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FADER Explains: Hood By Air

On the eve of the announcement LVMH prize winner, we break down the early days of HBA.

May 27, 2014

There are two kinds of designers: those who are influenced by their surroundings and those who create entire worlds from within. Shayne Oliver is one of the latter. With his label, Hood By Air, he's captured the attention of the fashion world seemingly overnight, thrusting a new breed of androgynous, high end but hood-approved streetwear onto magazine covers and high-profile fashion week runways. This spring, Oliver was simultaneously nominated for the CFDA's Swarovski Award for Menswear here in American and for the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize in Paris. With all of the industry hype and well-deserved praise rolling in for HBA, it can be challenging to understand where this one-time grassroots label got its start. Today, on the eve of the announcement of the LVMH prize winner, we break down the early days of HBA, its slow but steady rise from subculture label to mainstream fashion and speculate on what's next for Oliver and the thriving design house he's founded.

Let's start from the beginning. How did HBA begin?
Hood By Air is a fashion brand that was started in 2006 by Shayne Oliver and Raul Lopez. The duo envisioned the line as elevated streetwear, with t-shirts and sweaters emblazoned with logos as its DNA. Initially, the line was sold just to friends, until it got picked up by downtown boutique aNYthing.

Where is Raul Lopez now?
Lopez and Oliver eventually parted ways. Lopez has since launched his own menswear line, Luar Zepol, that has also shown at NYFW. Read about the foundations of Luar Zepol in our FADER 74 feature here.

Where did the HBA look come from?
Hood By Air runs on an urban warrior aesthetic. T-shirts are stamped with imposing logos; jeans are spliced to show more skin than they conceal. Knee-high boots recall Timberlands with an exaggerated combat platform. On a macro level, Oliver is testing the limits of traditional garments with a deconstructionist perspective—tunic-length shirts zip off into crop tops, and trousers unlace at the knee into shorts. His designs are genderless and fearless, and they exude authority. “A lot of the clothing is menswear, but it’s more like powerwear,” he told Vogue last year. "It’s about exuding power and fluidity. I’m not really interested in unisex, per se. But if this person wants to give off an energy of power, then Hood By Air is for them.”

So is it a fashion brand, a lifestyle or a crew of people?
All three.

Who are the major characters in the HBA universe?

GHE20 GOTH1K founder Venus X, Shayne's good friend, is HBA's resident DJ. Performance artist Boy Child has become the unofficial poster child for the brand. Akeem Smith is the stylist who puts together all of the runway looks. Photographer Kevin Amato is the long-time collaborator that street-casts all of HBA's runway models and shoots their campaigns. Artist and documentary film director Leilah Weinraub holds the title Director of Art and Commerce at HBA.

What were early HBA shows like?
Shown outside of the traditional New York Fashion Week schedule, early HBA shows were sort of like invite-only underground gatherings in the mid-to-late aughts. Young male models, rocking hairnets and du-rags, walked the runway in HBA’s moody apparel, accessorizing their looks with 40 ounces of malt liquor while current Fade To Mind label boss Kingdom played exclusive catwalk mixes.

What's the connection between HBA and GHE20 GoTH1k?
GHE20 GoTH1k is an underground, queer-friendly NYC party that Oliver has thrown with Venus X for the last few years (it's apparently over now). As he explained to Opening Ceremony in 2011, there wasn’t much of a divide between the party and the clothes: “The sound of the party became the style of the clothes, and the style of the clothes informs the future sound of the party. It’s hard to break everything apart.”

How did A$AP Rocky get involved with the brand?
Contrary to his line in "Angels," A$AP Rocky did not start HBA. Rocky was first spotted wearing Hood By Air at Coachella in 2012 . He put the label’s t-shirts on the map and gave HBA even more exposure in the hip-hop world when he walked in their fall 2013 runway show in NYC.

Is HBA just t-shirts?
No. The HBA Classics line focuses exclusively on t-shirts and hoodies, while the HBA main line deals in ready-to-wear apparel, outerwear and shoes.

Who are HBA's biggest fans?
HBA has been worn by Kanye, Rihanna, Ciara, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, K-Pop super group 2NE1 and tween fashion critic, Mike The Ruler. But HBA's ultimate fans are the thousands of fuccbois that line up at the VFILES store to buy the latest drops.

Why should I care if HBA is up for a LVMH Prize and a CFDA award?
Rarely do designers as young and progressive as Oliver get recognition, let alone nods from fashion’s highest and stodgiest institutions. He represents a true shift in the industry and is definitely changing the game for upcoming streetwear designers in his wake.

What's next for HBA?
It's hard to say, but considering the interest coming from luxury conglomerates like LVMH, we're betting on continued growth for HBA, and Oliver possibly taking over as creative director at an older storied fashion house, similar to Alexander Wang's assignment at Balenciaga. In the meantime, Oliver is steadily working to turn his one-time t-shirt line into a lifestyle brand, which currently offers objets d'art and glassware. The sky is the limit.

FADER Explains: Hood By Air