Fusion is the driving force behind much of what’s exciting in contemporary design, whether you’re talking about food or furniture, music, art or automobiles.
It’s also an increasingly common buzzword in fashion lingerie, as forward-thinking designers look for new ways to blend modern styles, space-age fabrics and a wide array of artistic influences.
The result is the emergence of hybrid labels that straddle the lines that once separated underwear, swimwear, loungewear, fetish gear and even street fashions.
The newest member of this pioneering group is NOE Undergarments, an innovative U.S. independent label that will debut its premiere collection next month.
Nearly two years in development, NOE‘s inaugural set features 24 eclectic styles that bring together some of the most familiar and fashion-centric trends in the lingerie industry today.
You’ll find shape-defining pieces and billowy lounging garments too. Some pieces borrow the structured look and feel of swimwear or sportswear, while others ooze casual daywear comfort. And the product range is surprisingly ambitious for a new designer brand: from club-worthy leather bustiers and leggings, to sheer boyshorts clearly meant for the boudoir, to wispy tanks meant to be shown off in layers at your favorite summer festival.
Throughout the collection, you’ll find a constant interplay between traditionally feminine and masculine elements. Warm autumnal colors like copper, soy and mandarin play off against cool ivory and a sleek liquid black. Sheer, slinky slips and jumpers are trimmed with fetish-friendly straps and odd bits of hardware to give them an aggressive edge.
To appreciate the collision of ideas that produced this impressive debut, it helps to understand the dualism — literally — behind NOE (pronounced “noy”).
NOE is the creation of Bonnie Rae and Shelah Jean, a pair of identical twins who grew up in the unique surf-and-sun culture of Kauai and by their own admission spent most of their early years living in their bathing suits.
“The idea of having a lingerie brand has been a dream of ours since we were teenagers,” Bonnie (left in the photo above) told Lingerie Talk. “This project has brought us together in a passion that we have both shared for more than 10 years.”
But life and other plans put that passion on hold for a while. Bonnie moved to California at 18 to study business at UCAL Irvine and eventually became marketing director for a women’s sportswear and swim brand on the west coast. Shelah, meanwhile, stayed in Hawaii where she created a boutique line of handmade swimwear and later got into the vacation rentals business.
After shelving their dreams for a decade, the sisters, now 32, started planning NOE in earnest in 2011. The brand’s name means “strength” in Hawaiian, but the sisters chose it because it reminded them of a childhood friend named Lily Noe. “We had a joke that if either of us had a daughter, we’d name her Noe — but neither of us have a daughter,” Bonnie said.
The brand’s aesthetic borrows liberally from the girls’ beachside upbringing and from Bonnie’s work in sportswear.
“It really comes from living in swimwear when we were young,” she said. “But there are components of swimwear that are not functional or not practical as undergarments.
“We took elements of what we like from swimwear … looks that are meant for the beach but you can still slip on a dress and expose some pieces underneath. Whatever the wearer feels comfortable showing.”
Their familiarity with swim fashions also gave them a window into the rapidly changing world of high-tech, high-performance nano fabrics.
A good example of their inventive fabric choices can be seen in NOE’s Zachary X-back bra (numbers 29-30 below), which will likely become the brand’s signature style. It marries a light, 60-gram mesh to a new stretch Lycra from Belgium’s Liebaert, with straps made from a soft herringbone elastic from Shindo and even a mesh overlay on its hook-and-eye hardware.
Bonnie and Shelah are obviously both fans and students of contemporary lingerie and swimwear design — and they’re quick to acknowledge other labels that helped shape their vision.
They’re big fans of Australian labels (Jenna Jube, Zimmermann and We Are Handsome) that blend beach and street styles, and are close friends of the Miller sisters who run the trendsetting U.S. swim label Mikoh.
But progressive fashion brands also inspired them, from Bordelle‘s groundbreaking straps to the gossamer elegance of Ell & Cee to the bold graphic contours of New York’s VPL and even the structured looks of Helmut Lang.
It all comes together in a collection that was, they say, inspired by both the fluidity of ocean waves and the architectural skylines of L.A. and New York.
NOE is now based in Laguna Beach, CA, and will officially debut its AW2013 collection next month at the Curve Expo lingerie and swimwear trade show in New York. Products will reach stores in mid-July, and NOE plans to open a consumer webshop around the same time.
NOE is innerwear-as-outwear with an attitude, a new hybrid that defies convention and categorization and which — like the best of today’s fashion-forward brands — will make you think twice about your undergarments are for. Their slogan says it nicely: “Move Beyond The Boundaries“.
And now the good stuff: here’s a gallery featuring NOE’s entire AW2013 lookbook. Click on the images to expand.