At first it’s surprising to find Estelle Bailey-Babenzien, petite and wearing silver-heeled mules, holding a big yellow hard hat on a street corner in Nolita. But quickly it becomes clear that the helmet belongs to a builder working on the exterior of the Lenny Kravitz building on Kenmare Street. While the two of them chat, Bailey-Babenzien pops her hip, the faux fur pom poms on her shoes swaying slightly. The builder’s Timberland boots are grounded beside her—he’s carefully applying a sticker to his helmet, which already features the logos of some neighborhood favorites. Two inches above a La Esquina sticker, he carefully adds one that reads NOAH.
Alongside her husband, Brendon Babenzien (the former Creative Director of Supreme), Bailey-Babenzien is a co-owner of the clothing brand Noah, which has quickly outgrown its flagship store in New York. Her creative work on Noah’s interior aesthetic is ongoing; the stores are changed seasonally and in one of the brand’s newer locations, a townhouse in Tokyo, everything is for sale, including a majority of the Bailey-Babenzien-designed furniture. ?She has since started to work on a small line. This year she also finished the store for the women’s streetwear and accessories brand, Melody Ehsani, and has been designing Adrian Grenier’s eco-friendly brownstone. Soon The Crabby Shack, a seafood restaurant whose beachy interiors were dreamed up by Bailey-Babenzien, will open their second location in Brooklyn.
Walking into the Noah store is an immediate break from Manhattan’s soundtrack of perennial drilling. The music is good. Many of the clothes are boldly colored, balanced by neutral trousers and classically shaped blazers. ?Yellow light cancels out unforgiving shadows, and amid the flattery there are several comfy places to sit. The tables yield things to talk about: books, a scarf that reads “human rights.” ?Unsurprisingly, customers stand in clusters of conversation. The smell is distinctive—the founders developed a Noah-scented candle, which Bailey-Babenzien describes as a balance of masculine and feminine. “We wanted it to remind us of late afternoons at the beach, when you might light a fire. A summer breeze mix of salt air, tanning oils, and burning wood.”
At Noah, you can feel that the brand is the couple's first offspring, before their child, Sailor. Bailey-Babenzien greets the guys in the store by name. “Almost everything is my custom design,” she says. ”The clothing rails hang from camel leather straps. The fitting room is also special; it’s made from stretched canvas which is painted on, inspired by vintage sails and nautical flags. Because it's canvas it doesn't feel too dense in the space. For the [Noah] shop in Dover Street Market LA, I used the same technique with stretched navy canvas, with hand-painted nautical graphics to make a pie-shaped table.” ?Bailey-Babenzien describes these kinds of custom builds as ways to make people feel welcome. ?Unlike other brands with streetwear clout, customers are encouraged to try things on; the clothing and accessories are intended for long-term use.
At the Melody Ehsani store, bubblegum pink finds a life post-Instagram-trend in a clever composition of product display and mirrors, making the small space feel like a womb with windows. ?Right outside the shop’s entrance, a man with a too-groomed beard and tight pants has accepted a lemon and a sheath of palm fronds from a Hasidic Jew for Sukkot. ?Shaking the citrus, smirking to himself, he seems surprised by his own participation in New York serendipity. Both the Melody Ehsani and Noah stores lend themselves to this kind of moment; a feeling reminiscent of the city before all the Duane Reades and Chase Banks.
Bailey-Babenzien’s aesthetic isn’t obvious, nor immediately categorizable, though the main adjective that comes to mind is tender—she treasures the way her work can instigate human interaction and whenever possible, positive change. The Nolita store recently hosted a miniature exhibit of Michael Muller's shark photos alongside t-shirts that read "Let’s go swimming 2018." Proceeds went to Sea Shepherd, an organization that uses “direct action” to protect sea life, stop poachers, and combat illegal fishing. ?“Sitting in the Noah NYC store with these huge photos on the wall might not feel as cozy,” Bailey-Babenzien admits, “but it will certainly heighten one's senses and raise emotions.”
Bailey-Babenzien showed up to New York from the English countryside in 1999 with one contact and a pager. ?She didn't know she needed to press pound after a pager message, thus her one contact never knew she arrived. After two hours at JFK, she realized she actually had two contacts in New York. ?She gave the second one a call with a payphone and soon set off for his doorstep on Ludlow Street, where his roommate would let her in. The buzzer was broken; she’d been forewarned that she’d have to yell his name from the street. ?This roommate didn't help her carry her bag up the four flights, nor did he offer her tea. In order to repay Contact Number Two for her stay, she assisted him while he styled a shoot the following day. Bailey-Babenzien had made it to New York, where she says she had always known she’d end up.
Bailey-Babenzien attributes the success in her career, and in her home life, to the power of manifestation. During the early stages of her career, she worked as an assistant to Dominique Trenier, the founder of Cheeba Sounds, who discovered the artist Maxwell and managed and signed D'angelo and ?Mark Ronson. “It was Dom's ability to connect with people and implant ideas in their heads that taught me how to pitch a creative idea. I learned that being authentic and honestly believing in what you’re doing is what captures people’s imaginations and stirs their innate sense of humanity.” ?While the work was exciting, she didn’t think the music-producer path would align with what she wanted her world to look, or feel like.
“I think one of the best pieces of advice I can give is to have one hundred percent faith in your thoughts,” Bailey-Babenzien says as we sit at her favorite cafe, where the staff fill her reusable Noah cup with matcha latte. ?“Everything that has ever been created comes from a thought. Spend time visualizing your life but also attaching feelings and emotions to ?that vision. You gotta feel it in present time...as if it already exists.”