“It all started by the TASIS ping pong table,” said Bunyamin Aydin ’09, whose contemporary fashion label Les Benjamins was making waves even before it made a stunning Milan debut in January, becoming the first Turkish brand to be featured at the city’s world-famous Men’s Fashion Week.
Aydin, who was recently identified as one of Fashion Net’s “Influencers”, first arrived at The American School in Switzerland as a ninth grader in the fall of 2005 after his parents sent him to summer programs in London and Lugano, where he had a total of seven weeks to learn English before starting high school. It was an eye-opening experience for a 14-year old who had lived in both Germany and Turkey but was nonetheless taken aback by just how international the TASIS campus was.
“Everyone looks back at this place and thinks, 'Wow, I want to be back there.' I think it's really inspiring that wherever you go, you have friends waiting for you. You have family all over the world, and I think that's the best thing I have taken from TASIS."“I think the biggest thing I took away from TASIS was meeting so many people with different nationalities and cultures—engaging with them, understanding their culture, respecting their culture, and also seeing the natural side of the world,” he said. “It's not all about business and money—it's also family values and cultural values that are so important. You see how Koreans act or speak, how Japanese speak, how Brazilians are, and so on. You learn all of these things, and I think that helped me a lot and inspired me to create a global brand."
Aydin’s artistic talent was manifest, and while he loved his drawing and painting classes at TASIS and cites Photography teacher Horst Dürrschmidt and Architecture teacher Mark Aeschliman as important mentors, he also loved studying History, a subject that has profoundly influenced his design philosophy.
“I found history classes to be the most interesting because I could learn about the past,” he said. “I’ve been able to infuse this knowledge of history into my designs, taking references from history and combining them with modern wear. My hope is that I can help history live on because I feel like the youth right now are not interested in the past, and I’d really like to help change that.”
Despite his many academic interests, Aydin attributes much of his future success to the camaraderie he shared with both peers and adults at TASIS.
“I was never the guy who liked to sit in his room and study and do homework,” he said. “I was very social with everyone—with teachers and students. I was always very interested in human engagement.”
His favorite social spot was, of course, the stone ping pong table that rests between the iconic Villa De Nobili, a 17th century masterpiece that still serves as a dormitory and dining hall, and the Palestra, a spacious gymnasium built in 1998.
“It was a great meeting spot,” he said. “If I had a free hour between classes, that’s where I’d go. You have a full view of the entire campus and always know what’s going on. It was the best place to relax and socialize.”
It was there that Aydin daydreamed about one day creating his own brand and formed the friendships with classmates that colored his worldview and ultimately created a network he couldn’t imagine being without.
"I know so many people around the world who I can ask for help, ask for advice,” he said. “And even if I just visit, I meet them and have coffee and it's amazing. It inspires me. I love how our moments here always stay in everyone's minds. Everyone looks back at this place and thinks, 'Wow, I want to be back there.' I think it's really inspiring that wherever you go, you have friends waiting for you. You have family all over the world, and I think that's the best thing I have taken from TASIS."
The longing to return to TASIS has led Aydin back to campus three times since he graduated, with his most recent trip coming in the days after the Milan show. Promising young filmmaker Luke Smits is creating a short film intended to showcase the designer's background, creative insight, and design process, and Aydin felt strongly that much of the film needed to be shot in Lugano.
“I want people to see my methods of creativity and understand what I stand for. It was so important for us to come to TASIS because it played such an important role in my life."
What Aydin stands for is collaboration, togetherness, and positivity—notions that were crystallized during his time in Istanbul, a city that sits at the crossroads of East and West.
“In Istanbul, you can go to one street and it's like New York and the back street of it feels like the Middle East, and that energy, that vibe...I find it very interesting,” he said. “I love how the two cultures fuse together, and right now with this huge conflict between East and West, we just try to promote togetherness. We try to promote that both can live together, and we also promote positivity. That's the brand's DNA.”
“My suggestion to TASIS students is that they do what they love. Because if you don't love it, you won't be good at what you're doing. You should have your heart in it."
Aydin reinforces his message by collaborating with other companies—including his competitors—as often as he can. One such upcoming collaboration will be the creation of a 60th anniversary T-shirt for TASIS, which will be celebrating the milestone this summer. He hopes to involve students from the TASIS Summer Program’s Fashion and Textile Design course in the production process.
"This is the age of collaboration—the age of doing stuff together,” he said. “TASIS will be a perfect partner. Working with them to create a T-shirt for the 60th is just a beautiful way of promoting both the School and our brand. We want to create something beautiful that a limited number of people can value and collect, so that it actually becomes a collector's item.”
After graduating from TASIS in 2009, Aydin—whose family has 35 years of experience in textile manufacturing and now serves as the “backbone of production” for Les Benjamins—sought to please his parents by studying business, international relations, and advertising. He spent the better part of three years at three different universities, but each time he realized he wasn’t being true to himself, and he never did finish a college degree.
“I was always going back to TASIS times, when I was taking photography classes with Horst Dürrschmidt and he was teaching me how to use film cameras, how to cut the film, how to scan the film, and all the artistic processes,” he said. “Those are the classroom moments I most remember, and I soon realized that I'm more into the creative side than the business side, so I didn't force myself to continue to do what my family would like me to do. And they are really open, so they told me I should do what I love.”
Aydin at the Milan show with TASIS Director of Admissions Bill Eichner, TASIS teacher Mark Aeschliman, and TASIS students
Over the course of five years of grueling work that included “evenings, weekends, and no social time,” Aydin made his company a huge hit in Istanbul before turning his sights to the global stage. While he’d already found success in the global market, it was his January 17 show in Milan that catapulted Les Benjamins to new heights and removed any lingering doubts about whether the decision to pursue his dream was the correct one. He encourages today’s TASIS students to do the same.
"I think the most important thing is to do what you love because you're going to go through times where you want to stop doing what you're doing,” he said. “There will be your times where you'll be super happy, and then the next moment you'll be sad. There are constant ups and downs. You will be lonely at times, and there will be times when you’re surrounded with friends. So my suggestion to TASIS students is that they do what they love. Because if you don't love it, you won't be good at what you're doing. You should have your heart in it."
Aydin greatly appreciates the opportunity he had to study at TASIS, and he understands that it’s a privilege most families cannot afford. He urges students to make the most of their time.
“I would like to remind students that this moment is the most important moment in their lives,” he said. “They should have as much fun as they can, learn as much as they can. They should socialize and stop sitting in their rooms watching movies. Go out and meet people. Don't always stay in the same group—with people from the same country, for example. Be the one who breaks those groups and unites all together. These days are the most memorable, and they pass by like the wind.”
To read more about Bunyamin and Les Benjamins, please explore the following links: