DOWNTOWN — Two Chicagoans are breaking into the luxury scene with a brand they hope will create a community beyond their products.
Shawn Gibbs and Frankie Fabre met in the city through mutual friends. Gibbs, a creative born and raised in K-Town, has always loved to design things, from clothing to pieces of art. Fabre, a Humboldt Park native, is an entrepreneur with his own Chicago-based media agency.
Together they launched Noir Atelier, a new luxury brand with a line of sleek vegan leather cardholders.
In the past, Gibbs has designed specialty items like hats and skateboard decks, but he has never done a large release of any of his designs.
“I’ll come up with something, but I’m selfish. … I never want to give it to the world,” Gibbs said.
But after some prodding by his fiancé, Gibbs decided to move forward with creating a brand where he could share his designs, he said.
As Gibbs started to build a friendship with Fabre, they shared their personal goals. They began collaborating to launch the brand — with Gibbs as the creator and Fabre helping to steer business decisions.
“He would tell me about things he’s doing. I would tell him about things I’m doing … just a natural cadence of developing a relationship. As time progressed, his moment presented itself and that led us to where we are today,” Fabre said.
The brand’s French name was created out of Gibbs’ love for Paris. “Noir” means black, and “atelier” means a workshop where one creates. Gibbs felt the name encompassed what the brand symbolizes.
“We’re Black entrepreneurs. We definitely want to showcase we’re gifted and we’re good at things,” Gibbs said.
Noir Atelier launched in September with its debut product: a python-print vegan leather cardholder priced at $129 and available in five colors. The brand co-founders said the cardholder is an attempt to reach consumers across demographics and expose them to luxury at an affordable price point.
“Everyone can’t afford Louis Vuitton, but if we can give you something that’s going to make you feel good … there’s no gender in this, right? You can be a man, woman, 18 years old, you can be 60 years old. You can give this to your mom, cousin or coworker,” Gibbs said.
The signature python print on the cardholders is the result of trial and error, testing out different prints, dimensions and fonts before narrowing it down to the final product, Fabre said. They also studied other brands like Goyard, YSL and Burberry to gauge what would do well in the market.
“One of the biggest things was the colorway. A company that has inspired us in terms of having options is Goyard. … We wanted people to be able to want all the colors … and then be able to accessorize that with their day-to-day,” Fabre said.
Since the launch, Gibbs and Fabre have worked hard to build a customer base, giving away at least $15,000 in merchandise to gain exposure. They have also invested $50,000-$100,000 of their own money to get things off the ground.
Gibbs and Fabre have made it clear they aren’t looking for handouts, saying they hope to build more than a brand.
“We’re not panhandling, we’re not begging. But we want Chicago to step in and step up with us. We really want to make noise and let people know that we’re here and that this is something that they can also be proud of 20 years later,” Fabre said.
The projection of the brand seems positive, with both co-founders already making back their investment, Fabre said. Noir Atelier was also recently added to the NTWRK app, a curated retail platform for art, fashion and pop culture. As of 2020, the app has 2 million registered users with a monthly audience of about 10 million.
“It’s the QVC of art, luxury and fashion. … We’re sitting next to some of the dopest designers and artists around and here we are getting to rub elbows with that network,” Fabre said.
In the future, Noir Atelier plans to lean into luxury leather goods like handbags while continuing to build a community, Fabre and Gibbs said. The brand aims to host a grand opening party next year to bring together all of its customers. Gibbs and Fabre have big ideas for the future of their empire — eventually hosting exclusive curated events filled with all kinds of “artistry from music, fashion and artists,” Fabre said.
The vision is to create utility NFTs, a digital token, that would grant customers access to these events.
The pair would also like to establish a brick-and-mortar store in Chicago, most likely in the West Loop, which would ideally serve as a headquarters with visions to also establish an office and store in Paris.
“We got some dope s— happening, and that requires a lot of money. And so right now we’re being very smart financially with a lot of our decisions with the future in mind … so that way we can give people an experience,” Fabre said.
“[Chicago has] Don C, Jerry Lorenzo, Virgil, rest in peace. … How can we figure it out to get there, as well?” Gibbs said. “This is for Chicago, by Chicago.”
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