Plays Well With Others Takes Inspiration From an Iconic Brand
When Cheyann Benedict started a new T-shirt brand, Plays Well With Others, in October, she and her business partner, stylist Cristina Ehrlich, thought they’d take inspiration from C&C California, Benedict’s former brand. Launched in 2003 with Ehrlich’s friend Claire Stansfield, C&C California was sold to Liz Claiborne for $28 million in 2005. The label was considered a pioneer in women’s T-shirt labels.
“People would come up to me and say, ‘Please do something like C&C again,’” Benedict said.
C&C fans were looking for tops that had a great fit and, possibly, would repeat some of the brand’s hits such as its vibrant colors. But the Los Angeles–headquartered Benedict and Ehrlich found out that history does not always repeat itself in fashion.
They received a good response to their line’s unique fashion silhouettes in refined Supima-cotton fabrics. Vibrant color was a different story.
“I’m a huge proponent of color,” Benedict said. “But we found that the industry is not responding to large color offerings anymore, or at least not at this time. “
Benedict said that the plan and direction for Plays Well With Others changed. She and Ehrlich are wrapping up designing the upcoming Fall 2020 season, which they’ll start exhibiting at trade shows and in private appointments in March. They’ll also be adding new clothing categories to the line.
A bold start
For Plays Well With Others’ first collection, the brand offered 17 colors, but in the upcoming season Benedict said that she and Ehrlich would pare down the choices to include nine hues. In addition to these colors, neutrals will also be included with only one or two colors that pop. They will continue to be inspired by the muse that shaped C&C California.
“With C&C, Claire and I reinvented the T-shirt. But you can’t reinvent the T-shirt anymore,” Benedict said, “but you can inspire people to wear T-shirts differently. A T-shirt can be worn in a put-together way. It doesn’t have to be a lazy item.”
Nicole Pollard Bayme, a stylist and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles–headquartered lifestyle company Lalaluxe, agreed that vibrant color can be a tough sell, at least in the U.S. market.
“The American market gravitates toward safety in dressing. There is always an appreciation for classics. We embrace monochrome basic colors that you can’t screw up,” Pollard Bayme said of the U.S. consumer. However, C&C California, which continues to do business, remains influential. “It was the first company that bridged luxury and contemporary,” she said. “The fit was impeccable. There were mustards, interesting blues, it created a lot of wardrobe options around the basic T-shirt.”
Benedict and Ehrlich met at a dinner party in 2017 and decided to join forces after a discussion about how the fashion market did not, at that point, offer high-end T-shirts that could be worn on a red carpet or with eveningwear. The duo decided on the brand’s idiosyncratic name of Plays Well With Others because it reflected their mission.
They would create T-shirts that would work well with a multiplicity of clothes found in a person’s wardrobe. Benedict and Ehrlich also aimed to be good environmental citizens by manufacturing sustainably and locally. The pair source fabrics that are milled in Los Angeles. Pieces are also manufactured locally, primarily through their manufacturing partner, Keep It Here Inc., a factory that shares Benedict and Ehrlich’s commitment to local, sustainable-apparel manufacturing through ethical practices.
For its first season, Plays Well With Others has been sold at independent boutiques such as Warm in New York City’s Greenwich Village; Hampden in Charleston, S.C.; Fahrenheit 451 in New York’s Hamptons; and the direct-to-consumer channel playswellwithothers.world. Retail prices range from $110 to $170.
Ehrlich, a career fashion stylist, has placed the line’s looks on some of her celebrity clients, including Mandy Moore and Laura Dern. While the T-shirt has generally been considered a symbol of casual fashion, Benedict said these pieces have been sidelined by low expectations.
“I’m a proponent of trying to inspire people to dress more these days. The California sportswear trend—yoga pants, jeans and T-shirts—is not going away, nor should it. But we miss the moments when people put on an outfit that reflects their inner style,” she explained. “By offering tees that are more refined, more clean, we offer a palette that will inspire people to put together more put-together fashion looks.”
The line focuses on three different categories for silhouettes: classics, seasonal basics and fashion T-shirts. Unique features are created by designing T-shirts with subtle details, Benedict said. A muscle tee, which the designers call “I Want My MTV,” was inspired by the 1980s and features mini shoulder pads and motocross-style stitching.
The Muse is a fitted crew-neck T-shirt that features binding on the sleeve and neck that is reminiscent of a 1960s tee. Another look is a camisole that features a soft, ribbed poor-boy fabric.
More than a T-shirt
For the Fall ’20 season, Plays Well With Others will offer new categories, including a line of men’s T-shirts. The brand will also introduce new styles that are intended to be paired with the women’s T-shirts. They will include bottoms called Day Pants to offer an alternative to jeans. The bottoms line will begin with four silhouettes, one of which will be inspired by 1920s chinos. Within this collection there will also be some high-end terry pieces—three tops and two bottoms.
However, the Plays Well With Others guiding inspiration will be making the best T-shirt the label can produce.
“You must feel extremely comfortable in it while also feeling stylish,” Benedict said. “Making a great T-shirt is harder than it seems. There are a lot of delicate details to make a T-shirt just right.”