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A touch of fashion, class

Typhani Yang
Media Credit: Joleen Vincent Mercedes Ben fits a dress.

Media Credit: Joleen Vincent Mercedes Ben fits a dress.

When she walked up the stairs of the University Union with her long, brown hair and her stylish attire, she exuded the class of a Mercedes-Benz CLK-class. She was casual, yet chic and her smile was warm when she introduced herself.

If talent had a name it would be Mercedes Ben - better known as Mercedes Benz. (Yes, her parents purposely named her that.)

"When I was younger I didn't like my name but I like it now," Ben said.

Ben is a full-time junior at Sacramento State and a full-time fashion designer.

Media Credit: Joleen Vincent
Sac State student Sheree Johnson models a dress by Mercedes Ben.

She is also known as the "Spray Paintin' Princess" because she is skilled at spray painting fabrics to give it the illusion of more expensive fabrics.

"I'd say I'm pretty good at it," Ben said. "One time I made a regular black dress and took laces and spray painted over the lace and created the illusion that it really is lace, but it's not."

Ben said she got into spray painting by simply playing around with it.

"I wanted to make a dress that looked very couture," Ben said.

Only 25 years old, Ben has already had more than 10 fashion shows with her line called "Benzo Couture," which is only made for women.

"'Benzo Couture' is a trend setter, glamorous and for a fashionista at heart," Ben said. "Benzo Couture is something I've wanted to do since I was a little kid. It's something I've always been passionate about."

Ben has never created the same thing twice, unless it's a replica she wants to keep for herself because she wants her buyer to know she's the only one in history to have that dress.

If someone wants the same dress as another person, Ben said she would create it but with something different added to it such as a different color.

Each of her collections usually carry two to three items that are spray painted and cost more than the other items because she puts more time into them.

"That really gives it a personal touch from the designer," Ben said.

Instead of paying her models with cash, Ben is known to give them gifts such as bracelets from Italy.

"She's one of the best designers I've ever worked for," said Ariene Clark, a Benzo Couture model of four years. "She's actually one of the only designers who gives us personalized goody bags."

Clark, 28, met Ben while casting for one of Ben's fashion shows in New York. Since then, she has been in every Benzo Couture fashion show.

Clark will be flying out with Ben for the next fashion show, which will be in Denver, Colo. this March.

Ben has also used her talent to help support the cure for breast cancer and for WEAVE, a service for women who suffer from domestic violence.

Denver's fashion show will be presenting Ben's latest collection labeled "Babes 'N' Toyland," which will be full of vibrant colors.

"Babes 'N' Toyland" was inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Ben said.

Ben said she is often compared to another popular fashion line called Heatherette because the colors are wild and bright.

Because she was born and raised in Denver, Ben said she is really excited to be doing her next show there.

"It's kind of like going back home and doing my first show out there," Ben said.

Ben is described by Clark as "very calm, very excited, very professional and goofy at times" behind the scenes of a fashion show.

Clark said Ben is very creative and her shows are always successful.

"There's always a good crowd - a classy crowd," Clark said.

Clark also owns pieces made by Ben from Ben's very first collection. Her favorite piece is a brown plaid jacket from another of Ben's line called "Rock Royalty."

"She spends a lot of time on her pieces," Clark said.

"She would often go beyond the expectations of the assignment, providing more than was asked," Bonnie Spencer, chairperson of the Fashion Department at American River College, said.

Before attending Sac State, Ben went to ARC where she received her associate degree.

Spencer was Ben's mentor and inspiration while she attended ARC.

Ben said she probably wouldn't have put her clothes out there if Spencer hadn't pushed her on.

"Mercedes was an excellent student. She was diligent and worked very hard," Spencer said.

Both Clark and Spencer have said that Ben's clothing line is "saleable" and "wearable."

"The craftsmanship is very good," Clark said.

"Her designs are fresh, fun and girly," Spencer added.

Ben said she finds inspiration for her collections from all the traveling she's done within the United States. Madonna and Gwen Stefani also bring Ben inspiration.

"I've had such a variety in my life and I'm glad I'm able to express myself and all that I've seen through my clothes," Ben said.

It would seem to most that Ben is living the dream of a fashion designer. Nevertheless, she still is a student, not to mention a girlfriend.

Ben is currently living with her boyfriend and their new dog.

Ben said she's been thinking of creating children's wear and a swimsuit line she'd like to call "The Socialite."

No one knows about the swimsuits yet, Ben said.

"I don't want them to be just regular swimsuits. I'm going to add my own 'Benzo Couture' touch to them," Ben said.

Recently, Ben designed dresses for two young girls who saw her clothing line the Sacramento Bee newspaper.

Their parents contacted Ben and she specially fitted the girls.

"I wanted them to feel like a princess and give something they might not be able to buy at stores," Ben said.

The girls' dresses were semi-casual and made of cotton with a spandex blend material so that it would be easy to wash.

The girls' dresses were sold at about $125 to $150. Women's dresses are sold for $200 to $300.

In the future, Ben would like to move her line to big cities such as Los Angeles or Miami.

Clark said she sees Ben's line going to New York or overseas.

"She definitely has pieces that could go to Milan," Clark said.

"That's something I would consider but Sacramento has been so good to me I don't know if I really want to leave," Ben said.

For now, "Benzo Couture" can be found at Krazy Mary's Boutique, located in Midtown. Her line can also be purchased online through her MySpace page at

Ben said her clothing line is for those who want to stand out and are not afraid to express themselves.

"It's all about taking risks and what those risks can do to define you makes you learn about yourself and what you're willing to do," Ben said.


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