interviewed by Calum Donoghue, 2 July 2015
Benj Lee, Co-Founder at Passavant and Lee
Between the two of them, Jon Passavant and Benj Lee have modelled for some of the world's biggest brands including Dior, Armani and Dunhill. Having joined their style credentials, the handsome duo are fast becoming hot commodity in luxury men's accessories. QH speaks to one half of Passavant and Lee...
This season was your first exhibiting at LC:M, how did it go?
It was hugely exciting to be a part of LC:M. It was our first time showcasing there and it couldn't have been a warmer reception. There was something deeply satisfying about showing the fruits of all our hard work in my hometown and the buzz in London at the moment is tangible.
How did you meet Jon?
I met Jon in New York in 2008 when I moved there with my wife. We only planned to be in New York a year or so, but he's the reason why 7 years on it feels as much like home as London.
You both have an extensive background in modelling. Has your years in men's fashion influenced your design in accessories?
Absolutely. We were both so privileged to work with the top creatives in the fashion industry- photographers, designers, stylists, art directors, and this broad spectrum of people have been a huge inspiration to us. There was something special about working as a model and getting to see behind the curtain, being involved in off the record conversations. Aside from the people, the places our work took and takes us serves as a massive influence on our work today. From Castles in Scotland to the beaches of Sri Lanca, the streets of Paris to the glaciers of Patagonia. Our accessories are for an adventurous man whose work and passions take him around the world. For someone who demands functionality, but embraces the romance of travel.
How did it come about mixing leather with aircraft aluminium?
The inspiration for our inaugural No.25 collection was a combination of the traditional rigid leather briefcases that I grew up seeing my grandfathers carry into the City of London, and the classic American wartime aviation aesthetic that's woven into Jon's heritage.
You spend your time between London and New York, where must QH readers stay/eat/party in the Big Apple?
We're based in Nolita which as an area was my first love in New York. A local haunt of ours recently has been Rintintin.
I don't stay in hotels in NY anymore now that we have a place here, but I'll never forget staying at the Bowery on one of my first trips to the city. To this day it's one of my favourites, I still head it there for a winter warmer in front of the fire on a brutal winter day.
How do you manage to balance British and American style?
It's something that happens naturally as we are both equally involved in the design process. The inspiration we pull from is varied but there is always a strong vein of our American and British heritage. We have the advantage of being great friends, so the design process is fluid and enjoyable from the outset.
How has the design of the items you create adapted since inception?
As our products have gone from being rough sketches and imaginings to actual finished pieces, we've been confronted with countless decisions and forks in the road. At every point we have gone with the highest quality material or process or craftsman. Whilst we always knew we wanted to create well made, authentic pieces, we didn't know initially that it would end up being a £2000 briefcase that is genuinely worth every penny. The further we got into it, the more we realized the incredible challenges of making products like this, but also the amazing skills of the craftsmen who would help us realise our dreams.
What does luxury mean to you?
To me, luxury has to be aspirational and also authentic. I’m drawn to things that evoke a sense of mystery but are also authentic to their context; whether in the materials used to create them or the process of design and manufacture, it can’t be a founded on a trend but on something classic, iconic and real.
How do you describe your personal style?
I love classic British style but then throwing my own twist in with it. I’ve always enjoyed vintage finds and working in pieces picked up from my travels. I’ve always found that you can tell most about a man by the accessories he has, they are also normally the most consistent part of someone's attire- you change bag much less than you change clothes, so I love having that part of my wardrobe sorted.
What's next for the brand?
We've been working on some exciting variations on the No.25 Collection including new metal applications and leather types, whilst at the same time working on the development of our first all-leather collection. To start talking about our full dreams for Passavant and Lee would be getting ahead of myself, but needless to say this is just the beginning...