The sun has set in New York City, and the summer weather has begun to carry a hint of autumn. Coming off the buzz of a sake-omakase pairing followed by a classic NYC pizza slice, I stand in the bustling line outside the venue in the Lower East Side. I am surrounded by very fashionable young adults – it’s apparent that they are students or alumni of a fashion school from overlapping conversations.
Walking down the stairs and into the venue, I’m hit with the hot air of anticipation. The small studio carried the dichotomy of light and darkness – a brightly lit runway with a seated and standing audience cast in the shadows. I quickly grab a vacant seat near the front of the runway, and the crowd is loud with patience and excitement. The show begins.

The designs are risqué, daring, bright, and glamorous. The models are beautiful and mysterious. The music is beating in my chest. With each passing look, I am pulled in with intrigue, yearning to see the next one. Ben Doctor has made a lasting impression with his debut collection as a part of the 2023 New York Fashion Week. After the show, I got the chance to speak with him to learn more about his emerging brand, the struggles of living in NYC, and all things fashion.
Thank you for speaking with me today, Ben. And congratulations on your debut show! It was a pleasure experiencing it first-hand. How do you feel now?
Thank you so much, it was a huge group effort. I’m so glad you were able to make it I was so worried no one was going to come when I first started planning this. I feel a bit relieved that the work has finally been put out there, now I can finally start to show people I haven’t just been doing nothing for a year, but with the show overcomes some other challenges – keeping people interested in the work, making sure there’s a story and continuity even in the content post-show that is shared and circulated.
The show was such a manic high, which can propel you into keeping up with all the things that happen afterwards. It’s a drastic difference from school, where you’re allowed a break. Trying to make a living is cruel like that.
Since you’re debuting the brand, you still have so much to play and experiment with; there are endless possibilities. Could you tell us more about Ben Doctor and the person behind it?
I think Ben Doctor is a good name for a brand, and it’s conveniently my real name. For this collection, I designed and made all the clothes myself, which was extremely time-intensive for fifteen looks. All the knitwear, the metallics and patterns, were knit myself in my shared studio space in Chinatown. My background is in Textile Design, so my interest in garment making stems from fabrics first.
Let’s take a step back for a second to reflect. What made you first get interested in fashion?
I frequently like to say that it was an accident. That way it sounds like I wasn’t thinking from a young age this is what I would be doing, which I wasn’t. I took a serious interest in garment making in school, where I realized how rich and exciting textile design and development was in combination with clothing. Starting a garment from the fabric level leaves room for so much innovation, when you aren’t reliant on what fabrics are available to you in the market. Brands like Eckhaus Latta, I think probably think about clothing similarly. It’s this playful thing that is such a powerful storytelling device, and I just started to be obsessed with making clothes in this compulsive way.
Now, I believe (if my sources are right) you are an alumnus of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where you studied fashion design. Many of the other people in the audience were current or former students too. How did it feel to have this community show up and support you?
I actually didn’t go to school for fashion, but instead went for Textile Design. This was because I hadn’t decided fully I wanted to commit myself to fashion yet. But yes, lots of friends from school showed up, which was really incredible. I’m really lucky to be surrounded by peers in such an unwelcoming city, so I think we all really rely on one another to show out to things like this. In a way, it added an extra fire under me, knowing that my peers would be watching and anticipating a show. But I think we all push one another in this way that is truly because we want to see and experience beautiful things from one another.
I’m curious to know more about your time at RISD. How did your time there influence your current designs?
RISD’s emphasis on skill and craft is something unmatched I think, especially in a discipline like textiles. The way that we (maybe regrettably) pushed ourselves to not only learn technical skills, but create something good or interesting out of it, is something that has stayed with me post grad. It’s this kind of attitude where, regardless of the amount of time or effort you put into something, you allow yourself to see it as if someone else made it.
The Spring/Summer 2024 collection takes daring leaps. With risqué cutaways, text, tears, frills, and more, the designs carry a very rugged and urban feel, while maintaining a certain elegance to the entire tone. What was the creative process like?
The whole time I was trying to capture this kind of uniquely New York expression, and what that led me to were these references from the ‘60s and ‘70s of people in New York with this daringly modern geometry in their hair and clothing. I wanted to reference this aspirational urban chic fashion and combine it with something more contemporary. Things get replaced with something more tattered or distressed. But everything still remains very controlled.
The title of the collection is Rotten Goodbye. Who or what are you saying farewell to?
I’m saying goodbye to New York. Not really, hopefully, but what I mean is that I’m saying goodbye to what we all imagine New York to be, which can only exist in your head. It’s the New York you see while watching Sex and the City, where everyone is so chic and epic. And life is affordable. New York is full of experiences, some better than others, but there are plenty of rotten ones, and sometimes you just have to say goodbye.
One of the designs includes a graphic ‘Goodbye’ printed on a pair of tights, so when the model wears them, the goodbye is cheekily placed on the buttocks. Very tongue-in-cheek! What role does humour play in your approach to design and even your everyday life?
Humour is an excellent way of working through your own pain. In my frustration with living in such a crazy city, having a slightly dark humour helps me maintain my sanity. I hope the way it works itself into my work doesn’t become something too campy, but I think it’s an effective way of connecting with other people and an audience.
New York is full of unique characters, something I could sense among both the audience and the cast. What kind of people do you want to speak to?
I really want to speak to the people in New York trying to follow their own path and still believe in the promise of the city. I want people to believe in the power of making something happen here out of nothing, I want to speak to the people who want to be able to say ‘I love New York!’, even when they can’t. I know I can’t really say it almost all the time. It’s so hard to love the city when you’re broke.
Starting your own brand isn’t easy: it’s energy- and time-consuming, expensive and, like any personal project, a risky idea. What felt right about founding Ben Doctor now, and how has it been so far?
All of those things are extremely well put. Honestly, if I was waiting for the right time to do this I probably would have never done it. It seems like a particularly challenging time financially in fashion, but I wasn’t really interested in debuting this project under the idea I would make lots of money. The reception from the show has been amazing, and it was an unforgettable experience.
According to a recent GQ article, a runway show at NYFW can cost from $40,000 to $500,000 (for independent brands like Peter Do, Elena Velez, and Collina Strada). I don’t want to get into economic details, but what’s your take on the skyrocketing prices in the city? How do you think that helps or hinders designers’ creativity?
Really, the way we were able to do this goes to my producer, Fefi Martinez. We were just calling in favours left and right, trying to get people involved that were solely interested in making something happen. She was really the one who made it all possible.
I can’t say that rising costs help designers in any way, but I think it works its way into the work of designers and artists trying to get by here. Aesthetically it never reflects abundance, there are not many clean lines, it’s muddier, maybe a bit more depressing. There’s probably mould in every residential space in the city, so that undoubtedly works its way into the clothes too.
More money would definitely fix a lot of my problems. I’m honestly in the dark for how people have the budget to do larger productions. It’s totally worth it, though, I see why people pour so much money into runways. It’s such an incredible experience.
What is your hope for the ever-evolving fashion scene moving forward?
My hope is for the future of fashion consumer or enjoyer. I think we should be demanding more from designers. We need more fashion criticism. We need better storytelling. We need these large budgets to be used to actually say something besides looking pretty. Fashion is such a rich storytelling device, and I just want it to be more inspiring for the audience.
Today, NYFW. Tomorrow, what?
After the high of the show, I would love the chance to do this every year. I already have lots of ideas for another collection, but in the meantime, I have to figure out what to do with this one. My hope is to produce a few styles and make some money to help sustain myself, otherwise, it really is goodbye, New York.
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