When the independent label NOE Undergarments splashed onto the lingerie scene less than two years ago, it was hard to pigeonhole. A bit sporty, a bit rock and roll, a bit gypsy, a bit glam … NOE was an unfamiliar style hybrid that didn’t fit anyone’s idea of how lingerie was supposed to be worn.
Today, with its fall 2014 collection now in stores, NOE has emerged as one of the bright lights in the increasingly fashion-infused American lingerie scene. It has a growing fanbase among celebrities, its own hashtag — #innerwearexposed — that sums up the NOE aesthetic and, as the photo gallery below reveals, a determination to change how women view their base layers.
Created by identical twin sisters who grew up in Kauai and have a background in swimwear, NOE brought a chic fashion sense to wear-anywhere undies. Customers loved the rich colors, the creative cuts, the cutting-edge blend of materials and the sense that they’d discovered an emerging brand with a disregard for convention and an unmistakeable identity all its own.
The brand’s spirit of innovation and experimentation hasn’t waned, and in the new collection you’ll find several gems that add to NOE’s catalogue of memorable silhouettes. Mesh Bermuda shorts. Lambskin leggings. And tuxedo-inspired sheer silk PJs — equally suitable for home wear, a VIP lounge or your next red carpet appearance. And those flame-colored leather Edward “shorties”? Only a fool would wear them under anything.
What drives this upwardly mobile brand? Lingerie Talk connected with founder/sisters Bonnie Rae Boyes (in L.A.) and Shelah Jean Abubo (Hawaii) to find out what they’re up to … and where NOE is headed.
[Ed. Note: You can find NOE in many retail boutiques in the USA and Canada, including Fred Segal, American Rag, Journelle, Ron Herman, Revolve and others, as well in their website shop.]
Lingerie Talk: NOE is quite a fashion chameleon. How do you describe the brand’s signature look these days?
NOE: Our signature look is clean and progressive. Really, when we’re designing we keep three elements top of mind — making sure all our designs are unique and different, making sure our designs are simple with no unneeded elements that distract from the silhouette of the garment, and making sure our designs are progressive and push boundaries in terms of wearability.
We have certain elements in our line that stay consistent — we use a developed herringbone elastic trim, we use our developed square gold hardware, mesh back eye-hook closures and pop panty lining. Also, from a broader scale we stay consistent with using progressive fabrications and a solid color palette (no prints).
LT: How many different ways have you heard your brand name mispronounced? We used to pronounce it as “noy” but now I’m not so sure. What’s the correct way to say it?
NOE: Let’s see, we hear it pronounced as “no” often, which we actually somewhat really like. “No Undergarments” – it’s so kitschy. We’ve heard people call out the letters, as in N-O-E. But the way “noe” is pronounced is similar as in “boy” or “toy” or as you mentioned “noy”! However, we really enjoy the different pronunciations and it’s up to the one saying it. We’re not critical of however one wants to say it.
LT: You’ve promoted yourself as “premium innerwear that demands to be seen.” Seen where, exactly?
NOE: Yes, we design premium undergarments that can be worn discretely or worn and styled as part of a ready-to-wear look. Our designs stem from more of a fashion direction rather than traditional lingerie. You can wear our silk bustiers as cropped bra tops with hi-rise pants, you can wear our silk slips as cover-ups over swimwear or over your favorite skinny jeans. You can wear our silk bodysuits as a base layer with your favorite pants or skirt.
We really encourage the wearer to be experimental with our pieces and our goal as designers is to create pieces that make one to want to experiment in the wearability of the piece and feel good doing so.
LT: Your collection includes bras, slips, thongs and pajamas but NOE still promotes the underwear-as-outerwear fashion concept. Do you feel like you are following a trend or still on the leading edge of one? Is the outerwear concept really catching on?
NOE: That’s a good question. One thing is certain is that innerwear will never go out of trend; the way a woman wants to wear her innerwear is up to her. We aren’t designing to stay on trend. We are designing to be different and continuously push our boundaries as creatives, and we hope our customer relates and appreciates that from our brand.
LT: The inner-outwear concept is somewhat limited by climate and geography. Does this limit the appeal of brands like NOE in winter months?
NOE: No, I think this just adds one more layer of creativity for the customer. We design with the mindset of ‘how could you also wear this out?’ However, many of our customers would never feel comfortable exposing their innerwear and that is okay, it’s not for everyone. Or maybe as you said they expose it at different times of the year!
LT: AW2014 is your third seasonal collection. How has your look changed since you first entered the market?
NOE: Yes, it’s crazy to think that; it’s amazing how fast time flies. We’ve progressed in terms of perfecting our fit, which is always challenging as a new label. We feel we’ve bettered our collection each season in terms of learning and having an understanding of what our customer likes and appreciates from our brand and keeping this in mind in our decision-making.
We’ve added more styles to the seasonal collections. We have a balance of sellable styles but also with that we can afford to do more crazy and unique pieces (which are the pieces we love). We’ve also made a constant effort to stay consistent with the NOE Undergarment identity — clean, edgy yet chic, sexy but slightly masculine and simply stated … just staying us!
LT: The new collection includes many revisions to existing NOE styles. What pieces in the collection are completely new? And what previous lines have you dropped?
NOE: Yes, the AW14 collection is just our third season so we had the opportunity to see what was working in the prior season and build into that. Our distribution is also growing so we felt we couldn’t just toss away what hasn’t yet been given a chance yet, we needed to get more of our collection out there.
For example, in our first season we developed a style called the Edward Legging, a hi-rise legging with keyhole back accent and gold hardware close. The upper is a patented Lycra Nano and from the 1/2″ inseam to the ankle is a fitted mesh. This style didn’t sell at all our first season but we truly believed in it and now in AW14 it’s one of our top selling styles.
We build upon styles such as the Alfie Silk Georgette Slip, which was a top seller for us in SS14 and developed a new stunning silhouette, the Alfie Silk Slip II as well as silk PJs in this group that stem from a tuxedo shape but have the sensual feel of the Alfie group.
We introduced a few new bras and panties into the Peter mesh group — a fabulous new Tulip bra and hi-rise brief, a new longer length mesh Bermuda tap short that pairs with a elegant new tank. We also introduced some new forward pieces such as a leather cage bra and leather/mesh legging.
LT: When NOE debuted in 2013 it immediately attracted the attention of many fashion magazine editors, both mainstream and avant garde. Did that surprise you? Were you prepared for all the attention?
NOE: It was such a big compliment to get the attention. We were so very honored and excited to see the interest from the media and primarily to hear “this is so fresh and unique.” That was and is still so rewarding for us.
LT: You’ve enjoyed some valuable exposure from celebrities. Do you seek that out intentionally (ie. by sending out gift samples), or do celeb stylists come to you unsolicited?
NOE: We’ve been so fortunate to have all our celebrity clientele find us organically through either their stylists or social media or shopping at some of our retail store partners. We don’t actively pitch to celebrities.
LT: Is there a contemporary celebrity that in your mind represents the NOE woman?
NOE: We adore Jaime King (above). She resonates so well with the collection and her style of wearing innerwear as outerwear from when she was younger to now is so NOE Undergarments. She is a big fan of the label and we’re so honored every time we see her wearing pieces from NOE Undergarments. (Ed. Note: Jaime can be seen in the new film Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.)
LT: Being a fashion industry darling opens up a lot of doors. Who are some of the most interesting people you’ve had a chance to meet or work with on this journey?
NOE: You’re so kind to prose the question in such a way. Honestly we feel so fortunate to have met so many amazing people that it’s hard to narrow down just a few. Yourself is one, you did the first interview we ever did before we launched our AW13 collection at Curve NY and it was such an amazing honor for us, we we’re so intrigued with the insight and knowledge you shared.
We work with an amazing production house and the women who owns the facility in LA is a huge inspiration and so very versed and insightful. We’ve had communications with Miley Cyrus and her team, which was fascinating in the fact we couldn’t believe we were communication with Miley Cyrus and that her team reached out to us.
But honestly, the most amazing people that we’ve been fortunate to meet have been some of the women (and men) that email us telling us they love what we’re doing or share about themselves and ask for insight on how to wear a NOE piece in such and such way… that lights up our day.
LT: You are a sister team split between California and Hawaii. How do work together with so much distance (and time zones) between you? How do you divide the duties?
NOE: We travel often to see each other. We benefit in utilizing digital devices — Skype, video chat, shared digital offices, etc. It’s not as challenging as one would initially think. With today’s technology so much is possible when it comes to ways of communication.
We divide duties by our strengths but honestly we have our hands in everything, we both do the design and creative direction together and then the other elements we split up. We also have a fabulous sales showroom, Band of Martians, that is literally a third arm of the brand and such a valuable component for us.
LT: What is the most difficult lesson you’ve learned since entering this business?
NOE: To take things with stride. It’s hard, as you want to do so many things and get inspired and think we have to do this and this and this. We want to do this shoot, and work with this amazing person and do this event and add this new capsule, but we have to rein it in and take things with stride.
A few times we’ve come close to biting off more than we can handle and that’s when it gets scary. We always will be on the edge but try to not go over. That’s when it seems like things get messy and we want to do our best to avoid that.
LT: What has been the most pleasant surprise?
NOE: The response to us as a brand. We entered this big and scary lingerie/innerwear world with no background in lingerie. We didn’t know what to expect. To see the sincere passion and care by customers and retailers both from lingerie stores and fashion boutiques has been so rewarding. We had a list of amazing accounts that we only dreamed of hopefully working with and to be in some of those stores now in our third season is amazing — we just opened Alla Prima up in San Francisco and that was such a winning moment for us.
We got an email the other day from a student in the UK studying lingerie design and she asked “How did you build a cult following for NOE Undergarments” and that was so shocking to even here. We don’t think we have a cult following but for her to ask that made us giddy and filled with excitement.
LT: Young independent brands often talk about the shocking workload and the lack of any ‘down time’ in the fashion-market calendar. Is that a problem for you? And if so, how do you manage the so-called “work-life balance”?
NOE: Yes, it’s so true. No downtime at all. We both are so lucky to have amazing partners in our lives so that is the first thing that really helps. However, we can say that we both work too much, but I think that is natural with the first years of any business.
We really enjoy what we’re doing by building NOE Undergarments. It’s still extremely fun and exciting and that makes the work part better. We need to work less, but it’s hard … it’s a challenge to find that work-life balance.
LT: What can you tell us about future plans for NOE? Is there a swimwear or sportswear capsule collection in the cards?
NOE: Oh the future … it’s going to be good! Our new SS15 collection is really exciting. We feel (and from the response so far) it’s our best and most progressive collection yet. We’ve introduced new and unexpected fabrications and trims and added more ready-to-wear inspired pieces (sportswear infused) to the collection, which really allows for the “exposing” element of the brand.
We come from swimwear backgrounds and that is something we initially thought we would never do, but you never know, that could be something we consider in the future. We want to really continue to focus on our trims and fabrications. We’ve been obsessive about sourcing and finding unique and fabulous materials to work with.
LT: If you could only choose one of the following, which would it be … becoming famous, making money, or having fun?
NOE: Have fun and most importantly be happy! We don’t want to be famous (we actually both hate the spotlight) and making money is always a positive but truly staying happy and having fun is the most important.
LT: Are you having fun yet?
NOE: We’re having fun every day! We’ll be honest and say having a label comes with the fair share of tears and challenges that any small business has, but the fun is always there.