embracing all ages, races, genders and tribes on the hood by air runway
Shayne Oliver is the 27-year-old founder and Creative Director of Hood By Air, the New York luxury streetwear label that’s skyrocketed from a cult favourite into New York fashion week’s hottest ticket.
2014 was a big year for Shayne Oliver. Not only nominated for the CFDA's Swarovski Award for Menswear, he was also named runner up in the inaugural LVMH Prize, winning a €100,000 cash injection and a year long mentorship with the luxury goods conglomerate, earning himself a spot on Forbes 30 Under 30 Power List in the process. Born in Minnesota, but raised in Trinidad and Brooklyn, Shayne founded Hood by Air in 2006, designing oversized tees and sweatshirts for his friends. Fast forward near on ten years and the label has snowballed into one of the hottest tickets at New York Fashion Week, a refreshing breath of fresh air amongst the Big Apple's all too often commercial offerings.
HBA identifies as a "luxury streetwear brand", a term coined by Oliver and now synonymous with HBA's subversive use of logos, high-end production values and an ingenious online presence. This unique combination of tactics brings together diverse audiences: young people fearful of conceptual designs, and established fashion markets that have systematically ignored the artistic credentials of black gay culture and authentic hip hop style.
To truly grasp Hood by Air's appeal, you need only step foot outside one of their New York runway shows, where you will be engulfed by a noisy throng of fans, decked head to toe in the latest collection clamouring for a golden ticket. As a designer, Shayne has created that rare yet highly coveted thing, a tribe, a family, and a movement that spans far beyond the cool kids of New York to a truly international appeal. His designs question gender, race and power, cutting through the noise of the fashion world with razor sharp precision. It's little surprise that Rihanna, Drake, A$AP Rocky, Ciara, Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West are amongst HBA's biggest fans.
Your spring/summer 15 collection was shown in three parts that seemed to dissolve the psychology of male power. What were you exploring?
We broke the collection up into three parts to explore and explain who the Hood By Air person is. The first part was about the basic necessities of the contemporary man. What makes him run? What makes him feel like a man? What validates him? We dissected all those elements to critique the differences between being a man and being masculine, to suggest that masculinity is an energy that is not necessarily tied to being a man. Then, in Paris, we showed a collection that was made for men but sized for women, while the MoMA part described the studio of HBA, the circle of friends, the thought processes and their expression, all the rituals that go into making the brand happen.
Performance is key to you as a person and the brand, can you speak about your background in dance?
I grew up a dancer and from the age of ten, I started going to nightclubs. I fell into the ballroom scene when I moved to high school. I started going to after-school gay programmes, chilling out with other gay kids. I knew that there had to be somebody else as gay as me out there. We all smoked weed, smoked cyphers and voguing.
Were you only involved in the ballroom scene then?
I did that for three to four years straight in my life and whilst I was doing that I was working with Dash Snow. It was not about him being gay, it was about him being a free person, he was just as extreme as I was. It was like I totally get you, you are that kind of girl, and Terence (Koh), oh she is cute, I love it. HBA is an evolving thing and we fully identify with that scene but we also fully identify with being in an art scene and engaging with both. That back and forth in my life is why I believe you can push voguing onto a proper runway and it can be viewed as an art form and you can critique it equally against a performance artist.
I loved it when I saw the voguers on the runway. Knowing your history with the scene, it seemed like you were saying that this is what culture looks like without appropriation. Are you actively challenging a perceived cultural hierarchy or are you just showing the world your own inspirations?
I have street elements in my work because that is where I grew up... I am sure no one ever thought it was negative that Christian Dior used lace because he grew up around Spanish women and they inspired him to create this or that. So it shouldn't be difficult for people to see how I am inspired by the men that I grew up around and the way that they pushed out style.
How do you define the street?
The street means new ideas that have not found their way into formal institutions. For example, Timberlands and hip hop style never came from a commercialised streetwear culture. These kids were literally going to construction men's stores and buying Timberlands because they had the idea to innovate this new style from workwear. They wanted to look fresh and mix this with a bomb ass coat, the most expensive coat they could find. These are ideas that older, more established designers have been referencing for a long time, but they are now so far from the reference point that people don't see that the original moment is a high art moment. The passion behind it was insane.
What's your design process like? The HBA family seems so strong.
I design most of it, but I do have consultations, and I do walk people through the thought process of the season. In a way that's what keeps it fresh, everyone has their own time within the business to create their own perspective about the collection. That's why everything is so family, because we've all taken HBA under our wing and made it a project that we all can expand on and develop. At the end of the day, I design for a generation and have to let that generation be part of the creative process.
Text and photography Matthew Stone
Styling Akeem Smith
Hair Jawara Wauchope at MAM using Oribe.
Make-up Souhi at Jed Root.
Nail technician Eri Handa at MAM.
Photography assistance Elliot Brown.
Digital technician Christopher Davis.
Casting Kevin Amato.
Casting assistance Walter Pierce.
Production Marcos Fecchino, Julia Hackel at Intrepid.
Production assistance Stefan Christopher.
Post production Jean-Michel Massey at The Forge.
Models Susanne Oberbeck. Juliana Huxtable. Alex Verano. David Tiburcio. Chiki Uno. Philip Errico. Okay-Kaya. Ozboarn Manson. James Nunez. J-Kush. Daniel Phanntom. Ian Isiah. Harlequin Great Dane "Collaggio" provided by All Creatures Great & Small of NY.
Models wear all Clothing Hood By Air.