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In her four years in Los Angeles, Celine Benz has become a Malibu fixture, quietly making quippy phrases and faces of furry friends a must-have adornment on luxury sweatsuits and designer handbags from her PCH studio and prime real estate within Fred Segal’s Malibu Country Mart ivy-covered outpost. After she started embroidering bags for American designer Staud, Benz became an overnight success as bold names across Hollywood embraced her work.
The Florida-born creative behind the playful personalized embroidery touted on the arms and pervading the selfies of Angelenos, including Lady Gaga and Kaley Cuoco, knew she would to return to LA after her brief residency studying fine art and fashion at OTIS FIT, she just needed to find the business that would take her back.
With a new state-of-the-art embroidery machine, she began offering custom orders of rainbow lettering, curvy mushrooms, Ukrainian flags (a collaboration developed with actress Zosia Mamet), and dead ringer pet portraits under the name C.Bonz. Her work captured the zeitgeist thanks, in part, to 2020’s uptick in both sweatpants and pet appreciation. Now, living just 10 minutes from her Malibu headquarters, her life revolves around the tides, her two Brussels Griffons, and the Burger of the Month club.
What were you doing before you started C.Bonz?
My dad was an entrepreneur, so early on I knew I wanted to do my own thing and have my own business. After I finished school, I did a lot of illustration stuff and played around with a lot of businesses, trying to find the one thing that would work, and this is where I landed. I started C.Bonz in 2017. I was working my ass off, but a lot of people didn’t give me the time of day in the beginning. It took a while for custom embroidery to take off.
When did you realize it was taking off?
When I opened with Fred Segal in Malibu, we could tell, “OK, people are into this.” And then in 2020, that’s when it really started to take off. Everyone was at home wearing cozy sweats, and they wanted something that was uplifting. It makes you feel good to be able to personalize your things, and, with the pet embroidery, it was a comfort to have your pet so close.
You’ve also embroidered quite a few luxury accessories. How did you start doing pet portraits on designer bags?
The first person I did a handbag for was Hilary Duff. I did a portrait of her two chickens on her Goyard bag. She sent the bag back to me after one of the chickens died, and we added RIP, so now it says, “RIP Delores.” And Lady Gaga found me through Malibu word of mouth and friends. It’s a small community.
You can find C.Bonz on your website, at Fred Segal Malibu, and most recently through Staud, where you’re selling custom sweatshirts. How did you begin your partnership with Staud?
Their CEO, Jon Zeiders, came into Fred Segal for a custom T-shirt order, and then a year later, I got a random phone call from him, inviting me to the office to explore what we could potentially do together with customization. I brought a bunch of different ideas to them, but their whole company is obsessed with pets. They have a Halloween costume competition with their pets.
So then I simplified [what I do at C. Bonz] to be more in line with their branding, and they launched it with the intention of a two-months-long collab. The first day they launched the sweatshirts, they sold out. I don’t think they had any idea that it would turn into what it turned into. Now it’s been two years. I’m really excited.
Do you dress your dogs up for Halloween?
They have a costume trunk. I just did embroidery for Lil Wayne, and I’ve been joking that Sanchez is going to be Lil Wayne this year. I’m not sure about Lou, who’s only six months old. Princess Leia? I had a Chihuahua named Vida; she was the queen of costume wearing. One year I dressed her up as Laura Ingalls [Wilder] using the Felicity American Girl Doll dress. She’s been a lobster, a blowfish, a mermaid! She was a killer mermaid.
How did your pets come into your life?
We were living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and we had Vida. She was such a small Chihuahua. I’ve always been obsessed with Brussels Griffons. I googled Brussels Griffon / Chihuahua mixes, and we found Sanchez in a hoarder situation. [This woman had] doll houses everywhere. We could smell the dog pee. We took Sanchez and never looked back. When we got him, he was so scared. His name was Black Bear because he would hide under things. Now he’s the coolest guy ever. Sanchez is 10. Vida lived to be 19.
And how did you find Lou?
We ended up with Lou because we always had two dogs. After Vida, we thought Sanchez needed a buddy. My fiancé, Dan, and I went to go see her and we brought her home that day. That was that. Sanchez and Lou have been best buddies ever since.
What was the introduction process like?
We were calling Sanchez “Sarge” because he was schooling her. He checks her and has definitely taught her so much. Sanchez’s favorite thing in the world is going to the beach. If I take Lou to the beach by herself, she’s still a slightly scared puppy. But Sanchez made her more confident at the beach. When he’s there, she’s queen of the world.
Sanchez usually growls at her around his food, but he just shared his first burger with her! Sanchez is obsessed with barbecuing. He’s in the Burger of the Month Club.
There’s a Burger of the Month Club for dogs?
The Burger of the Month Club is really for people. They send you four burger patties each month. When the box comes, he freaks out. In the neighborhood we live in, everyone barbecues on the weekend. He shows up with his burgers and hangs out by the grill; it’s so cute. When Vida passed away, he was super depressed. He wasn’t eating. He and Vida used to share Maxota Raw food — it’s basically a butcher shop for dogs — but he wouldn’t eat it alone. We felt so bad, so then he ate burgers for a very long time. Then we switched the dog food, but now he and Lou eat Maxota Raw again. He has his pack back.
What’s your daily routine together? Do the dogs come to the office?
I wake up with them in the morning. They have breakfast, and we go for a little walk outside. The day revolves around low tide, which is the best time to walk them on the beach. So whenever it’s low tide, we take them on a very good beach walk. Sanchez has a really good underbite, and he can’t pick up a ball, but he can pick up beach rocks! After, we go back to the office together. Sanchez is very big distraction with the girls at work — he tries to get them to play with him. Then, we come home and play because Lou is very playful.
What is your dream accessory to make for them?
They just came the other day. They’re matching denim vests I’m going to embroider for them. I was kind of maybe thinking on Lou’s vest I’ll put Sanchez’s face and on Sanchez’s I’ll put Lou’s. And then write “Best Bitches.”
Gives a whole new meaning to “where you lead, I will follow.”
Is it a sweater sale or the wardrobe for a Nora Ephron movie?
Monogrammed tote bags and personalized necklaces — Blair Waldorf who?
This sweater season, every day can be twin day with your dog.
Mackenzie Wagoner is a writer and editor. Her work has been featured in Vogue, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, ELLE, Architectural Digest, Bon Appétit, and more. She lives in New York City.