In France, there’s a holiday tradition of putting your shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts in the morning; Martell Cognac and Fe Noel want to recreate that with a collaboration. Brooklyn-based Caribbean designer Fe Noel is a lover of holidays and even notes that her last name Noel is an indicator of that. The founder of her eponymous brand is taking on another art project that will interpret the unique qualities of individuals with brainwave technology-inspired designs. The human psyche is complex, and these sneaker designs are embodying that one-of-a-kind entity we all possess. Noel’s brand was founded in 2008 and has since seen exponential growth from being seen on Black royalty, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and Gabrielle Union so it’s no wonder Martell Cognac decided to tap Fe Noel as a design collaborator. “I truly believe that fashion is a language of cultural self-expression and individuality. It’s a way to communicate who you are and where you’ve come from,” says the designer. “With this collaboration, my main objective is for people to feel good in their own skin by embracing their most precious memories and unapologetically celebrating their inner “Standout Swift” with wearable art.”
Martell Cognac is dedicated to keeping things fresh with its longstanding legacy, so collaborating with such innovators like Noel makes for a great intersection between traditional and contemporary ideas to come alive. In the first of its kind, the Martell Blue Swift hence “Standout Swift,” is the first French whisky to ship to America and Noel being a woman of many firsts, is taking on large-scale projects is remembered for her contribution to the NBA All-Star LeBron James’ first all-female designed sneaker. “Like the ‘Swift’ that adorns each bottle, Martell Blue Swift is crafted for those who soar higher, those who— like Fe Noel— are boldly redefining convention,” says Charlotte Raux, Senior Brand Manager, Martell Cognac at Pernod Ricard USA. “Fe has mastered the ability to bottle up culture with her fashion, making her the perfect creative partner for a holiday experience that marries technology with design for the ultimate gift of self-expression.”
The entire collaboration is literally coming to life on Monday night in New York, where it all started for Noel with a live consumer experience at “The Martell Sneaker Atelier,” once again merging art and fashion for Noel. During this experience, guests will be wearing brainwave headsets that will interpret warm holiday memories into personalized sneaker designs with unique colorways to each person. After, each sneaker will be painted live at the atelier and will receive finishing touches by Noel which will be charms designed by Johnny Nelson, another New York-based designer.
Ahead of this interactive event, the designer spoke with ESSENCE to give us a deeper dive into her process for this sneaker collaboration and her brand’s ethos thus far.
ESSENCE: This collaboration with Martell is all about brainwave patterns. How did the collaboration come to life? And what do these sneakers mean to you?
FE NOEL: I guess it’s really all back to color theory which Fe Noel is really known for our play on colors and the emotional experience it gives our consumers. When Martell approached me with this partnership that celebrates my favorite time of the year, which is a lot of people’s favorite time of the year, but also, my last name is Noel, so it just felt more connected and super fun to embark on a way to tell this creative story. There are so many people involved like this, to bring Martell and myself, of course. And it’s a play on the Fe Noel. So we connected and made up made it a little story of our own, and then random Park was to create color theory from brainwaves. So like you think of any motion, and it creates color. I really, really love that because it gives everyone individuality. It gives everyone a chance to showcase their individuality when we create that brainwave that colors are then transferred to the sneakers by artists. So there’s a lot of different creatives involved, which I really, really love. Because we get to bring all our communities together through this collaboration. It’s super exciting to do this.
There’s a French tradition that you’re utilizing in the Swift you sneakers campaign, how’d you come up with that idea?
We wrote this poem together, and, of course, we want it rhyme. I like when things rhyme. It’s like, you’re reading a holiday story, like if I would read a holiday story to my son. So, that’s what I did when we created the contact, pretended I was reading him this holiday story. It’s super, super cute. And it’s an addition that I hope people will catch on. So, I think it makes it modern and fun with using sneakers, and the sneakers are all painted with the specific brainwave colors. So it was a way for us to bridge all of our worlds together, essentially. I celebrate a cold holiday and a warm holiday. I really wanted to bridge that gap together. And I’m able to do that with the color theory. It’s based on emotions, it’s basic you see the values that create my color palette. So there’s like sunsets, there’s the ocean, there’s nature that we always use, like our greens and our blues from the water and our rust and oranges and those types of things.
Have you ever done something like this before?
You know what’s so special? This entire collaboration is a lot of firsts; It’s the first time the brainwave technology is being used in this way, and it’s my first time partnering with Martell or any sort of liquor company in this way. Also, we really want to talk about embarking on the journey of firsts, so also Martell is the very first cognac to be finished in American whiskey barrels. We want this to be a first time experience, even for us. And even as well for the consumers. So, we’ve never done this before. And I don’t know if this has ever been done in this way, but there are so many different creatives involved. From me having the initial concept, and then Martell coming in with the tradition, and now we’re bringing in the artists Sally and Janae to paint the brainwaves on this sneaker using the emotion because someone you’re gonna put on the headset and the emotion is what’s going to create the color pattern. It’s a lot of different moving parts, but it’s going to be so interesting and so fun. And that’s the story you want to tell.
As a designer based in Brooklyn, where sneakers hold such a huge cultural significance, how were you able to translate that upbringing into this project?
We were like, ‘what’s gonna make this super cool?’ I’m always trying to see how we can create this cool twist to it. So when Martell mentioned that idea, this is the tradition, we were like, okay, it should be sneakers, but just not any sneakers. How do we make it really feel special to an individual? Kind of like when you would decorate your stocking for the holidays, you would put your initial on it. So growing up in Brooklyn, fashion, all of that, that’s how we say who we are. That’s how we showed up. That’s our love language. Like it’s about continuing that in everything I do, any collaboration or partnership. It’s like, how do I give people the tools to show up as themselves? And it’s the same with this. Martell was so supportive of that, like, that’s what they want. That’s what they want to celebrate.
The idea of collaboration for me is bringing worlds together. And when you bring communities, and we’re all together, you make your space bigger, you expand your mind, right, your creative palette, and this has so many moving parts and so many people involved. That’s what makes it so exciting, right? It’s like this new technology that I’m being introduced to these artists who are from Brooklyn and from New York, who have expressed their creativity differently than I do, but what emotions, color theory experiences, that’s what we’re all bringing to the table. And we’re even opening it up to more people because everyone has their own following and their own tribe and their own community of people that they speak to, like SNSs, like, the sneaker community, you know, so it’s like, all these different variants. That’s making it super special. And when I did the collaboration with Sew Trill, It was like it was us coming into each other’s role, but it was like just us too. So it was super, super intimate. It’s a little bit more people and I would even say we’re getting, like, what’s happening here is we’re getting an even wider reach, right? We’re going into technology, we’re going into the cognac world, we’re going into the sneaker world, and it’s my world, the fashion world. So the art world is like I can go on and on. It’s bigger, it’s broader, and we’re reaching more people, but they’re each special in their own way. The Sew Trill was super intimate, and it was just like, how she feels and how she paints and how I create, you know, and this one is, it’s going into the homes.
Since celebrities like Gabrielle Union have been wearing your designs, how has the growth of your brand been maintained?
It’s so crazy! They’re super classy, they’re confident, and they have all these characteristics that carry the brand that really represents the Fe Noel brand. I think because I’ve remained authentic to what I believe in, to my culture, to my heritage, and then also have been open to collaborations, it’s doing a pretty good job of building on itself. It’s like I gave it life. But now all these women are carrying it on right, putting their own twist to it, wearing it in their own way and carrying on the story. And that’s what we pride ourselves on. Like our community is growing. So fast, and it’s exciting. And I feel special about it. Sometimes people even tell me like, you have no idea I was here and I was in this part of the world. And I saw somebody wearing it. So I’m also watching as well, like, I know, it’s me, but I’m also able to just take a back seat and watch this thing grow into something integral and into what it’s becoming now.
What have you learned since building Fe Noel?
Oh my gosh, to be super open to creating something but also leaving space for it to take on a life of its own. And that’s what’s been happening, and it’s been working. So, just even continuing on this journey with Martell, I’m super excited to see how it’s received, the doors that have now opened, and how people view storytelling. Also, for people to see fashion impacts every part of our lives also in many different ways. So, I’m a champion of that and spreading that message and then the emotion that it creates for people as well the memories.