Michael Chernow and Brendon Babenzien Stare at the Sea
We asked 30 people who we admire to each interview one person they admire. That’s the concept behind the Interview Issue presented by Design Within Reach.
Michael Chernow, founder of Seamore’s and Meatball Shop, chose former Supreme artistic director and Noah Clothing founder Brendon Babenzien
Follow @michaelchernow + @noahclothing
Almost every decision I’ve made since I was 13 was in some way or another leading to where we are today.
Michael Chernow: Can you tell us about a time in your career that you wanted something so badly that you were unstoppable in pursuing it? What obstacles did you overcome to get there?
Brendon Babenzien: I’ve more or less always wanted to do what I’m doing now. So I guess you could say I’ve been unstoppable the whole time. Almost every decision I’ve made since I was 13 was in some way or another leading to where we are today. More specifically, I’ve always wanted to work with The Cure, my favorite band. I didn’t have to work hard specifically for that per se, but I’ve had to work hard to get in the position to do it. Now that I’ve spent all of these years building the relationships necessary, and the experience, to build a great collaboration, we finally have a Cure collaboration. It feels like a historic moment for me as music is responsible for so much of what goes into what we produce at Noah.
MC: What does culture mean to you? And from your perspective what necessary actions does a leader need to take in order to sustain culture as a company grows?
BB: Culture is everything to me. Music, sports, fashion, art, literature. All of these things are indicators of where we are as a society. How we interact with these things is as important as the things themselves. We are a consumer society, so what we consume basically tells us who we are. Unfortunately, we are consuming at such a rapid pace and with almost with blind faith in how things are presented to us, that we are consuming lesser quality things.
I’m not sure I can speak about how a leader should behave to sustain culture in general. I can only speak for myself. I can only maintain the cultural things we touch at Noah. How we do it, quite simply, is by only touching the things we care about and trying to respect those things completely. We don’t touch things that are not legitimately important to us. We maintain a specific culture by being completely honest about who we are and why we do things, for better or worse. We don’t try to be everything to everybody. We’re just us, and our slice of culture is as pure as it can be because of that.
We maintain a specific culture by being completely honest about who we are and why we do things, for better or worse.
MC: What are you most passionate about and has that changed or evolved throughout your career?
BB: Human rights and the environment. Those two subjects used to exist outside of my work. They were personal issues that didn’t necessarily find their way into my day-to-day work experience. Now they are fully included and a part of our business.
We have built this company with those things in mind and the very nature what we do and how we do it, has a direct impact on both.
MC: If you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive) who would it be with and where?
BB: I think it would be my grandfather. My mother’s father. He passed when I was younger. I wasn’t a child but I was a selfish, self-absorbed young man trying to find his way so I didn’t fully get the most from the relationship. He was a military man and incredibly intelligent. I’d love to be able to talk to him today about the state of things in our country. I’d love to see where he would fall on the issues of today. I think he would have a lot to say and as someone who served in WW2 and as a native New Yorker born in Brooklyn and as a Jewish man, I’d love to have him around to set people straight. I’m sure he would. My alternates would be Bob Marley and Steve Prefontaine.
MC: When taking on a new project or venture, where do you look for inspiration? Is there something specific you do, someone you like to brainstorm with, or do you simply look inside?
BB: I don’t really go looking for inspiration. I think most of it comes naturally from within, based on past experiences. How those past experiences or awarenesses present themselves evolves from year to year based on the current environment. Something that doesn’t feel relevant a year ago maybe comes to the front because of something that is happening today. It’s all pretty organic.
Jesus is supposed to come back any day now, but I am not confident the Jets will ever win a Super Bowl in my lifetime.
MC: If you could have witnessed any event in the past, what would it be? Why?
BB: I should pick a historical event like the Bob Marley “One Love Peace Concert,” or Woodstock, or the resurrection of Jesus (if it happened). Unfortunately, I’m gonna have to pick something a bit less heavy and incredibly selfish. I think I would have liked to be present when the Jets won the Super Bowl. I think we’ll see other incredible concerts in our time, and Jesus is supposed to come back any day now, but I am not confident the Jets will ever win a Super Bowl in my lifetime.
MC: If you could choose any superpower, what would it be?
BB: Flying. I hate air travel. I wish I could just take off myself and go where I want. A very close second would be to be able to breathe underwater. Then I could just jump in and see the ocean without any gear, and I wouldn’t be so afraid of big wave surfing.
MC: Best piece of advice?
BB: Best piece of advice. Wow. I guess I would say to be 100% who you are, regardless of what that is. Let’s say you’re a kid who’s into something that isn’t seen as cool at that time. So what? Find your crew who thinks like you and I guarantee you that you will be happy.
Changing who you are to satisfy others is never a good thing. Trust that you are special even if everyone around you says you’re not, or doesn’t see you or whatever. Eventually, your independence will make you stronger and a much better person than those who have it easy. Don’t peak in high school.
MC: All time favorite thing to eat?
BB: English Sunday Roast. Everything about it is perfect for me. The different foods that make their way onto a Sunday Roast plate are all of my favorites and the fact that it’s usually some old pub serving it is amazing to me. I don’t drink anymore, so I don’t get too much of a chance to go to pubs. But going for a roast gives me an excuse. And Estelle makes a great roast.