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Ben Doctor: Embracing Community and Resourcefulness in Post-Pandemic NYC
NCO 044
2023-04-14
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N: Hey, Ben! It's great to catch up with you. If today were the first day of school and everyone had to briefly introduce themselves, what would you say when it's your turn?

B: I'm not too great with icebreakers, so probably just my name to keep things short and sweet. My last name is actually Doctor, so just a name tends to be enough for people to work with.

N: Your work has evolved from a playful, earth-core aesthetic to a more downtown label kind of vibe, most recently focusing on daring knit constructions. Can you tell us about this evolution in your design approach?

B: New York has made an enormous impact on me and the way I think about clothes, both inspiring and limiting. I think for any designer, it's important to work in response to the culture.

In school, I was really fixated on this kind of world-building approach, which can be very fun, but it's missing a huge component of what people are feeling right now in front of you.

Or at least, how are my peers feeling and thinking and wearing clothes and how do they want to wear clothes and what message is most important to convey. I think recently, I've been trying to get at this more while still staying true and honing in on exciting construction and structure – something that helps me keep making clothes without wanting to shoot myself.

N: It seems that NYC is experiencing a creative renaissance post-pandemic, and you appear to be well-immersed in the city's creative scene. How does your community of friends influence your work? How crucial is that connection to your creative process?

B: I think friends are my biggest inspirations, without them I would be working in a vacuum, and clothes are inherently social. Friends are invaluable. I have people come over to the studio while I'm working on stuff so we can just talk about things, what's working and what's not. I force people to try on stuff all the time – I invite them to come check out the studio and then ask them to try on a bunch of samples while I take 100 photographs. I feel like we are all not afraid to have disagreements in what we like, which adds to the conversation. Getting other points of view is amazing.

N: Your designs exude a sense of New York City resourcefulness, as you're unafraid to take risks and make use of repurposed or found fabrics. How does the concept of "resourcefulness" play a role in your work?

B: Every job I've had, I've taken materials from. I draft my patterns on canvas I got from my first boss in New York, and lots of yarn I've gotten from various other jobs. I bought my JUKI with a few bottles of wine I traded with an artist who didn't need theirs anymore and wanted it gone. Lots of the scrappier aesthetic things you might be talking about weren't entirely out of necessity, but just an interest in collaging lots of different things together. In school, we were really excited about this maximal approach, but more recently, I've been trying to pare down and be more deliberate with material choices. It can be difficult while everything is so expensive.

N: As we wrap up our interview, Ben, where can we find you the next time we're in NYC? Do you have any favorite spots you'd like to share?

B: I sell some knitwear with Lucky Jewel here in New York, and they have a semi-recent location in Two Bridges – lower Manhattan. It changes all the time, but I'm hoping to get more buyers in the future. I'm addicted to coffee, so really, anywhere that sells that is fair game for where you could find me.

All images courtesy of Ben Doctor.
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