onday was a big day for the internet, thanks to the photo that Ashley BensonInstagrammed featuring a tattoo of the letters “CD,” which just so happen to be the same as her girlfriend‘s initials. But it was an even bigger day for Benson; to her, the photo marked her official announcement that first-ever sunglasses collection, Privé Revaux X Benzo, had finally launched—a moment she’d been anticipating for months.
The 29-year-old actress has been working with Privé Revaux for a few years now, but this is the first time she tried her hand at design. Still, Benson knew exactly where to start: with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, whom she’s worshipped since, as she put it, “day one.” From there, she came up with three different styles: The Victoria, which is an oversized take on “everyday”; the Olive, a cat eye named after her dog; and the Planco, a “unique” rectangular pair complete with side panels, which, naturally, was inspired by Rihanna. It’s only been about 24 hours, but thanks no doubt in part to Benson’s 19 million Instagram followers, two of the three are already almost out of stock.
And yet, Benson is still getting used to the idea that she has an eye for style. The era of Pretty Little Liars took up the bulk of her twenties, but it wasn’t until after the show wrapped that she got her first-ever stylist—and stopped wearing red carpet looks that she now considers not only “horrible,” but “horrendous.” Then again, Benson might just be her own worst critic: “I don’t make good choices with clothes,” she insisted when she dropped by W‘s office last week—never mind that she looked impeccable. Still, after laying out her sunglasses designs—and kicking off her Chanel pumps—Benson obliged to share her style notes with W. Read on for more about each and every one of her obsessions, from the Olsens to escape rooms.
What are three words that describe your style?
Black, simple, and chic—at least, when I try to dress. Usually I’m just in, like, sweats. But when I try, to be honest with you, I base my looks off the Olsen twins. I’ve been their biggest fan since I was born.
Have you ever met them?
Yeah, twice. They’re really nice, but I got weird about it. I was like, “I can’t hang out with you guys.” I grew up watching all their movies, and they started doing fashion, first with this line for Walmart, when I was 12. Funnily enough, I ended up being the model for all the clothes. I went to set pretty much every week, but they only came once. I only got to see a glimpse of them, with their little butterfly clips in their hair, but I was still like, “Oh my god.“
I guess that answers my next question, about your ultimate style icons?
Yeah, 100 percent. I follow at least 20 different Mary-Kate and Ashley accounts on Instagram, just for their fashion. I love it.
What’s your go-to outfit for a day off?
Just jeans and a t-shirt, or cut-offs in the summer. I get way too hot, because I live in New York in L.A., and it’s so hot. This summer, I was like, I want to start doing more slip dresses—kind of ’90s Courtney Love vibes. But I have to see where I can find those.
What’s the best fashion advice you’ve ever received?
To just be comfortable. I know that when I go to events and I’m uncomfortable—whether because of shoes or something’s too tight—it really does ruin my day or night. So this, what I’m wearing right now, is very comfortable. I mean, I took my shoes off—I’m like out my house right now. [Laughs.]
How do you feel about flats versus heels?
I hate heels, because they’re really hard to walk in and make my feet hurt. But these ones I’m wearing are just the smallest heel. They’re like little slides, almost. So they’re doable, which is great; I found them and I was like, “These are heels that I can wear.” Otherwise, I wear high-heeled boots every day, or just a pair of Converse.
How about tiny Matrix-style sunglasses? You kind of have a pair in your collection.
I can’t pull those off, for whatever reason. These [“The Olive“] are the smallest that I can go, and they actually look really good. But the other ones are so small. Like, are they reallyprotecting your eyes?
What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever worn on the red carpet?
I just went to the Trevor Project gala, and I wore this dress, which of course is black:
Do you typically look at your fan accounts, like the one you just pulled up?
I follow some, just to see if the paparazzi have been taking photos of me. But also, they seem to know more about my life than I do, so I also follow them to be like [scrolls through phone] “What’s going on in my life? Let me see what everyone’s talking about.” [Laughs.]
I’m sure you’re often in for a surprise.
Always. So many people make things up or start stories and I’m just like, “Ugh, god.” I message them all the time and I’m like, “Can you not put this stuff up?” And they’re like “Oh my god, yeah”—they’re so sweet. I literally talk to them on Messenger, like, “You need to take those photos down. You need to have this person do this.” I’m trying to control everything. [Laughs.] But for the most part, they’re amazing and great, and I love their pictures that they post of me; sometimes I actually message them asking if they can send me the red carpet ones so that I can post them. They give me so many options—and they edit them! They’re the best.
What’s the most prized possession in your closet?
The Chanel shoes that I’m wearing. I just bought them, kind of on a whim. But I don’t spend money on clothes. I wish I could.
Where do you get your clothes from, then?
Usually either vintage stores or Brandy Melville. I’ve been loving Brandy Melville for probably eight years now. It’s easy, it’s cute and their stuff actually holds up. And it’s cheap, and that’s what I like.
Do you have any favorite thrift stores in New York?
There’s one place that my friend Morgan owns, called the Vintage Twin. She always has the best stuff, especially shirts and jumpsuits. Though sometimes I check out and I’m like, “Oof, I didn’t know that was that expensive!” [Laughs.] But if it’s vintage, it’s like, fine.
What was your style like as a teen?
Emo. Black eyes—like, so black—that went all around, like circles. Then I wore band t-shirts. I wanted to be like Avril Lavigne, so I always wore a tie and different colored Converse. I tried to copy Hayley [Williams] from Paramore’s style, too. I’ve always loved ’90s grunge style. And I tried to do that—I just didn’t do it right. I mean, I’ve gone through so many phases in my life, clothes-wise—enough to know that I don’t make good choices with clothes. Those were definitely not the best days, but I thought I looked amazing.
I wore a tie, too—Avril Lavigne was my first concert.
That’s amazing. Mine was Tina Turner, but I was so young that I didn’t even know who she was. My second one was NSYNC, and I was crying. I was crying my eyes out, and I had paint all over my face, because me and my sister painted our faces. I was wearing all their merch, too, like 10 different things.
Do you have a biggest fashion regret?
Probably my style on every red carpet when I was younger. It was horrible. Horrendous. But I also never used a stylist. I didn’t know what stylists were back then. I mean, I knew people were getting dressed and stuff, but there wasn’t really a need for me to have one, because I was on a soap opera. I just always bought weird clothes to wear to premieres. But after PLL [Pretty Little Lies], my publicists were like, “You need to get a stylist.” And I was like “Okay, this is great,” because I finally started looking nice on the red carpet.
What do you always keep in your bag?
Chapstick, powder, sunglasses a little thing of perfume, a charger—speaking of…. [plugs in phone] sorry, it’s at eight percent. Anyways, I also always have my passport—I probably shouldn’t, but just in case!—and eyebrow gel, weirdly. I never leave the house without it.
Do you have a song of the summer?
“Señorita” by Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes. I listen to it every morning, all day, every day. But I’m also obsessed with Lizzo. “Truth Hurts” is one of the best songs, and just so powerful. She’s so badass and so cool—I can’t.
Do you have any vacation plans?
I was just in Paris for a wedding, and then I went to Saint Tropez for the first time and did a spa weekend, which was really cool. I’m hoping to go back to Italy, to my favorite place ever, Positano, in August. Though I feel like I’ve basically been to every country this year.
What’s been the highlight so far?
Amsterdam is becoming one of my favorite places. I was there two months ago, and then last October, and every time I go, I always extend my stay by like five days. I never get in a car when I’m there—I’m always on my bike. Last time, I took a little boat ride at night and had dinner on there, and I felt like I was in a movie. And I did glow-in-the-dark mini golf and just smoked weed and ate and biked everywhere. And they have the best escape rooms. One of them was in the catacombs; it was two-and-a-half hours long, and I went at midnight, right before Halloween, and I was terrified. I went with three other girls, and we were literally crying in there. My friend got stuck in a coffin for like 10 minutes, and there were all these actors popping out so were all huddling in a corner. It’s really next level, but so fun. So fun. I do escape rooms everywhere I go.
Is there anything else left on your to-do list?
Keep tanning—I’m trying to enjoy it while I can. And keep wearing my sunglasses!