For five years, Ben was Carine Roitfeld’s go-to for everything from Harper’s Bazaar, to CR Fashion Book, to her ad jobs and consulting work. He credits his success to luck, but I can personally – I was once his intern – attest to it being so much more than that. Ben is not only ambitious and insanely diligent, but his excitement, wit, and humor can even make hour 20 feel like a good time. He has only been a full-time stylist for six months and is already consulting for Louis Vuitton, but I assure you this is just the beginning.
This interview took place between Tate and Ben at his office in New York
Editor: Claudia Tilley
TVPS: So how did you get to where you are today?
BP: I was born and raised in Hawaii and moved to Los Angeles after high school. In college, I started to study psychology and immediately hated it. I wanted to switch schools so I looked at University of Southern California for communication and Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising for visual communication, which are completely different majors they just happen to have the same word. I didn't know what I wanted to do, I didn't even know what fashion was – growing up all we had were RVCA, Quicksilver, and Billabong.
FIDM happened to be the appointment that I had before USC and because I went to FIDM first I just thought, “I'm going to do this.” So I guess you could say it was meant to be.
When you’re not exposed to the fashion industry there are about four jobs that you might know of – photographer, stylist, designer, and maybe public relations, but in reality, there are so many other opportunities in this industry.
Since I didn’t know much then, I just started to say that I was going to be a stylist. Then someone believed me and asked, “Oh, we're doing an Elle magazine editorial, we have too many styling interns, but set design needs interns. Do you want to do it?” And I said, “Yeah.” I was thinking that even though I didn’t want to be a set designer this was going to be how I’d weasel my way in.
Every shoot and opportunity since then came because of that day. By word of mouth, I continued to work more and more, and then I graduated and moved to New York two days later.
How did you find CR Fashion Book?
Luckily, like the other work I had been doing until that point, CR found me. Before CR, I was only freelance, which was really interesting because I've learned how a lot of different people work and I was able to take what I thought was good and leave what I thought was bad coming into a new job. I was working a lot for Harper’s Bazaar – I had worked for different stylists that worked for them and then they started hiring me directly.
Carine’s title of Global Fashion Director of Harper's Bazaar was announced and they thought, she was likely going to need an additional team member for this role, so I was asked to meet with Stephen Gan who was the Creative Director of US Harper’s Bazaar at that time.
It was 11:30 AM when they called and asked if I could meet at Hearst at 11:45 AM. I was moving apartments and looked in my closet and there was literally just one empty hanger. But I said, “Okay.” So I rushed up there. I thought it was an interview so I had been mentally preparing the entire time. When I met Stephen and the executives of Hearst, they said “Oh, we're so excited that you work for Carine now.” I was like, “Oh cool me too.”
So working for Carine you were balancing Harper’s Bazaar, CR Fashion Book, as well as her ad jobs and consulting work. What was your day to day?
I'm one of those people that wakes up and frantically looks at their email within seconds. So because of the time difference with Carine in Paris I would respond to her, or any European emails that I had to deal with at that moment. Then I’d get ready and go to work.
Since CR is a biannual magazine the hectic times fluctuate. Nearing a shooting period of the season we would be mood boarding, selecting looks, editing stories, and prioritizing the important credits to shoot in specific stories until the actual shoots occurred.
My creative direction from Carine could be either incredibly specific, or broad. She always had an overarching idea or mood, and I could fill in the blanks. It was really exciting for a young creative person because she’d say, “It's going to be a punk story” and then I would have to figure out what that meant. I would have a lot of creative input, and submit my ideas to her of what I thought punk was or where we should take the idea. I would do that for her stories and I'd also have my own stories as well, so it was a lot of editing. There's a lot of backend in photoshoots that people don't realize as well.
In addition to the magazine, I worked on all of her other projects as well, which at the time included ad campaigns and projects such as Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, and so on.
It would really change day by day, but I was always very busy and at that time I would always go out at night. And I think I needed it – even though it made me tired, it also drove me somehow.
Wow, that’s a lot.
Compared to other people in positions similar to mine, you don't get that kind of creative freedom, especially with some of the larger stylists. You may not necessarily be styling or speaking directly with the photographer or the client as much as I was. I think I was able to stay so long with CR because my role kept changing and evolving; I was constantly learning.
So that’s what I did for five years. I put my own twist on it because that was my job, but I had to enter her mind space and think about what she would do, what her taste is, and what her aesthetic is. After I left, I took a break from working to clear that mind space because it was so embedded in me.
What do you think has been your biggest learning experience?
My biggest learning experience in general, during my time with Carine and also before that, is that you have to remember to make time for yourself. I am a really driven person and I always prioritized my job – which is important and that is how you get ahead, but there is a balance you have to find.
I never want to wake up in however many years from now and feel regret for anything.
Now you’re a full-time stylist. Congratulations on Louis Vuitton by the way!
Thank you! I took eight months off last year after leaving CR and then I came back in September and started consulting for Louis Vuitton. It’s really been an incredible experience thus far, and I’m really lucky to have been suggested by my friend Christine Centenera who also consults for the brand. Hopefully, this year will bring other exciting opportunities, my horoscope says it will, so…
How was the transition from being on Carine’s team to being on your own? How did you learn everything?
I'm still learning everything! I’m learning things every day. I guess the answer would be to ask lots of questions. I ask people questions all the time. Mainly to colleagues and friends I’ll ask, “How did you do that?” or “What do you think about that?” I think learning is all about curiosity and the eagerness to do so. Especially as an independent stylist, it’s now my name on the line so being willing to learn is the only way I’ll grow. I’m also learning to be more proactive since I don’t have an agent and I don't necessarily want one right now.
I think that's a smart move, that way when you have an agent you’re already pretty aware of everything that’s going on.
Definitely. Knowledge is power.
You're also currently involved with the LVMH prize, right?
I am. I have been, for the last three years. In a few hours, I’m actually going to Paris because the selection is tomorrow. It came about because of a last minute photoshoot with Carine where we wanted to do all young designers. So I went home, did all of this research, and created a board. The next day she was like, “I didn't know you knew so many young designers!” She's close with Delphine Arnault who leads the prize, and Carine recommended me for it. Carine has and forever will be my fashion fairy godmother, this is one great example.
You helped convince Vejas to apply, no?
Yes, and he did apply and won the special prize that year. Wales Bonner won the grand prize that year who I had reached out to as well. It's amazing because I get to talk to these young designers, learn about them, their design process, and get to know more about who they are in this incredibly important developmental stage.
What do you look for in young designers?
Every designer possesses something different, but most importantly what I look for is undeniable talent. There are some things you can’t learn, and I think that’s what I have been able to spot in people.
What advice would you give to someone who looks up to you?
That’s so hard because I feel like I am still figuring it out, you know?
I'm driven by happiness. I'm not going to work on a project that I don't love or feel good about. Do what you feel is right, and don’t be afraid to say no, it’s incredibly powerful. Staying conscious of what you're feeling inside is the ultimate advice.
This is a quote by Eckhart Tolle, and it’s incredibly eye-opening when you can’t seem to decipher what to do next or what is right vs wrong: “If you really want to know your mind, the body will always give you a truthful reflection, so look at the emotion, or rather feel it in your body. If there is an apparent conflict between them, the thought will be the lie, the emotion will be the truth.”