If you’re inked up ‘thuggin’, that’s what we like: Wonderland talks to Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver about Paris, New York and fashion therapy…
Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air is in his Chinatown, New York studio blasting the Pet Shop Boys. It’s mid-week late afternoon and the project team, spearheaded by the crisp-collared, padlock-chain-wearing designer, are punching out ideas for the next collection. Nothing of which he cares to specify yet, “We’re just vibing, really,” he drawls in his Brooklyn accent. Oliver was born and raised in New York, “I’m a BK baby,” and the label he formed at 19, (he’s now 26) was recently nominated by the CFDA for Menswear Designer of the Year, a distinction that hasn’t altered his perception of how they get things done, even for the anti-establishment streetwise label. “So, we have an office manager now,” he giggles.
The nod by the LVMH-funded foundation follows the luxury line’s A/W13 show, which featured old-school voguers and hair flippers to hair-raising, chill-inducing effect. “We wanted people to feel something,” Oliver says of the show. “If we can bring that feeling to people: mission accomplished.” Respected critic Maya Singer of Style.com hailed the show as the most exciting thing happening in New York fashion, and Oliver is touted as “reimagining Americana uniforms,” on the label’s profile on Cfda.com. High praise for a self-proclaimed “hood” boy.
“Now we’re part of a culture that once shunned us, or we were shunning,” says Oliver of partnering with the fund, he continues, “but it’s cool because they’re liking us for being us, which is why it’s dope. You never hear shit like, ‘Oh you should do this to be more commercial.’ It’s surprisingly chill.” To describe his aesthetic, Oliver is at a loss for the first time since we began chatting. He ums, and ahs before saying, “I don’t know, that’s why I have a logo. I agree when people say I have a New York aesthetic, but that comes from the mixture of inspirations growing up in New York affords you. It’s not so streamlined, it has a cut and paste aspect to it.” He knows the person he’s designing for, as an extension of himself and what he’s into across music, art, and fashion, he asserts, “What I do know is that I like a strong, powerful individual who is very confident in the way they give off their sexuality. They’re in this place were they’re ok being sexy, but also confident when they’re not being sexy. I like someone who knows how to take control of their hormonal output and the energy they put out.” For Oliver and his team, Hood By Air will always be about shows, not to “show off,” he says, “but to dress up.” For a while the label disbanded, they couldn’t afford to produce the social-commenting pop-pageants they wanted, “We were like, let’s cut it out,” says Oliver. Akeem Smith, who’s responsible for most of the visual imagery behind the label, went deeper into styling, and Oliver toured as a DJ. Like malleable boy bands from the 90s they reformed, after their sole endeavours helped finance the flamboyant runway shows again. “Being able to collaborate and just express certain things that drive me insane in my head [is why I show]. It’s also therapeutic,” says the nimble designer.
The early conception of the label as a passion project during Oliver’s teenage years is now seeing real strength as a business, a feat Oliver takes great pride in. “The label’s grown as opposed to this thing where I’m being thrown into an arena and I’m being blind-sided. I know what I want now in general, and every moment is about figuring out how to get it done. As opposed to me being like, ‘What do I actually want from this thing’? Or not even understanding myself. I started it pretty young, so I kind of grew up with it.” As for other side projects, Oliver is taking an interest in music creative direction. “I want to nurture artists, I think it’s quite old school in a way… Direct their whole album, show them how to wear the clothes. Perhaps it was one element of the music industry that people thought was frivolous, but was actually quite important. Now it all moves so quickly, the artist gets their hits and fades away, and that’s proving to fail,” Oliver reasons. For Oliver it’s about building positive relationships within a hub of well-deep talent, for a consumer experience that is artistic driven, rather than commerce-fuelled.
He’s finding New York a little boring now, too. “New York is in an anti-cultivate cultivation moment,” he says. “People haven’t been able to cultivate their own thing because they’re so busy at work just keeping their job. They’ve been thrown into a work field without having any interest in what they necessarily do. They say, ‘Oh I want to work in fashion,’ but they’re not confident in their ideas because they haven’t been given time to develop them. And they don’t care what’s happening around them, they just want to be involved. Some of the younger girls are lazy, too. You don’t have to save
too much energy to do it, but we should be a little bit more proactive towards our own ideas, and concepts.” Towards the back end of this conversation and in light of the plateauing affection he has for his home city, Oliver flirts with the idea of moving to Paris, “I, could, like, spend two or three months there I guess,” before pausing briefly. “No, actually, I’d get too homesick.”
Clothing by Hood By Air, Christopher Shannon and Bobby Abley.
Words: Emma-Louise Tovey
Fashion Editor: Akeem Smith
Photographer: Sam Bayliss-Ibram