Felisha Noel has always been inspired by Renaissance art, though she has rarely come across historic images that speak to her own identity. “Black women have always been erased from those narratives, unless they were shown as slaves,” says Noel, who launched her label, Fe Noel, eight years ago. The Brooklyn-based designer is seeking to shift that centuries-old Eurocentric narrative out of the frame with the help of Harmonia Rosales, an Afro-Cuban American painter from Chicago who has reimagined several of the world’s most famous masterpieces, including Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, to honor the black female body. “I wanted to find work that celebrated the strength and regal nature of black women, and Rosales’s paintings blew me away,” says Noel. “I was particularly drawn to her depiction of the African goddess Oshun shown as Venus.” Rosales’s Venus takes pride of place in the new Spring collection, printed on slip dresses with ribbon straps and a caftan with a ruffled hemline that has become a favorite of Michelle Elie—the jewelry designer and style maven recently Instagrammed a picture of herself in the look while on vacation in Haiti.
Noel grew up in a circle of strong women, including her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean island of Grenada and worked in a clothing factory in Manhattan. She’d often come home from work with fabrics for her young, curious daughter to play with. “I never really imagined myself as a designer growing up, but I was always drawn to fashion,” says Noel. Currently, everything under the Fe Noel label is made in a small production house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, though there are several larger projects in the pipeline that are poised to push her brand to the next level. “I think clothes have the power to transform people,” says Noel. “Power is in all women. My hope is that when women wear my clothes, they can lean into that power.”