Hood By Air’s provocateur brings his radical vision to the Italian outdoor brand.

In a fashion era where catch-all commerciality rules supreme, Shayne Oliver can seem like one of the industry’s last genuine provocateurs.

Who could forget the AW14 Hood By Air show in which models vogued triumphantly down the catwalk, or that SS17 PornHub collection which flipped society’s guilty internet habit into a luxury fashion flex?

Since he put HBA on hiatus last year, however, Oliver’s been confounding expectations in a different way: first with his tenure as designer-in-residence at Helmut Lang and then with a directional capsule he created in collaboration with campus-ready luggage maker Longchamp.

Now, in another deliciously unpredictable move, Oliver’s bringing his radical vision to Italian outdoor masters Colmar. The label, with nearly a century of luxury Alpine heritage behind it, isn’t necessarily the first brand you’d associate with a downtown designer known for his politically charged riffs on NYC ballroom culture. But, with its freshly launched Advanced Garment Exploration (A.G.E.) platform, a new space for more experimental and avant-garde work, Colmar are inviting a series of guest designers to reinterpret and re-imagine their storied archive.

More than a mere one-off capsule, this first A.G.E. guest project will see Oliver create three collections for the label, each an opportunity to fuse his subversive DNA with Colmar’s history of technical innovation. Indeed, one of the most surprising things about Oliver, given his reputation for bold fashion spectacle, is his very real passion for the artisanal. “I like people that have a quiet sensibly of mastering things,” he muses. “At HBA I was creating new ideas and didn’t really care how they functioned…I was more experimenting. I think with the hiatus I felt I needed to take my time with things and look at people who really know how to construct items and products and ideas that really last.”

It was during a factory sourcing trip to Italy for a separate project that he first encountered Colmar, whose pioneering developments he soon came to admire. “I love people who do things first so it was really intriguing to see a lot of the things that they had done that were firsts,” he explains. “I went to meet them and I walked through all the modern stuff and I got to see a whole history of skiwear, which was very intriguing to me just coming from New York and it being such a huge part of the wardrobe in, I guess, an urban sensibility.”

This being Shayne Oliver, however, you’d be foolish to expect straightforward bubble-goose throwbacks – though the XL outerwear of the 90s was clearly an influence on this collection of bright, artfully mutated down pieces. “I always have to kick in the doors waving the 4-4,” quips Oliver in his distinctively playful drawl. “You have to break some things in order to start a conversation and, I feel, a relationship. So that was what I felt the first iteration of the Colmar collaboration was about: breaking down my barriers versus their barriers and finding a middle ground at some point.”

So, how exactly did that dialectical design ethos materialise itself in the collection? “When I went into the design process with Colmar, I didn’t want to change much about the design of their pieces, I just wanted to change the silhouettes,” he tells me. For Oliver, though, changing a silhouette doesn’t mean tweaking a few measurement so much as it does radical re-construction in the Martin Margiela mould: “Basically, I took a lot of their ski vests and their parkas and re-assigned the body parts of the jackets to make new silhouettes.”

A four armed parka, in particular, is one of Oliver’s favourite pieces from the collection. “You can wear in any way you want to” he says. “It sounds insane, but you put it on and it makes a lot of sense with where silhouettes are moving right now.” Elsewhere, unisex protective trousers based on Colmar’s 70s gaiters and an oversized vest of buoyancy-aid proportions all feel like appropriate cocoons against the turbulence of 2018. “The vest is huge and it’s based on this silhouette I did for the last HBA collection,” he recalls. “In fact, a lot of the ideas from these collections are things that I was working on at HBA that I couldn’t do on my own…For me, it’s about what I learn from being around these manufacturers. I never knew how to make a parka before but now I sort of understand a little more.”

A far cry from the cynical, for-profit fashion partnerships that feel more ubiquitous than ever right now, Oliver’s clearly genuinely excited about learning from and developing his mutually beneficial relationship with Colmar. “I’m working on the second collection now,” he enthuses. “It’s been great and we’ve had huge progress with understanding each other as a manufacturer and as a designer and the balance between the two…You just have to go through that process and that’s where you really find the winner.”

And what to expect next time around? Sensuality, apparently. “That’s what’s exciting for me about skiwear. How tight it was and how sexy it was. Not sexual but sensual,” he laughs. Skiwear. Sexy? If anyone can do it, Shayne Oliver can.

The first collection of It’s the A.G.E of SHAYNE OLIVER for COLMAR launches online and in store on 18th September.

Benji Walters

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