Berlin. I am located in Prenzlauer Berg – notorious for being the children’s richest district, a Swabian stronghold and known for its latte macchiato mothers. You often see women with pretty preggo bellies, sweet cafes and there are organic food stores on every corner. The former run-down trendy ‘scene’ district has established itself as a posh haven for well-educated thirty-something moms and dads. Numerous celebrities appreciate the exquisite location too: quiet, green, chic, a bit stuffy but with its numerous playgrounds also ideal for children. So it may happen that you’re standing alongside Heike Makatsch in a children’s fashion-pop shop or pass by Daniel Brühl once again on the street.
However: quirky, colourful and wild is different, and certainly not something that is characteristic for the Kollwitz neighbourhood in Prenzlauer Berg.
That is valid up to the point when you pass the gates of children fashion label Noé & Zoë in Rykestraße. Everything here is a bit different: less snazzy and more vivid and flashy. The shop is situated on the ground floor of an old Berlin apartment building next door to the office of Nici Zinell, founder and owner of Noé & Zoë. If one has found the glowing neon-coloured doorbell and has passed through a large gate, the journey through Noé & Zoë’s headquarters begins in a colourful backyard oasis that for look book photo shoots can transform itself into a vibrant circus scenery or graceful ice landscape.
An open, confident and cordial woman warmly welcomes me with casual elegance. We immediately start a conversation and Nici shows me the many beautiful children’s fashion pieces from the label’s different collections. In the last five years quite an amount of pieces have already come together. Also precisely because Nici, as she tells me, often cannot decide which version of design, cut or pattern among the variety of combinations should finally go into production. Thus, often more designs (parts) go into each compilation than originally planned. A habit, that an enthusiastic Noé & Zoë fan like me can only appreciate. Although the numerous designs of Noé & Zoë are very varied and diverse, Nici lays great emphasis on the fact that her label’s fashion items are all combinable with each other. Whether spring, summer, autumn or winter, Noé & Zoë is made to be worn always.
Learn in our interview from where Nici Zinell takes her creative ideas, how she masters her business with four children and what kind of surprise we can look forward to at the beginning of 2017.
Tell me a bit about yourself, what is characteristic for you and how would you describe yourself in a few sentences?
My parents have given me creativity, love, faith in my abilities and unconditional support. I believe that has shaped me very much and really created the best requirements for my life. Now I have a man at my side with whom I have a wonderful family and who always supports me and covers my back. All this would not have been possible without my family.
What did you like to wear as a child? Was there a special piece of clothing that you held very close to your heart or that you connect with a story?
My mother gave me a princess dress for the carnival once when I was about 4 years old. I remember exactly how much I loved this costume and how my mother made it at home from a ballet suit, tulle, satin and self-adhesive glittering flowers. There is even a photo hanging at our home in the corridor of me in the dress.
Besides, I still have a blazer and the wedding dress of my mother. Both items she sewed herself and I still find them very beautiful. Even today I wear the blazer sometimes.
You have four children and a successful children’s fashion label, how difficult is it for you to organize all that?
Actually, I find it not so hard. I have a truly great husband who supports me unconditionally and keeps my back. We are a well-established team and our children are already older now which makes it all a lot easier. My eldest son supports me as a graphic artist with Noé & Zoë – and often he helps out at home and takes care of his siblings. Our children are very independent and therefore much works really well.
How did you get the idea to make children’s fashion?
I studied fashion design, but after studying I realized that I did not feel comfortable in the fashion world and the whole scene around it. People are often too superficial for my taste. Finally, I landed in the film industry and I love the work as a costume designer.
After the birth of my second son in 2005 I sewed a lot for him and always received great feedback and consequently also the incentive to offer the items for sale.
So in 2009, together with Nadine Richter, I decided to found Noé & Zoë. However, since we both gave birth again in 2010, it took us another two years until we finished our first collection in 2011 and presented it at Playtime in Paris. The success there led us to continue with what we were doing. Since the beginning of 2014, after Nadine had become a mother again, I have been leading Noé & Zoë on my own.
What does the name Noé & Zoë mean and how did the name originate?
The name was the fortunate idea of my husband. He came up with the idea to call it Noé & Zoë when we were looking for a name for the label, since my daughter is named Zoë & Nadine’s son (who is the same age as Zoë) is called Noé. Before, we had never noticed how similar the names were, but we immediately agreed that the name is perfect. A little later we added the tag Berlin because it is important to us that the customers know that great baby & children fashion comes from Germany and in particular, Berlin. When we started with Noé & Zoë, there were hardly any smaller German children’s fashion labels that were internationally successful. That has changed in the last 5 years however, which is great!
Where do the materials come from and where and how are they produced?
We produce exclusively in Portugal. That is also where I find all our fabrics. Sometimes fabrics are additionally purchased from Italy or Spain, but most fabrics are made directly in Portugal. I also print all the materials locally in Portugal. I place great emphasis on offering as many textiles as possible in organic quality. Unfortunately, I cannot offer the complete collection in organic fabrics, because for some articles we just cannot justify the prices towards our consumers. In the long term however, I would like to offer our complete collection in organic materials. By shifting production to Portugal where we have all our suppliers and producers as well as our warehouse close by, we can already make a significant contribution to the environment. Nevertheless, we are intensively making an effort to integrate aspects of environmental protection and sustainability into our work and to develop that further and further.
How does a new collection evolve and from where do you get the ideas and inspiration?
My greatest inspirations are my own children. In addition, many ideas arise when I watch movies or go to exhibitions or the theatre. Sometimes I get the best ideas also on the way to work. Or the encounters with people from foreign countries and cultures inspire me. I really find ideas everywhere, so I cannot complain about a lack of ideas, rather about too great a wealth of ideas.
Your collections do not only appeal to children but also to fashion-conscious parents who would surely like to slip into that one or other piece if it would exist in their size. Are there plans for an adult collection?
In the past, we have often had styles for adults in the collection but from the next SS 17 collection we will actually have a real MiniMe collection, which we called “Moi Aussi”. The great thing is that some styles are unisex, so that there is even something for fathers! The collection will be available from January & February 2017 onwards.
Noé & Zoë Lookbooks reveal that you devote a lot of time and creativity to the photo shootings, is that a passion of yours?
Definitely! Together with our photographer Paul Rossaint I develop the set ups for our shootings. This is a very harmonious process and every time I see the final results it makes me totally happy. The process that leads up to the completion of the catalog is quite similar to the development of a collection. It is not that we think about how an image should look in one day and then photograph it the very next day. As a rule, it is a process that stretches over several weeks or months. First we collect ideas and only then does the search and construction of the props begin. I love to think about all the details. Paul and I build the sets together and this alone can take a few hours until we are satisfied.
Every time we present our collections at the fair in Paris, we decorate the stand in line with our current catalog. That is why our stand looks completely different every time. That is incredibly important to me and it is a lot of fun. After all, the shooting itself has to be planned, babies and children have to be found and the outfits have to be put together. Many sequences within that process resemble those in the making of a film, the sector I come from originally. However, in the whole Film process I am “only” responsible for making the costumes, but during the shootings I have to take care of all departments. Luckily, I have a great team that plans, organizes, and makes every catalog an absolute highlight! I’m looking forward to our next shoot in November!
How can we imagine one of your shootings? How do you motivate the kids?
The shootings usually take place in one or two days. Although we prepare the outfits for each child in advance, we still have to switch outfits spontaneously and create new combinations. But that is normal. We try to take photos in a relaxed atmosphere so that the babies and children have fun. Our photographer Paul is great at motivating the little ones and above all he really adapts to the children. He has a great sense for special moments and settings.
Which children’s fashion label do you like besides your own?
I like the originality of Bobo Choses and the creativity of Little Creative Factory, but I am also a big fan of Tocoto Vintage. They are all from Barcelona – a lot of great children’s labels come from there! I also like the designs of Monkind from Berlin and hope that there will be even more great Berliner children labels soon. I definitely believe Berlin could compete with Barcelona!
Please continue this sentence: “Children are great because ….”
…they are our greatest treasures. Children look at the world with an unrestricted gaze which always reminds me to look at things from a different angle
Dear Nici, thank you for our open and easy going conversation! It was very nice to meet you. We are looking forward to seeing you soon!
Click here for the stunning parts of Noé & Zoë. And – whoop whoop! – keep in mind: the CODE Pepe&Nika gives you a fantastic 10% discount on the current collection AW16 / 17 – online and in the Berlin store until October 16th.
Get a first impression of Noé & Zoë’s summer collection 2017 here: