You probably know Ben Yang best as Ben Baller, the luxury jeweler responsible for pretty much all of your favorite rappers' iciest pieces. But outside of frosting belt buckles for Justin Bieber, Yang has had a varied career, starting out as a DJ, then a music exec, and now embarking on his latest business venture: Clothing designer.
Yang launched his label Superism in early 2016, describing it as "the bridge between street and high-fashion." Given that angling, it makes sense that he would tap one of fashion's fastest rising stars in both those areas, Ian Connor, to model Superism's first-ever editorial look book. Yang gave MTV News the exclusive first look and answered our burning questions about his next creative chapter.
The full interview, below, has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
MTV: Ben, you're best known as, essentially, all of hip-hop's jeweler. What sparked this move into designing clothes?
Ben "Ben Baller" Yang: I've been involved with streetwear for 20 years now, and in the last 10 years, I've helped two major brands flourish from backyard dreams to 9-figure companies. After a few successful capsule collaborations, I wanted to step it up to a higher level and do a full collection. This is something that I was supposed to do many years ago with my brother Jonas [Bevacqua] (R.I.P. founder of L-R-G).
MTV: How is working on this different from creating custom jewelry for your clients? Both in just practical differences but also the spirit and vibe?
Yang: Well, most of my jewelry orders are dictated to me by my clientele. I put in some of my opinions at times, but for the most part, the outcome and ideas spark from them. I was responsible for the outcome of their custom jewelry piece, but I always knew I would kill it.
[Working on Superism] is more of a challenge to sort of develop a uniform for a large group of folks. It's a lot more studying and patience. As for spirit and vibe? At this point in my life, this is just more my lane, the whole process of designing and making clothes over jewelry. When it comes to jewelry, so few inspire me anymore except for Tyler, the Creator or A$AP Rocky.
MTV: How would you describe the customer you're designing for with Superism?
Yang: I would say he's 27 to 35, bossin'. Head of his department to say the least. A successful app owner. An exotic or luxury car owner and lives in a high rise condo over the house haha. The brand also attracts the early-to-mid 40-year-old man who wants to change his daily outfits but still fit in and not look like a dork trying to wear a Supreme hoodie and Jordans. This is more the Common Project shoe-wearing guy, and the Superism customer doesn't have anything in his back pockets. He has an active passport.
MTV: What are some of the most important lessons you've learned since starting the label?
Yang: The hate and criticism doesn't stop. No matter what you did before with streetwear, that's just kinda like child’s play. Once you step into cut-and-sew, it's a whole new world. You're really designing and dealing with the big dogs, not just slapping a graphic onto a $4 tee. As with most of my past jobs, there is no set work time. I don't have a 9-to-5 or 10-to-7, I have a "when I open my eyes, till I close my eyes" work day. A lesson I learned prior is that, I should do this without investor money, and I did. Also, no matter how successful I was in jewelry or music, this is a whole new world, and I was starting at square one, even with good partners and experience. I am a rookie in this game at 43, while guys like Hedi [Slimane] are in their 30s.... but that's ok. Vera Wang didn't start designing until she was well into her mid-40s.
MTV: This is your first editorial look book, and it's starring one of the most buzzed about names in fashion right now: Ian Connor. Why -- besides the buzz -- did you decide to center the whole look book around him?
Yang: I used a few big models for our launch and press pics, and they were good for the initial image of the brand, but I wanted to shake shit up a little bit. Ian is a guy who is so versatile. He's also never dressed like this before. I wanted to show how wide the range is with our brand. He's so damn photogenic and what took me usually seven hours or more with makeup artists and craft services and a 10+ person crew, we did this in less than an hour in my old penthouse loft downtown. Our craft services [supply] was Dr. Pepper and Little Caesars pizza.
MTV: What was it like working with Ian on this? Did he just straight-up model or did he assist with his styling as well?
Yang: Haha, Ian is like Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol and the Tasmanian Devil all mixed into one person. He was actually shooting for the cover of Exit magazine the day we shot this and shooting with Kenneth Cappelo, and even though I've been involved with some of the biggest photographers in the world, Kenneth is super OG, and I didn't want to fuck up his vibe by rushing him as our shoot was supposed to begin at 12pm noon. When he was finished with Ian, it was 4pm. I stressed Ian a little and he said, "C’mon Ben! I do this! This fashion shit is easy to me. Don't worry, I got you."
When we got to my old loft, I had five looks/outfits laid out, and he didn't use one of them. He mixed and matched it all by himself, and honestly, he killed it. I love how he mixed the fits totally different from what any of our full shoots have been like. He's not only the leader of the millennials. He's a genius.
MTV: Did you pay him with this new grill?
Yang: No, I actually met Ian on my birthday. A$AP Rocky took me to dinner at the Chateau Marmont, and he told me he was bringing the infamous Ian Connor. I said OK. We were discussing a new chain for A$AP, and Ian told me he was a big fan of mine since the MySpace days. Even though he was only 13 then, he admired some of the crazy jewelry designs I made and that era of style. We hit it off, and I respected his knowledge in fashion right off the top. Ian said he wanted a grill, and we went over it a little that night, but later on, he expressed how serious and how bad he wanted it. I worked out a deal with him on that, and the price of the grill was nothing, but how much it would normally cost Ian to do a shoot like he did for me is priceless. For real. I appreciate his time and help. I rarely say that about cats that much younger than me, but he's the man.