Erik Benke's affinity for formal wear was brought to life when he was travelling the Western Hockey League circuit. Now, as a business professional, his refined taste is evident.
By Caroline Barlott | March 1, 2017
Erik Benke has two closets full of clothes – class black suit jackets hang next to vibrant striped shirts. One closet has casual clothes, including t-shirts, blazers and jeans, while the other holds his professional wardrobe, ranging from a navy three-piece pinstriped suit to light-coloured dress shirts with darker detailing on the cuffs. Made-to-measure pieces are his favourites – the better they fit, the better they look – and it’s no surprise considering his lean, tall frame is likely hard to dress without the benefit of a tailor. He’s been wearing suits since he was a teen, when he started playing in the Western Hockey League for the Seattle Thunderbirds. After four years with the team, he moved back to his hometown of Edmonton where he entered the financial field. Now, his interest in fashion infuses both his personal and professional life.
As a senior investment analyst for the Alberta Teacher’s Retirement Fund, he analyzes companies to see if they will work as investment targets. Some of those companies are in the business of fashion, which means Benke often has an insider’s view of the trends before some of us even get dressed in the morning. But, for Benke, fashion is about expressing his own personal style, rather than reflecting the preferences of others.
When did you start getting interested in fashion?
Back when I was playing hockey, I wore suits before the games, but I didn’t really think about it much. I really didn’t get into it until I started getting established in the workplace. I learned first impressions are key. I had to wear suits for interviews so I got the basic black and charcoal suit. After that, I wanted to distinguish myself a little more, be a little different and maybe wear more stylish shirts from time to time.
There’s not as much for guys when it comes to fashion to really branch out. So, it gets tricky, so you look for little things where you can do it. Socks are a big one for me to have a bit more fun, but still keep it professional. A really well-made tie can go a long way with really nice fabrics. Sometimes I’ll get some cufflinks. It’s the small little details, and you build upon that.
I still play somewhat. I took a few years off when I came back and needed a change of pace after doing it for 16 to 17 years of my life. And then got back into it; unfortunately, I hurt my shoulder and needed a few things surgically repaired. Then, I decided to step away. I still fill in for teams when they need a guy. But now I just play all the sports I didn’t get a chance to as a kid: golf, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, floor hockey. I also race auto cars, so lots of different stuff. When did you get into racing?
My interest in cars started in Seattle where a good friend got me hooked. It all started with a car I had at the time and putting on a few performance parts. As much as I am an adrenaline junkie and like the racing component, doing the work is a lot of fun, as well. The racing is where you get to see your hard work – hopefully – pay off. Coming back from Seattle, I first got involved in just heading down to Castrol (by the airport) on Friday nights for street legal drag racing. After a couple of years of that I wanted to get into more of a track style of racing. That is when I found a group that did time attack racing at Stratotech Park by Fort Saskatchewan. After a few years of lapping with them, it, sadly, shut down and I now do lapping on the new track at Castrol a few times a year.
What have you learned through your work about fashion?
A few of the companies that we can invest in are clothing companies, so we have to talk to the management teams and sometimes visit the factories. I visited a yarn-spinning clothing facility in 2016. I saw from start to finish how they would take bales of cotton and put them through machines almost like a lawn mower. And it comes out with really fine yarn adn they make t-shirts.
So, I get to see sometimes how things are produced and also how trends are shifting. Over the years, there has been a shift away from denim more towards leisure wear that’s athletic, which is where you get things like yoga wear. There will also be a change again with the millenials as they go and form households.
Do you try to incorporate any trends into your wardrobe?
I’m a firm believer in whatever you’re comfortable with, you should stick with. And I have – there are trends out there that I think are interesting or cool, but not for me. They wouldn’t suit my personality or how I like to dress. I’m a big believer in no brand names or labels splashed all over clothing, while some people love it. I’m just the total opposite on that.
How would you describe your own style?
As a chameleon would be the best way. Obviously, I like to be professional at work. But I also like to be more adventurous than most. I’ve walked into some conferences, and everybody has on a black or navy or charcoal grey suit. I like to wear something that stands out a little bit more, gets you recognized. And it’s a little more of my personality; obviously, fashion helps with describing who you are. It can be worth a thousand words. What are some of your favourite accessories that help you create a unique look?
I love shoes though I don’t like to admit how many pairs I own, especially around some of my friends. They’ll give me hard time. Once you have basic black and brown, you branch out from there. I have a pair of wine-coloured Hugo Boss wing tipped shoes that I love.
I also have a pair of Tateossian cufflinks that spin and have two offsetting colors, so they make a really cool pattern when they spin. They are pretty unique and if I am bored in a meeting I can always just start spinning those to entertain myself – I’m joking, of course. They also hold sentimental value as they were a gift from my mom upon receiving my CFA charter. Lastly, and probably my favorite – mostly due to the fact I get the most use out of it here in Edmonton – would be an Ermenegildo Zegna scarf that I have. Not only do I love the look and style of it, but it is so incredibly soft as it is a cashmere silk blend.
When you have a really important meeting, do you have a piece that you tend to wear?
If it’s a really big meeting, I’ll go with a three-piece suit. And I have the little details like cuff links or a pin collar to be especially formal. I really like having made-to-measure pieces, and they work really well for important occasions because they, of course, fit perfectly.
What is it about made-to-measure items that really appeals to you, and what are some of your favourite pieces?
There are really two main reasons why I like made-to-measure. The first all comes down to fit. Regardless of a person’s style, if it doesn’t fit well, it really doesn’t matter how nice the piece is, as it can still look sloppy or poor. My body is tough to fit into your average off-the-shelf piece, so for all suits and dress pants I go with made-to-measure and a fair number of my dress shirts. If it is an off-the-shelf dress shirt, then it usually gets a little tailoring as well. The second reason is the customization. There really is no limit to the fabric choices out there and they are constantly changing. After that, getting to design everything from the jacket length, to pocket style, lapels, buttons, trim, inner fabric, there are just so many combinations and it is truly a one-of-a-kind piece then. One made-to-measure outfit I really like is my three-piece navy suit with purple pinstripes. The trim around all the buttons and stitching is the same purple in the pinstripe which creates a really cool look. The inner lining you can have fun with and I went with something much more outlandish. Also I went with a peak lapel, which I love. Another one I like is an Eton dress shirt. I went with a salmon colour which is usually very bright, but turn it a little more formal with French cuffs and a pin collar. Favourites
Sport: Football. I didn’t get to play it as a kid and I’m a huge Seattle Seahawks fan. And hockey, of course.
Hang out spot: Situation Brewing.
Food: East Coast lobster.
Shop: Henry Singer.
Wine: Cliff Lede Stardust Heaven.
Favourite restaurant: It’s hard to choose. I love Corso 32, Woodwork and Rostizado.
Wardrobe staple: A really well-fitting suit that’s universal and can be mixed with any shoes or belt.
Travel destination: Barbados
Book: Two that pop to mind are The Amber Room – I love books loosely based on history or a true story – and a Star Wars trilogy I read, specifically the Thrawn Trilogy. I have a nerdy side, as well.