find him on Facebook, Instagram or alternatively you can visit his website www.blackkrsna.com.au to find out more about his collection.
‘I just hope the wearer takes away a new self-expression of spirituality and just being an open, flowing, free minded person. Break the shackles down of what the world says you should do, what you should be, how you should look, and define yourself,’ Benji said.