Meet Up Monday: Brendon Babenzien, Noah
Brendon Babenzien won’t read this story. The former creative director of cult skate- and streetwear brand Supreme on and off for the past 15 years, he told me at the end of the interview that he never reads his own press because he doesn’t want it to influence his design choices, life or how he views himself.
Piggybacking on that same independent, anti-egotistical (and thus anti-fashion) attitude, the New York-based designer recently left Supreme to relaunch his menswear line Noah, which seamlessly merges his street/skate history with a grown-up sophistication reflected in, for instance, high-quality blazers made with the best Italian wool.
At the same time Noah also offers hats and tees that are suitable for teens and their (with-it) dads. Sold exclusively at its brand-new physical shop on the corner of Mulberry and Kenmare Streets in New York’s Nolita neighborhood and its just-launched online store, the resurrected line is already one of the most buzzed about brands to emerge in New York’s thriving menswear scene.
The store also carries shoes by Paraboot, sunglasses by Vuarent and Etnia Barcelona and belts from Smathers & Branson. This past weekend Babenzien caught up with me about Noah’s triumphant re-emergence….
You launched the Noah line about 12 years ago and then it went dormant a few years in. What made you decide to resurrect it now?
I wanted to create my own space. It was less about what was happening in streetwear and more about kind of feeling that there was something new to do. It was more like time.
I’m 43 and I have all these experiences and all these different things that I have gone through. You change. It just felt like a good time to try a new direction, which for me is a kind of merging of that adult life and youthful thinking. I am a grown man with a child and a wife with adult problems but I still really appreciate youthful energy and music and everything. This was a way to create a more honest expression of what I really appreciate opposed to ten years ago.
I have evolved, I hope, as a person and I wanted to incorporate the newer beliefs and the newer ideas and changing ideas into the brand mostly because I wanted it to be a vehicle for ideas and conversations.
What would you say Noah is all about?
We’re really interested in creating a connection between people. That’s why I am here [in the store every day]. I want to meet the people and talk to them, have an information exchange and learn from them. Then hopefully they can learn from us.
We also want to make a great product and we want the people making the product to be treated well so we have to work in countries where are good labor and environmental laws. We work in the US, Japan, Italy and Canada so far. But we know every step of the way that everyone who is participating in getting this stuff to the public has had a relatively positive experience in their life. They are not working 18-hour days and they have vacations. That was really important to me.
We talk a lot about consumption and that is the trickiest area because we are putting things in the world to consume. So I had to find a way to make stuff but feel good about it. That’s where the high-quality fabrics come in and the general classic feeling because I know that if I make something really well and it’s not too outlandish that it can be around for a long time. People might put it away for a year or two and then break it back out but they will never just get rid of it. It will live for a long time and that’s really important to me.
Stylistically I have a lot of respect for people who don’t have access to everything, who don’t have a ton of money and who make smarter choices because then you know that they really have a sense of style as opposed to someone who can just afford to buy the latest shit every single season. That’s easy. It’s easy to walk in with the latest, greatest piece that everyone agrees is incredible. It’s a lot harder to have no money and no access but still look good.
Is that why the line is so tightly edited?
I suppose. It is pretty focused. But a lot of that goes back to my youth. In skateboarding culture and hip-hop [initially] no one was really making clothes for them. In skateboarding you had some shirts and hats and things like that but the kids were kind of doing it themselves. They did their own thing. It was workwear, army clothing or hoodies wherever you could find them. And it made them look dope. This was before there were brands targeting that customer. It was kids just doing what they do. I still feel really, really strongly about that and being an individual and not necessarily falling into the trap of the fashion business. One could argue that we are a part of that but we are being really honest with people: They either like it or they don’t. I prefer that people come in and make it their own.
What have been some of your most popular items thus far?
The double-pleated pant, the double-breasted shirts, the denim, the flannel and we’ve actually sold out of the corduroy shorts online, which is funny because we’ve had comments from people about selling shorts in October. But on the flip side, there are just as many people who buy it because they get it.
Small as Noah’s assortment is, it still spans a very broad scope….
That was one of the things I was setting out to do: You buy this because it is very high quality and buy this because it’s cool and fun. [The different pieces] should sit side by side and they should be priced accordingly.
What are the prices?
It goes from $32 beanies to $1,200 wool jackets and when the sheepskin coat comes out it will be about $2,000. But that’s how New Yorkers shop. I used to wear a very expensive suit and go out all winter with it and a $10 beanie. And I looked better for it. If I put on a $600 cashmere beanie I would just look like some weird fancy-ass dude and that’s not who I am. So this is trying to create that perfect blend.
How do you see the line evolving?
With me, things don’t change all that much. I tend to do the same kind of things over and over again. My goal is to just get better: make it better, get the value right and treat people well in the store so they feel good about it. I’m pretty consistent about what I’m interested in stylistically, which I think holds true for most guys. It’s not that different; it’s really just little, subtle changes. I’m really interested in making better stuff as we go forward.