There’s a reason “What’s your favorite color?” is a roll-your-eyes-obvious conversation prompt. On the one hand, color allows humans to relate on the simplest level, beyond language. But the spectrum of ROYGBIV can also be limiting. What if we expanded our palette, though? Could we see each other more completely? These were the questions Estelle Bailey-Babenzien and Brendon Babenzien decided to tackle when they agreed to collaborate with the Whitney Museum of American Art on a color-themed project for the The Whitney Shop’s ‘New York Stories’ exhibit, which opens tomorrow.
The Babenziens are co-owners of NOAH, a socially conscious menswear brand that opened on Mulberry Street in 2015. When the duo was first approached by Lauri Freedman of the Whitney, they knew they wanted to do something that represented the racial diversity of New York, giving people tools to communicate the color of their soul as well as the color of their skin. So they commissioned local dye artist Jasmine Plantin to create 200 one-of-a-kind, hand-dyed hooded sweatshirts, each in a slightly different shade.
“We came up with colors that can’t be labeled, in the same way that skin colors can’t be labeled,” explained Estelle.
“But we’re never satisfied with just making a garment,” added Brendon. He wanted the project to tell a larger story, so he started researching which animals besides humans see color, and how. He discovered the European starling, a kind of bird that can see colors in ways humans can’t. Like many New Yorkers, European starlings are immigrants — they were brought across the pond for a Shakespeare in the Park production and never left. An additional campaign sweatshirt now features a silkscreen print of the starling as well.
NOAH asked a diverse group of New Yorkers — including some notable names like Alexander Wang, Cynthia Rowley, and Miss Info — to pose in the hoodies, asking them: “What color are you?” Their answers were surprising. “Some people really ran with it,” said Estelle. “This really tough New York street guy said his favorite color was lavender.” She says hers is a bright cream, while Brendon’s is blue, with different shades depending on the season.
To find your color, you’ll have to visit The Whitney Shop, where the NOAH hoodies will be sold exclusively starting September 18. Scroll down to see pictures from the campaign, and read color musings from different New Yorkers.