Monday 21 October, 2019

Fe Noel's Grenadian heritage inspires designs worn by top celebs

Felisha Noel of the Fe Noel brand.

Felisha Noel of the Fe Noel brand.

The year is not yet over but 2019 has already sealed itself as a watershed year for designer Felisha Noel.

The year started with major endorsements for her brand, Fe Noel, when Vogue ran a feature on her and when Michelle Obama wore one of her designs during the tour to promote her book, Becoming. That was followed by a feature in a spread on Grenada, the country of her parents, which she led for the June issue of Essence magazine.

August saw Fe Noel being selected as one of the brands by Bloomingdale’s for a special Lion King collection. September brought with it the Designer of the Year Award at the Essence Best in Black Fashion Awards and just last week, the designer celebrated when Beyonce was photographed in a Fe Noel Resort ‘18 Halliard turtleneck and striped skirt. This week saw the mother of one receiving an award of recognition by the One Brooklyn Fund.

“I am feeling really good, it’s been a whirlwind of a year.  I am feeling that I had an amazing and blessed year and with Beyoncé wearing the stuff, the brand is really gaining momentum. She shops the brand but this is the first time we got a photograph of her in the clothes. This is what we wanted, this is what we were working for and it will help the brand to reach a wide audience,” she told Loop

Beyonce in Fe Noel 

“It all kind of just happened,” she said of the attention the brand has been getting. “We were working towards people recognising the brand and knowing the brand. We have been putting out cohesive collections and really identifying our aesthetic and we have been honing in on this for years.”

The attention the Fe Noel brand has garnered is validation for Noel, who, unlike many other designers, did not attend fashion school.

“When my mum first came to the US she was working for a manufacturing company and she brought home fabric and buttons for me. When I was young I didn’t know I would be a fashion designer but I knew I would be in fashion somehow. It was hard for me to call myself a designer for a long time because I didn’t go through the process, I didn’t go to school and learn techniques; I learned through trial and error, I learned on the field.

“I regretted it for a long time not being able to go to fashion school but it is the way it was set out for me. Some people tell me if I went to fashion school I would have never started a brand because it intimidates you because you think you need so much to start. I still do courses and I do a lot in the process of learning because I want to be great. I made a lot of mistakes, but doing something is the best process to catch your strength,” she said.

Prior to starting her brand, Noel, at 19, ran a boutique called The Wagon that sold high-end threads.

The shop closed after four years and it took Noel a minute to get over that failure to put herself out there as a designer.

“Being afraid held me back. Being afraid to fail handicaps you. There are things you don’t do because you are afraid. When the boutique closed, I got over the shame of the business not working out. I got past that hump and once you get over that you say wait, this is a part of the process. You can’t get to success without failure, without having shortcomings. So when I realised this is not something to be embarrassed about I was like fail more, fail often and the sooner you do, you will know what works and what doesn’t,” she explained.

The idea for her own designs was birthed before the boutique closed.

Fe Noel 2019 Resort Collection

The New York native said she wanted to dress and look a certain way but couldn’t find what appealed to her.

Noting that clothes have the power to make someone feel good, beautiful and confident, she set out to create items that evoke those emotions.

Her aesthetic is feminine and sensuous with details such as ruffles and bows yet conveys a sense of power with its earth tones and silhouettes. The clothes are also flowing in its aesthetic, a nod to her Caribbean heritage.

“When I was rebranding I said the fashion business is hard so if I have to do something powerful. I said what is special to me, Grenada and my family. I thought of all those things that I could draw my inspiration from.

“I always talk about the way Grenada makes me feel. It’s a cool, easy flowing vibe. I want a woman to look powerful and confident but it looks easy and effortless. It’s the vibrancy, how colours make us feel. That is where my family is from, my grandmother, it’s where I am from. I get inspiration from all these little things…even people coming to the US and making a life for themselves, in every collection I show pieces of that, I try to show where I come from,” she said, revealing that she eventually wants to shine the light on the entire Caribbean through her work.

Her next collection, which she is currently working on, is based on her grandmother and will reflect even more of Grenada.

Noel has spent a lot of time in the Spice Isle recently preparing for the collection and while there has worked with local artists. Grenadian artist Cliffanie Forrester, who caused a sensation at 18 when her painting was selected for the Met Gallery, is working with Fe Noel on the upcoming collection.

Passionate about the Caribbean, Noel features work of the region’s creatives in her designs.

She worked with Afro-Cuban American fine art painter Harmonia Rosales on an Oshun Caftan collection and commissioned fabric designs from Trinidadian designer and graphics artist James Hackett for her 2019 collection.

“I seek that out,” she said of her collaborations with Caribbean artists. “If I see something that evokes something in me I will work with it. I know there are hidden gems in the Caribbean, there is art in the Caribbean that doesn’t get that shine. It is important for me and they understand my references, their art can tell the story of what I want to express, something that makes it better and more powerful,” she said.

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