How a heartfelt email to frontman Robert Smith turned into a new capsule collection
“I started listening to everything I could get my hands on,” says Brendon Babenzien. The designer is describing how he became obsessed with The Cure after an older, cooler friend – as is always the case – played a song for him at a house party in 1984. The moment converted an impressionable Babenzien into a lifelong fan. Now, through his New York menswear label Noah, he has collaborated with the English band on a capsule collection, set to release in-store and online at Noah NYC and Tokyo as well as at London’s Dover Street Market this Thursday.
“As soon as I was calling the shots in my own company, it was really the first music collaboration I could think of that would really make me happy, that I could be really proud of,” the designer says of the collaboration, which sees a host of Noah staples, such as graphic t-shirts, hoodies and Harringtons emblazoned with versions of The Cure’s iconic cover art. “What I knew of Robert Smith, historically, I would have guessed that he would say no to something like this. So I wrote this heartfelt email, kind of explaining who I was and why this would be important to me – assuring him that we would do our best to do the right thing with it and it wasn’t going to be this huge commercial project.” To Babenzien’s surprise, Smith quickly got on board. “We also wanted to expose a younger audience to the band – anyone who hasn’t listened to their music before, we’re hoping that this will bring them to it a little more.”
Babenzien grew up in East Islip, a picturesque but nondescript town somewhere between Montauk and the Hamptons. Aesthetically different but similar in feeling to Crawley – the town in West Sussex that gave birth to The Cure – it inspired the same sense of angst-meets-ennui in Babenzien that was a hallmark of the British outfit’s early work. “Where I grew up, it’s beautiful and I love it now as an adult,” he says. “But when you’re a kid it just feels mundane because you can’t access any of the things that interest you. The small group of people that I was friends with that felt out of place where we were from, the music just kind of made sense to us.”
Through an outsider mentality and rigorous aesthetic approach, The Cure’s Robert Smith tapped into that, creating work that both captured and transcended the bleak banality of British suburbia to resonate with pretty much any teenager in a pre-internet era who felt disconnected or different. Babenzien was one of them, and that love of the band has stayed with him in the years that have passed since.
Here, Babenzien tells us more.
ON FIRST HEARING THE CURE
“You don’t have a lot of exposure when you grow up in the suburbs in the States. I got invited to this house party and I was the youngest, I really shouldn’t have been there in the first place. But the guy who was hosting had phenomenal taste in music, he actually was a part-time DJ or whatever and he was one of the cooler guys, musically, from where I grew up. He took out the record and said ‘You’ve got to hear this, you’re going to love this’. The funny thing is, the first track he played for me was ‘Jumping Someone Else’s Train’ and at the time, we thought it was like super surfy. It had this kind of weird surf-guitar vibe to us (laughs), that was actually the first thing we really liked about it because we were growing up as skaters and surfers. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that it was nothing to do with surfing. I was kind of fully in after that, I went back and started listening to the music that had already come out. From that point on, I would get every record that came out and go and see them. I think I’ve seen them every time they’ve come to the States since 1984, basically.”
“A lot of the music we gravitated towards was talking about being a little bit out of place, it was a little bit grim, but in an intelligent way” – Brendon Babenzien
ON ENGLISH BANDS RESONATING WITH HIM AS A TEENAGER
“It wasn’t just The Cure. Whether it be Joy Division, or later on New Order or The Smiths, lyrically the stuff made sense to us. I think it was just this idea of feeling... a lot of the music we gravitated towards was talking about being a little bit out of place, it was a little bit grim, but in an intelligent way, with a sarcasm. I was a teenager in the 80s when America was like, full-on money, rich, Wall Street boom, football. That was all cool and that didn’t appeal to me or my friends at all. We felt totally distanced from that stuff. Things are different now, now it’s cool to be into skating or into alternative music or whatever. But back then, if you were 15 and you listened to Sinead O’Connor, people wondered what was wrong with you. It was an interesting time, and that music just made sense to us.”
ON MUSIC’S INFLUENCE ON HIM AND HIS WORK
“I just can’t imagine anybody doing anything without music. It seems like every major memory or every major moment in my life is connected to some type of music – whether it be the music we would listen to when we were skating somewhere, or just going to hear music or going to dance to music. Every time I think of a particular time and place I might want to reference for design, there’s music attached to it and then that music also informs the design, even beyond remembering the moment, but also the artist themselves that made the music. Or maybe the way a certain girl wore something at a party when I was hearing that song. Complete sense memory and music is there every step of the way.”
ON DEVELOPING AN INDEPENDENT MINDSET
“I have this theory that it’s been with me since I was really young. I have this idea that because I was a child of divorced parents, and I didn’t have a father-figure in my life from a very young age, that I wasn’t influenced by that traditional American male mentality. I was free to explore and discover things on my own, because if no one’s telling you ‘Oh you can’t do that’ or ‘This is what you should do, you should play this sport or act this way’, then things become limitless. No one was telling me how to think – there was no real authority figure. I was kind of like, ‘Ok cool I can be into skateboarding and still be an athlete, and I can listen to The Cure and Iron Maiden all at the same time. Oh and then I also like A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy’. The other massive influence has to be skateboarding. When you think about a community of people who get into it historically, it’s like-minded people, creative-thinking people. You have to see things differently, you have to find spots, you have to invent tricks. There was no rulebook for skateboarding in the 70s and the 80s, so people had to literally create the culture out of thin air.”