I’ve had a few of the conversations with other journalists – that they don’t “get” Hood by Air and then I go on to defend HBA – staunchly in fact. It might surprise a few of you that me in my pastel candy la-la-land corner will want to be going gun ho for a brand that communicates in black and white – literally – branding the letters HBA all over their once-cult, now-mass fanbase. Ever since Shayne Oliver founded Hood by Air as a t-shirt label, it has seen a rapid rise with a social media and celebrity following, borne entirely away from the fashion microcosm to a now a somewhat established mega brand (knock off merchandise in China is surely a telling indication?) with support from LVMH. And yet I’ve not really had the chance to say in writing why Hood by Air matters. It builds up after every show I’ve seen (while I’ve not been in it for the long haul since the early HBA days in 2006, I’ve seen pretty much every one of their NY shows) and then I can never quite figure out a way of articulating things without it sounding jumbled or worse, pretentious. As the excitement around HBA quickly built up, I feared any thoughts might appear disingenuous. Poor Susie, buying into the feverish hype.
Having witnessed Hood by Air’s special collection presented as part of Pitti Uomo, I thought it a good time to speak up. I’ve seen more than enough. Up until this Florentine show and possibly parts of the S/S 15 collection, what has really drawn me into the world of HBA, more than the clothes themselves, is the culture and energy surrounding it. Its very existence makes me happy because of what it represents – commentary on the signs of our times – the good, bad and the ugly even. With every artistic decision be it in the choice of casting, its social media output, choreography of performances and yes, the clothes as well, Oliver puts up a good fight. Against conventionality, against gender discrimination, against lack of racial diversity, against uniform standards of beauty, against oppression. They’re shows not for you to simper and clap politely at. You holler, you move, you whoop, you might even be antagonised. I simply don’t buy that thousands of people branding themselves with HBA are purely buying into it for cool factor alone. Sheeple have easier brands to buy into. The congregation of fans and friends outside the shows in New York see something within Hood by Air that they identify with, and when they’re branded with HBA on their chests, their knees and their arms, they’re eye rolling at the world in unison. And me? I’m sitting at the back pew somewhere nodding my head.
So the sentiment is all well and good. Then what of the clothes? It seems to me that once the Classics range blew up, hashtags and all, and Hood by Air was solidified in a world outside of fashion, Oliver has been attempting to up the fashion ante ever since. The results have not been entirely free of references (Helmut Lang, Margiela, Comme, Westwood… the “core” handful) but when coupled with that omnipresent energy, somehow something different and yes, fresh does appear. The progression though from freakish outsider to establishment is clear. Hood by Air’s S/S 15 collection split up into three parts, presented in New York, then Paris and then back in New York with a culminating celebratory party, explored the idea of male ego and machismo. But more significant was the more pragmatic approach towards the clothes. Wearable is too banal a word. Believable perhaps? Deconstructed suiting with a ton of flipped proportions put two fingers up at corporate values, especially seen in the Paris show, set in a menacing environment of a tower block of Montparnasse. Denim, already a burgeoning category at Hood by Air came in different treatments, as alternative takes on Oliver’s vision of Americana.
First part of Hood by Air S/S 15 collection, shown in New York:
Second part of Hood by Air S/S 15 collection, shown in Paris:
In Florence last night, that push towards establishment took another leap. Oliver has moved the Hood by Air studio to Milan with production done fully in Italy. That is bound to have made the HBA machine a whole lot smoother. Oliver talked about the discovery of Milan’s insane secret nightlife, one that doesn’t necessarily exist in New York anymore. And so it is that he turned up the contrast dial last night with a show housed in a plastic box, with a gorgeous Tuscan villa looming over. Models emerged from the steps flanked by stone lions. Gregorian chants in the villa’s foyer preceded the dystopian glitches up soundtrack by Arca. The clothes took on juxtapositions too. Jackets in camel and navy might sound like Milanese menswear thoroughfare but in the hands of HBA, are spliced and diced. Fur-trimmed zipper hoods seemed to nod to the skiwear that Italian brands also excel at were it not for their oversized proportions. A pink puffa jacket is streamlined so that it almost looks like a businessman’s overcoat. If S/S 15 was about questioning and poking at the suited and booted puffed up male peacock (the sort that are roaming Pitti tradeshow as we speak), then this special collection made with Florence in mind, is a positive conclusion. These are pieces that those aforementioned peacocks would splay their feathers for. Hood by Air will still be showing a A/W 15-6 collection in New York. You wonder where the sartorial story will go because the clothes are starting to matter just as much as the vibes. There’s an ambition in Oliver to ensure that his clothes say as much as they possibly can and that there’s so much more to come.