Brendon Babenzien doesn’t like to use the word “fashion.”
So let’s just say that Babenzien knows cool shit. Because whether it’s a suit jacket, a pair of corduroy running shorts, or some little trinket, Babenzien has made a career of knowing what’s cool even before the coolest of cool guys picks up on the trend. The terms influencer and tastemaker get thrown around too easily these days, but in Babenzien’s case the title is apt. It isn’t the result of some focus group or market research, he just has this innate sense that his point of view will resonate with the right audience.
During his time at Supreme, Babenzien was something of an enigma. A guy you heard about but didn’t hear from, even though he played a key role in building Supreme into one of the most creative and authentic brands out there. So meeting him for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a guy who was really friendly, honest, and interesting, despite the fact that he was juggling launching a new collection, opening a pop-up shop, and parenting a 6-week-old.
This is the second iteration of Noah. Babenzien launched the brand in the early 2000s, but put it aside to focus on Supreme. Now he feels the time is right to bring it back. Noah has ties to surfing and skating (there is a skate bowl at Noah’s pop-up shop at The Supermarket in Tribeca which will be open from May 21-27), but it is by no means exclusive. Babenzien wants to welcome anyone who is interested into the fold.
The items range in price from a $48 T-shirt to a $2,000 jacket. The prices are reflective of the production costs, not some sales target or an idea of what they “should” cost. Babenzien is mindful of conspicuous consumption and wants his items to last a long time. He is exploring ways to make the business more sustainable in every way, from working with factories that pay workers a living wage to to finding creative ways recycle old garments. He understands he isn’t going to be perfect right off the bat, but he is trying to get better every day.
We spoke with Babenzien to find out his vision for the brand, his time at Supreme, and the current state of menswear.
What’s your take on the current state of menswear?
It’s incredible. There’s more good product today than there’s ever been in the market. Everybody kind of knows the deal so they’re all making good stuff. With that said, it’s all fashion. That doesn’t make the product authentic.
If you just open a clothing store to sell clothes and that’s your whole objective, who cares? That’s not very interesting at all. I’ve always believed in some type of activity being at the core of all things. If you surf, you’re going to surf forever. Whatever surf stuff is in your life is not going to go away. You’re always going to need surfboards. If you’re just a brand that doesn’t really have any activity at its core, you could be gone tomorrow as things change. What we’re doing is saying the clothes are important. It’s what we make, but equally important is the things we do. That can be anything. You don’t have to be a surfer. You don’t have to be a skater. You can be a writer. You can be somebody who loves traveling. You can be a fisherman. As long as there’s an interesting story attached to it, that’s what interests us.
What type of guy is Noah for?
That’s a very interesting question because the point of this is that I don’t think there’s a specific guy anymore. Guys are more interesting today than they’ve ever been. They stay active longer. They’re more informed. The hope that is that it’s really for an intelligent consumer.
Is he older?
Yes and no. My objective is to make the best product I can make. That means I’m using better fabrics because I have this idea that we shouldn’t just consume, consume, consume. I think we should consume really well and really smart. I want to make really great pieces that people buy and hold onto for a long time. We’d rather people buy less. Which is kind of counterintuitive to what we do. But the other thing that’s counterintuitive is producing things to the point of destroying ourselves. We’re trying to show people that the idea of being active and stylish can be the same thing without adhering to any kind of active trend.
One of the examples I give people is in the winter I run in flannel shirts. That’s part of my running kit, but it’s also just a flannel shirt. We just want people to make their own choices and truly be themselves. There’s a thing in our culture where being different is really revered, but that’s such a trend that it’s not even believable anymore. Who are you really? You might be a tie-wearing person. There’s nothing wrong with that. Wear the fucking tie.
What prompted you to dive back in to Noah?
I don’t ask those questions. I kind of feel a certain way and then I just do it. It just felt like the right time. I was inspired by going a new direction design-wise. I had the opportunity with different resources that were available to me like factories and fabric suppliers. And as I’m getting a bit older I see things differently. My point of view is different. I’d like to bring that point of view to people and start a new conversation about how we shop and why we shop a certain way. I feel like it’s time for us to be more responsible in how we do business. It’s not a new idea. But it’s new for me.
Is it tough to mesh the idea of consuming less with the schedule of producing new product?
It’s a conflict of interest in a lot of ways. If you’re going to be super hardcore about it, I shouldn’t be making any products if I’m concerned about consumption. But the reality is we do need things. There’s no perfect way to do any of this. For me my goal is to minimize the damage and get better every year. That’s all I can do. I’m not making any claims that we’re going to be a perfect business. I’m just saying we’re going to try our best and we’re open to suggestions as well. Anybody who has great ideas I’m happy to listen.
It’s kind of like what Patagonia has done with its Worn Wear truck that repairs old clothes and gear.
Patagonia in my opinion is one of the most impressive companies on the planet. The way they operate, their policies, how they treat their employees, everything about that company to me is incredible. The only thing I would say is it encompasses that part of my life but not this part of my life. My life is a little more eclectic. That’s what Noah represents. This is all of the different influences and ideas all under one roof.
How would you describe your personal style?
I don’t really have one that I’m super aware of. I’m stuck in my teenage years when I really think about it. I’m a fan of things that were happening in my youth. 80s stuff. Punk rock and new wave and early hip hop. You still see it [in the Noah clothes].
What is the oldest item you own?
That’s a great question. I don’t know off-hand. I do know my mother has a Quiksilver flannel shirt from when I was in high school because she told me about it the other day. She used to wear it gardening. Goes to show you how in 1984 or 85, Quiksilver was making some good product.
What is your go-to outfit?
Primarily jeans on a daily basis. I guess T-shirts. It’s what I’m wearing today. This might be laziness though. I dress for the occasion very very literally. I’m very traditional in that sense. If I’m just walking around the city, I’m just wearing jeans and my favorite band T-shirt. But if I have to go somewhere and look nice I’ve got stuff I can pull out for that too. You’re rarely going to see my in flip flops wandering around the city.
What was it like to see Supreme really take off?
I’m not gonna lie. I knew it was gonna happen when I was 13. I remember as a teenager saying to my mother that all this shit I’m into is going to be really popular one day. So watching Supreme grow the way it did that wasn’t surprising to me at all. It was just a matter of time.
You didn’t do a lot of interviews when you were at Supreme, was that intentional?
It wasn’t really my brand. I’m really proud of having been there, but at the end of the day it’s not purely my vision so I don’t think I should be taking credit for it in that way.
Since Noah is your brand, are you excited to talk about it more?
The honest answer to that question is I’m not totally thrilled to be talking to press, but I do feel a responsibility to bring ideas to light and talking about the brand is the necessary thing to do that. If I had my way, I wouldn’t talk to anyone. I would just do what I do and move on. But I think you need to talk about why you’re doing it. You need to talk about good products being made in good places by people who are being paid well.
What was the first piece that you did for this collection?
With me is it’s kind of stream of consciousness where I like this fabric and I like that one and I put them all together and I go, “Oh shit, it looks good together.” I don’t really plan tremendously. Everything was individual pieces that I knew if I did them—because it was coming from me naturally—they would make sense together in my environment. It’s like your bedroom when you’re a kid. Everything makes sense in there. A picture of your favorite band and then some girl in a bikini or a bumper sticker. To somebody else that’s totally eclectic and weird. To you it’s just real. This is the same thing. You’re in a place in your life so you’re going to gravitate to certain things. I feel comfortable enough now to just trust the choices I’m making.