A Conversation With Brendon Babenzien, Former Supreme Design Director, On Relaunching Noah

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Complex Original

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Earlier this year, news broke that Brendon Babenzien would be leaving Supreme to focus his time on relaunching a brand he started back in 2002, Noah, which lasted for around five years before it ultimately shuttered. Set to debut in September 2015 at its own retail store in downtown New York (an exact location is yet to be determined), Bergdorf Goodman and Union Los Angeles, Babenzien calls the Noah relaunch his own type of midlife crisis: "But instead of buying a Porsche or leaving my wife and child, I’m starting a clothing line, building a bowl and learning how to skate again."

Almost three years since our first chat with Babenzien, still with Supreme at the time, he sat down with us last week to touch on all the influences that went into Noah's highly anticipated collection. He's an avid runner, logging miles outside even in the dead of winter, and keeps active with surfing and snowboarding. Like many designers, the collection is pointed directly for himself. "There are a lot of guys who are older now who are not being addressed that have been or still are customer at Supreme and other places," he says. "Older guys who do cool shit and that's who Noah is for."

The first taste of Noah in the wild happens this Thursday when the brand teams up with Union for a pop-up shop that runs from May 21st to 28th at The Supermarket at 393 Broadway here in New York, complete with a bowl. While the full Noah collection won't be there, you can expect a few collaborative pieces between Noah and Union, a smattering of Union's stock and a few pieces exclusive to the pop-up, like the crazy cozy terry blazer seen above of which less than 10 have been made. Here's what he had to say:

What is the story behind relaunching Noah? You started it before in 2002, closed it and now it's back again. 

It’s more or less the same story. On both occasions, I responded to how I feel. It felt like it was the right time to do it. Back then, there was a lot less menswear to choose from. There wasn’t much in the middle. That’s where I thought, “I want to do something more representative of my lifestyle and the people I know.” It was really early days for that kind of approach. There were new labels, but they were either real big or real small and no one was addressing the classic pieces unless you wanted really ultra-classic and then they were boring. That was all it was about, trying to fill a spot I could see was missing. Since then, the idea of classics has become normal again. Everyone makes good stuff now. I wanted do something that is representative of my overarching belief structure and all of my interests under one roof. It’s taken 10 years to figure out how those things fit together. A couple of years ago it clicked into place and I started working on it.

Union seems like the perfect choice to team with when it comes to putting all those different elements together then—surfing, skating and well-made clothing. 

There are several reasons. Chris, who is like family, we go way back. We're very close. Chris’s approach in business in what he carries and how he shows it, is really honest. It’s a rare thing to have somebody in business be like, “This is who we are, we’re going to do what we do no matter what.” I’m trying to take a similar approach. There will be a few pieces between Union and I together, but other pieces I’m making that are just for this as well. There’s two Noah x Union exclusive tees. That’s it. Then Noah stuff that’s exclusive and Chris is bringing some pieces from the store, along with a Noah candle. It’s small, intro to summer kind of stuff. But it’ll be cool and fun.

You're being carried by Union and Bergdorf, but also want to open your own store, right? Can you say where it will be or share any other details? 

The store is what we’re working on. I can say it’ll be downtown. It’s a bit early right now. But we’re looking.

Do you think simply being older changed how you went about starting Noah this time around?

Yes. If you take some of the raw elements from when you were young, the general nature of who you are as a person, and added some maturity and experience to that, you get a much more refined presentation. You’re not screaming it out there anymore. For lack of a better term, there’s a little more polish on it and it’s honest expression. It's maybe slightly more intellectual, you know.

You're an avid runner and very active. Do you still skate? 

I suck at skateboarding now. It’s the kind of thing where if you don’t do it all the time you lose it fast. But this is kind of my mid-life crisis. Instead of buying a Porsche or leaving my wife and child, I’m starting a clothing line, building a bowl and learning how to skate again. I do still skate, not nearly as much as I would like to. I surf, I run and snowboard from time to time. It’s all of these interests under one roof and how they belong together. Skateboard kids, when I was young, were a world of outcasts and until recently, if you were a runner, you were an outcast and weirdo. Running is popular now, but just three years ago if you ran downtown, you weren’t exactly Mr. Popular. But now it seems like a normal thing. If I were to look at myself from a distance, skateboarding, certain types of music, when I was into them, they were all kind of fringe. I think even though the clothes look relatively simple and traditional, the ideas behind them are kind of fringe now too. It’s really the same attitude that we take into all these different things.

How did your time with Supreme influence your process now? 

There’s so much about that organization. It’s James’s company. He’s the ultimate vision of it and it’s taken a lot of people to come through that company who have contributed in many ways. It takes a lot of people, a lot of really talented people. The only difference is I’m working independently so I can make all the decisions by myself. In some cases I’ll be in a different pricepoint than Supreme, but not entirely. That allows me to play with fabrications and fabric makers. Other than that, the process is more or less the same because it’s an honest process. The people at Supreme and the design work they’re doing now, they’re the real deal. They’re not really touching things that aren’t real to them. That’s what I’m doing here. The same thing.

So who do you see as the guy coming to Noah? Who is your customer?

I'd say there’s a lot of guys who are older now who are not being addressed that have been or are currently still customers at Supreme and other places. Older guys who do cool shit and that’s who it’s for. I'm 43 and I still like to do that stuff.

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