While there's a surge of fashion stylists in Hollywood dressing up award-winning actresses, there's a new kind of stylist in town -- at least, one that's helping the hottest chefs in town upgrade their culinary uniforms. Meet Ellen Bennett -- the 26-year-old cook-turned-designer and founder of apron company Hedley&Bennett -- who is heating up the kitchen style scene, one restaurant at a time.
Though Bennett began with no design background, her former jobs -- as a line cook at restaurants Providence and Baco Mercat, and as a personal chef for a celebrity she refused to name -- made her realize one thing: She hated the kitchen uniforms and decided, "I'm going to make them better."
So she got to work. "It was literally all very instinctive," Bennett told Pret-a-Reporter in her downtown L.A. studio of how she first started designing aprons. "It'd be like, the weight doesn't feel right, I need it lighter; the strap needs to be thicker so it doesn't wrinkle. It was all based on what I didn't have in an apron before."
Between juggling three food-preparation jobs and finalizing designs for the most functional, yet fashion-forward aprons possible, her hard work and determination have paid off. The enthusiastic Bennett has grown her business from a one-woman operation run out of her home into a company with 15 staffers in its headquarters on Broadway, a few blocks south of the recently opened Ace Hotel and Swedish retailer Acne Studios.
Her current collection -- which runs from $38 to $126 and is sold at stores like Beverly Hills' Monsieur Marcel, downtown L.A.'s Poketo and Steven Alan -- features 46 different apron styles (in various fabricsincluding denim and linen, contrasting colors from bright blue to dark gray, and distinct patterns like stripes and polka dots), chef coats, chef hats and a farmers' market bag, created as a collaboration with Arts District retailer Apolis.
Bennett provides -- and even customizes upon request -- aprons for star tastemasters like Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal and Josef Centeno of Bar Ama, as well as David Chang of Momofuku Ko, Paul Kahan of Avec and Grant Achatz of Alinea (who graced the big screen last year in Joseph Levy's foodie film, Spinning Plates).
Needless to say, the door -- or shall we say, kitchen door -- has opened up countless opportunities for Bennett as the foodie world continues to learn about her designs. The most recent occasion involved designing aprons for the meat-centric Beefsteak dinner in December, hosted by Top Chef Masters' Neal Fraser, whom Bennett met while working at Providence. Comedy stars like Jimmy Kimmel, Mindy Kaling and John C. Reilly, who all attended the event benefiting the L.A. Food Bank, were seen sporting her custom-designed wares.
It's been a year and a half since she began Hedley&Bennett (named after her now-deceased rocket scientist grandfather, Hedley Bennett, and combined with her own last name), but she doesn't plan on simmering down anytime soon.
"I'm never satisfied," the constant multitasker said, explaining that she plans to launch in Mexico, debut a new chef coat line and open her first flagship store on Sunset, among many other plans for this year. "For me, there's no lapse between the idea and execution. It's just like, let's go."
Her next goal? To appear as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. "We'd have a f---ing ball, that's what would happen," said a laughing Bennett. "First of all, I'd grab eight guests [from the audience] and throw them up on stage to do a runway show with the aprons. Ellen [DeGeneres] and I would host it, and be like, 'In the apron model coming up, this is the one Momofuku wears.'"
And she has no problem appearing on the small screen, considering she used to announce the Mexican lottery numbers on TV when she moved to Mexico (she grew up in Glendale) for a period to study cooking at the Centro de Estudios Superiores de San Angel (CESSA).
While her original goal of owning her own restaurant may be a thing of the past, the former line cook still enjoys being part of the food space through her aprons, saying how her business is "the perfect niche -- it keeps me in the cooking world and [allows me to] have the greatest chef friends."
Thanks to Bennett and her apron squad, being a chef has never looked so chic.