APOLOGY TO PARIS: One of the most arresting artworks in men’s wear brand Noah’s installation at the Galeries Lafayette Champs Elysées isn’t Michael Muller’s virtual reality room, where you can swim with sharks using an Oculus Rift, or tattoo artist Duke Riley’s exhibition of plastic trash engraved with portraits of lobbyists and chief executive officers from the plastics industry. It’s a simple letter titled “Apology to Paris.”
“Dear Paris, the United States is the second largest polluter in the world behind China,” read the letter, taped up on one of the six frozen-glass boxes inside the department store’s atrium, and signed “the team of Noah.”
“The fact that our current President does not believe we are facing a global crisis is a complete and utter embarrassment,” it continued. “He does not represent the will of the people of the United States. We would like to formally apologize.”
The letter is part of “SOS,” a two-week-long installation and pop-up shop celebrating Earth Day 2019 curated by Babenzien, the former Supreme creative director who launched Noah in 2015. “We wanted to apologize about the USA leaving the Paris agreement in 2020,” said Babenzien, who came over from New York with his family to toast the Galeries Lafayette event on Tuesday.
Noah was founded in the early Aughts, but was relaunched in 2015 following Babenzien’s 10-year stint at Supreme. “The same ideas were there the first time around, but business was really different at the time,” said the designer. “It was a complete battle. You had to rely on buyers and the press, and if they didn’t agree with your vision you were out of luck. The Internet has changed all of that: now we’re in a direct dialog with our consumers via social media.”
Babenzien’s vision is a simple one: to create collections of clothing made to last, manufactured in factories that are respectful of the people they employ, that are of good enough quality in order to be passed down several generations and that steer clear of trends.
“What we are trying to do is to educate people about what they consume and how they consume it,” said Babenzien, whose ecological conscience, which was an integral part of the surf community he grew up around, truly awoke following the birth of his daughter in 2015.
“Are people being influenced to buy things they don’t really need?” asked the Noah founder. “Our position isn’t so much about sustainability, because businesses like ours are not sustainable — anyone who says so is lying. But it’s more about intelligent consumption, and less about buying cool.
“Everyone is just trying to fit in. We need to convince people that they can step outside of trends. It’s especially hard for teenagers — you just want to be liked. And I get that, I was that kid, too. But we carry these behaviors into our adult life and we just keep on buying more expensive stuff. Our environmental position is: Buy smarter.”
The irony of organizing a sustainability-oriented event in a department store was not lost on Babenzien, whose company works with recycled cotton and cashmere for some of its lines and donates 1 percent of its annual revenue to the “1 Percent for the Planet” movement.
“No lie — when I was first approached for this project, I said ‘no,’” the designer said, describing the Galeries Lafayette Champs Elysées as a “place dedicated to consumption” in a press release (but is nevertheless impressed with the team’s commitment and the “incredible” design of the store).
“This is the audience that needs to be reached,” he said. “In a way, back home we’re kind of preaching to the choir.”
He gestured to the shoppers milling around him. “These people here don’t care. They are focused on looking good. As a brand, we’re good at messaging. We’ll hopefully engage people and get them to question things. And you have to go where the fight is.”