A New Yorker with Grenadian roots, Fe Noel combines the electric energy of both destinations in the fashion line that bears her name. What started as a passion project out of her clothing boutique in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is now an internationally recognized brand known for its signature flowy silhouettes, artist collaborations and aspirational aesthetic.
Beyoncé, Michelle Obama, Katy Perry and Gabrielle Union are among the thousands who have worn her looks, which are at once sophisticated, edgy, luxe and effortless. With celebrity support, media acclaim and highly anticipated capsule collection drops, Fe seems to have the golden touch—but she is far from an overnight success.
We caught up with Noel to discuss her journey, the role NYC has in her life and career, and what’s next for her.
Describe the early days of starting the Fe Noel clothing brand.
Fe Noel: Having grown up watching entrepreneurs in my family, I knew I’d own a business and I knew loved fashion—but I didn’t quite know I would be a designer. The transition happened organically. I opened a clothing boutique in Crown Heights at the age of 19, and while buying merchandise for the store, I struggled to find my sense of style with what was being offered by other brands. That led me to create my own looks. I started selling my designs in the store, and other women, girls at the time, gravitated toward it.
What does your brand represent to women? What sense of style were you looking to express?
FN: My brand represents freedom, the flow of positive energy and possibilities. The idea that you have the power to create the woman you want to be and curate the life that you want to have. The Fe Noel woman is adventurous and looks for the silver lining in all things. Our motto is “Eat well, travel often and dress to inspire.” In other words, make life beautiful!
What were some of your challenges starting a business?
FN: My family has always been my biggest support system, but our culture did not always view nontraditional careers (such as a designer) as a path to success. So while my mom left room for me to follow my dreams, she also made sure I had a backup plan. As a result, I spent my early years struggling to find a balance as both an entrepreneur of a fashion boutique and a full-time college student studying finance. It was tough, but it taught me resilience and the importance of tenacity.
What are your early Brooklyn memories?
FN: I moved around different neighborhoods within Brooklyn—mostly East Flatbush and Crown Heights—and I attended school in Manhattan. My mom’s business and all of our family was in Brooklyn. I eventually moved to Crown Heights to run my business. Some of my fondest memories are piling into a little car to go to Coney Island and family barbecues in Flatbush during the summer. We would also look forward to the West Indian Day Parade on the [Eastern] Parkway during Labor Day weekend, which also signified the start of the school year.
What are some of your favorite spots to go to in NYC to feel inspired?
FN: I love a trip to the museum to ignite my creativity, and the beautiful thing about NYC is there are so many to choose from. The Met and the Brooklyn Museum are my staples. NYC is so layered, and many times inspiration finds me rather than my looking for it. It can be as simple as the color palette of fading chalk on a sidewalk or the shape of a chair in a window display.
You presented at the last pre-pandemic NYC Fashion Week. How was that experience?
FN: It happened all so fast! Last year when we participated in New York Fashion Week, we decided pretty late to take part. (By the way I don’t encourage anyone to do this.) Flash back to a project we filmed in Grenada the year prior to accompany our Daughter of the Soil collection. I went to view the footage and was so touched that I had to share.
Our show at Fashion Week was February 12, 2020. A month later the world went into quarantine. So we didn’t get to experience the full benefits that often come afterward. When the shutdown happened, in the blink of an eye fashion was no longer important or primary. We shut down for two months! That’s detrimental for a small business. So it was really the pandemic that demanded we go deeper and connect with our customers. I had a lot of time to think, and the value of fashion, creating jobs, fulfilling my calling and making women feel special is now heightened. Through all of the confusion I found a new respect and appreciation.
What’s up next?
FN: We moved our atelier to Manhattan to be closer to our manufacturers and suppliers. We were outgrowing our space in Crown Heights, and it was time for change and new energy.
Describe the feeling NYC gives you in three words.
FN: Raw. Adrenaline. Vibes.
You can find Noel’s clothing, lookbooks and collaborations online at fenoel.com.