Photo by Elizabeth Young
When acclaimed stylist and designer Victoria Bartlett says, “To put it simply, he is a fashion god,” she could only be talking about one person: Benjamin Liu.
Benjamin is best known as the conduit for many of New York’s fashion cognoscenti, including Ms. Bartlett and her VPL intimates line. He calls himself a “multimedia producer,” but that hardly begins to describe the scope of his involvement in so many creative projects. He’s produced events for Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Clinique, Fendi, Nom de Guerre, Shiseido, and Visionaire, in addition to mounting exhibitions for fashion photography icon Steven Klein. His fashion show production credits include Edun, Moschino, ORFI, Richard Chai, Tess Giberson, and United Bamboo. He’s even produced commercials for MTV2, and more recently co-founded Downtown for Democracy, a political action committee dedicated to mobilizing the creative community as a political power to influence youth to participate in the democratic process. In his own words, he puts “a humorous take on all things with a nihilistic attitude.” He finds inspiration in a multitude of things, including “the work ethics of Mexican laborers, the backbone of our service industries,” and the “inexhaustible film-history mind of Sean Williams, former manager of Kim’s Video (on St. Mark’s Place, in New York City).”
Early in his career, he “wound up” working for designer Roy Halston Frowick’s muse and companion Victor Hugo, and then subsequently for Andy Warhol, as his personal and studio assistant. We asked him how he became Warhol’s assistant. “While spending two summers working (with Victor) at Warhol and Paul Morrisey’s Montauk estate, which Halston rented, Andy was invited to join us on major holidays, the Fourth of July and so on. Through our daily walks we got to know each other better and he ‘popped the question.’ I’d pick him up at his townhouse on East 66th Street every morning around 10-ish. We would take care of his personal and work-related business for a couple of hours before heading to the studio, which was on 17th Street and Broadway, to start working on art projects with his other assistant, the very talented Jay Shriver. Early evenings right after the factory closed, we would attend numerous parties, which Andy still considered work. I’d usually drop him off at the residence past midnight.”
To add to Liu’s enigmatic character and credibility in the downtown fashion/art scene, he’s appeared in films like Underground USA by Eric Mitchell and the cult classic Liquid Sky by Slava Tsukerman. He’s co-authored a book, Unseen Warhol for the estimable Rizzoli press, and is a regular contributor to relentlessly hip selfservice magazine. Always approachable at the most pretentious of events or the most down-and-dirty of parties, Benjamin is quick to introduce those in his immediate surroundings not only by name, but with an uncannily sharp memory, by the projects they’re working on.
We couldn’t resist asking him what he would consider the ultimate collaboration. “It’s hard to categorize what constitutes the ‘ultimate,’ but rewarding or euphoric collaborations could be as simple as being asked by my musician friend Austin Fisher if I’d like to work on a future concert for The Child Ballads, the new band from Stewart Lupton, the magnetic former lead singer of Jonathan Fire*Eater.”
To say he’s connected is to say the very least, but to say he connects like-minded others is to say it all. Humble through it all, perhaps his response to the question of what makes him happy is the best reflection of his character: “An all-day food binge through the diverse neighborhoods of New York, whether it’s having Turkish baklava in Kings Highway or eating Taiwanese fried stinky bean cakes in Flushing or Mexican tacos in Woodside. Or simply reading a good book, like CHE by Jon Lee Anderson, or a good magazine article, like Ian Frazier’s take on Hugalu, the little known (at least in America) grandson of Genghis Khan, who sacked Baghdad in 1258.”
Is there anything people don’t know about a man that spends this much time circulating and connecting people? “My sense of curiosity is usually driven by perversion,” he replies cherubically. Also, he adds, “Perhaps [people misconstrue] that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, when in fact it was stainless steel.”