Following my discussion about downturns the other day, it only seems appropriate to turn our attention to a revival of sorts. Many older heads in the menswear scene will be familiar with Noah. The label was the brainchild of the now-former Creative Director of Supreme, Brendon Babenzien, and originally ran from 2002 to 2007.
Inspired by Babenzien’s youth in East Islip, New York, the original incarnation of Noah drew heavily on the nautical community of fishermen, clammers and surfers that surrounded him as he grew up, as well as the general ‘spirit of life near the water itself’. The name itself is, of course, a reference to the biblical Noah whose story arguably embodies the very essence of life and water itself.
The idea that Noah was pioneering a particular nautical style or fashion, however, is something that Babenzien strongly rejects—‘up until very recently, the whole world revolved around nautical culture. Everything. You had to travel that way, you had to ship that way. This is engrained in culture worldwide. People live near the sea, they get their food from the sea. This is not something I created.’ Such a distinction is key to understanding Noah in 2015 because it gets to the heart of what appears to be Babenzien’s true objective; creating clothing that connects on a level that is deeper than the visual and superficial.
As someone who was only fifteen years old when the original Noah shuttered in 2007, understanding what is going is on the one hand more challenging and on the other exciting. The above quote is taken from a recent interview Babenzien had with Complex Magazine that really goes to the heart of his history and current motivations.
Moving on from his position at Supreme where he’s been part of the inner circle in one form or another pretty much since the brand’s birth in the mid-90s, it’s interesting to see what Babenzien’s objectives are with the new Noah—namely a deeper genuine experience between the product and the consumer, something which seems significant from the lips of the creative force of a clothing label that pretty much wrote the book on impulsive hyped consumption. Supreme certainly connects with youth and culture in a multitude of ways and for many people, myself included, is a gateway into the world where culture and clothing intersect meaningfully, but it’s also a brand where money quickly changes hands on a weekly basis for the latest hot commodity.
Babenzien sees his admittedly more niche and premium product as a chance to start a conversation with customers about important discussions in clothing and fashion such as production, ethics and longevity. Again, coming from a company whose signature service is scowling at you for unfolding t-shirts and a post-purchase equivalent of the morning after a one-night stand (‘Safe, door’s over there.’), the desire to make new connections with the consumer is certainly intriguing. Perhaps all those years of silence have left him yearning for something more?
As this website demonstrates, I’m someone who likes conversation. There’s little that makes me happier than an hour lost on the benefits of slubby cotton and ethical manufacturing processes (if you think I’m joking, we’ve clearly never met) and I’ve long been a believer in the idea that cheap fast fashion isn’t so much a case of Western consumers getting a good deal as it is a distorted understanding of value and responsible consumption—it’s another article, we’ll talk later—but that’s all by the by.
So far there hasn’t been much information about the label or the product, though a recent collaborative pop-up store with Union Los Angeles has revealed the odd piece and a general essence of the brand’s style. True to Babenzien’s testament that the brand is less about water as it is about depth (thankyouverymuch), pieces so far have been clean, refined and often connected to Babenzien’s own personal interests such as running and skateboard/surf culture. The simple logo plays on the brand’s biblical name and, I’m told, also incorporates a former fascination with the Knights Templar through the use of a red cross.
More than anything the brand gives you a great sense of how influential Babenzien has been at Supreme. When you see the premium Italian-made jackets and tastefully-elevated street staples like brushed cotton sweatshirts and ball caps, it’s hard not to think of those eccentric luxury pieces that punctuated each Supreme season with a touch of measured extravagance. It’s clear that Babenzien has taken a wealth of contacts and connections with him and is now using them to create clothing that inflames his own passions and fits within a deeply-personal perspective—something that he admits comes with a lot more risk, financially, professionally and emotionally.
Discussing the idea overall, it sometimes feels wrong on one level to keep mentioning Supreme, but that’s Supreme for you. As I said before, many of us got our first taste of premium clothing that spoke to the streets through Supreme, and whilst many of us grow out of the brand as our ear to the ground matures into an occasional peak in to see what kooky accessories they’ve made each season, it really doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to refer to the New York skate brand as an institution. When you think of the extensive list of brands and designers that can be traced back through Supreme’s family tree one way or another, this only becomes more accurate; Aaron Bondaroff with OHWOW Gallery and aNYthing; Jason Dill and Fucking Awesome; Angelo Baque and Awake; Palace Skateboards’ London connection; Luke Meier with Overall Master Cloth. The list goes on and on. Supreme is not just a label that has made consistently hype product and long lines on Thursday mornings; it is also a team that has created countless respected and talented individuals in their own rights.
With this in mind, I highly doubt that Noah is going to be unimpressive. As I said before, Babenzien’s keeping everything close to his chest right now and the general word is that the product-proper will be hitting shelves later this year, but the images we’re seeing so far show great promise and will hopefully provide Supreme alumni another access point to the man’s unique take on menswear under an exciting new identity.
Following on from my OriginalFake piece again, perhaps Noah demonstrates another outcome in the business of fashion. One of streetwear’s biggest and best labels is still going strong today and will hopefully continue to do so for some time, but it’s also given one of its creative stars another opportunity to follow their own path and hopefully offer a different approach that will start more conversations again. I’ll be looking forward to many lost afternoons rubbing fabrics between my fingers and inspecting care labels. It’s 2015. Life is good.
As previously mentioned, there isn’t much concrete information available right now about Noah clothing. Images presented here come courtesy of this article at GQ and this interview with Brendon Babenzien at Complex, both of which are seriously essential reading and really fucking interesting, so don’t let me down and make sure you come correct when I bug you at events asking, ‘So what did you think of the shorts?!’ You owe me that much. You really do.