Welcome to The Window’s “A Drink With…” series, where each month photographer/writer duo Justin Bridges and Sean Hotchkiss sit down with an influential person, breaking the ice with their host’s refreshment of choice.
The Window: What are you drinking?
Ben Taverniti: An espresso—I drink about fifteen a day.
We’ve never heard of anything like that. You can go to sleep right after?
I start making them at 6 in the morning and drink them straight through until 8 or 9 p.m. I don’t drink alcohol, so that’s my thing. I fall asleep, face down. I guess that’s the French in me.
Where did you grow up?
In the South of France, Toulouse, which is close to Spain.
And you went to fashion school in Paris at a very young age?
I moved to Paris when I was 16 and started fashion school at 17. I was failing regular school, so I had to find something else. They made me take some tests right away to prove I could attend. For the first time in my life, I had good grades. I was like, ‘what the fuck is happening?’ [Laughs.] ‘I guess this is good.’
What did your parents think of the decision?
Well, my dad was a designer and I had told him my whole life I wanted to do the same. My mom was like, ‘Oh God.’
The men in my life…
Exactly. ‘This is not a good thing.’
Your dad had a successful line in Italy?
He did in the ’80s and ’90s. It was called Jimmy Taverniti—with my last name.
What was it?
It was sportswear. He experimented a lot with overdyeing and processes like that.
And you design sportswear.
I was in St. Tropez a few weeks ago with my mom and her best friend, who used to work for my dad back in the ’80s. Joyce [Bonelli], my girlfriend and business partner, shows up wearing a pair of Unravel Project sweatpants. Red, I think. My mom’s friend goes, ‘Holy shit, those look just like Jimmy Taverniti.’ I didn’t even connect the dots. It’s just in me. I’m a sponge and that’s just what I saw as a kid.
I always think it’d be wild to have a parent in a creative field, to grow up that way. I’m sure your kids will have an interesting childhood being around your lifestyle.
I hope so. They’re always with us and see everything we do. While they’re over there eating their hamburgers, we’re designing the new line. That’s the way I grew up. On the weekend I’d go to my dad’s office and we’d be sketching.
Did you draw as a kid?
Only clothes. I cannot draw anything else.
You’ve said that with Unravel, you wanted to destroy and rebuild. What needed destroying?
I went to fashion school in the early ’90s, and I remember living in Paris, being in that world, dreaming about Helmut, Margiela—the more established guys. Of course Rick Owens and Raf Simons were just getting their start then too. It felt like a movement, and it had nothing to do with the clothes.
It was a lifestyle.
Right. An expression of who these guys were. And there were no compromises, no big business then.
You want to get back to that kind of rawness?
Right. Destroy the compromise, big business side of things. Make stuff you love and grow organically. I’m excited Unravel is doing well, but to me, it’s more important to do what we, Joyce and I, want to do. No trends, with no seasons really—to just be free. People get tired of seeing the same thing everywhere.
You’ve said Joyce really changed the way you think about clothes.
I met Joyce when I was six months into starting Unravel. She’s a makeup artist, and she has an amazing eye for photography. I’m a little more old school—very magazine- and book-oriented. Touch and feel. Joyce taught me the power of social media and how to use the Internet to tell a story, as she has over 1 million Instagram followers. I had this sweater that I thought was so dope, and she goes, ‘Yea that’s cool, but if someone was photographed wearing it, it would look like shit.’ She showed me how to put things together, and it just took life right away. It was magical.
Now your stuff gets posted on social media all the time. That shot of Kendall Jenner in the sweatshirt went viral.
Social media, as amazing a tool as it is, I think it fucked up the world.
Too much access?
That, yes. And it’s like you slap a print on a T-shirt and you’re a designer.
Is that why your clothes are so intricate?
Unravel is an expensive line because I’m not compromising anything. When I started the company, I was on my own in a one-bedroom apartment. I put everything I had, all my own money, into the line. I remember telling my friends, ‘If I sell one jacket, I’m cool.’ All I wanted to do was make an amazing product and sell it to the world’s best stores.
How long does it take to wash and treat one of these jackets?
Up to a whole day for some of the pieces. When the new line is coming out, I’ll basically hole myself up in the wash house for three days until it’s right. We make a bomber, for instance, and everyone is doing bombers right now, but ours is unique because each one is different. Every single person can have the same bomber, but they’re all different because of the treatments.
Why is L.A. doing everything cool in fashion right now?
The celebrity base doesn’t hurt, and again, social media. It’s a dangerous weapon, but an effective one. And L.A. is a stylish place at its core. You’ve been to Venice, I’m sure, and to me the old Dogtown skaters are the gods. There’s rock and roll here, with The Chateau Marmont and all this history. It’s like a book.
Have you learned anything, doing your own line?
There’s no lesson. Everything changes so fast.
So you really have to trust yourself?
We have lots of people around and we love getting their opinions. But when it really comes to doing the collection, I have to shut down. I have to shut it all out. It’s too much information. Too much he-said, she-said. Too many pictures. I get overwhelmed and lose myself.
I heard you like to watch people in airports.
A lot of times in the airport or out, you’ll see people with their clothes in odd positions or whatever, taking them off, putting them on, and I’ll catch that moment when the sleeve is twisted around and think, ‘That’s fucking cool.’ And try it.
It’s like eavesdropping in New York and stealing a line for your script.