Friday 1st March

| BY Paul Toner

Hood By Air Are Back, Here’s Why You Should Be Excited

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Clutch your pearls, and grab your ball gags, Hood By Air is back. After a two year hiatus, during which the brand’s CEO & founder Shayne Oliver kept himself busy as the first designer-in-resident at Helmut Lang, alongside collaborating with Longchamp, Diesel and Colmar – the New York brand has confirmed its eagerly awaited return.

Founded in 2006, the New York-based label since played a crucial role in pushing the streetwear conversation forward. Inspired as much by muscle boys hailing from the Bronx, as by queens of the Harlem ball scene – Hood By Air, like the city it embodies, is a brand of vast extremes. A pioneer of brash logo placement and distorted tailoring, Oliver’s unhinged approach to streetwear design, free of gender and heteronormative restriction, firmly kicks traditional menswear-tropes in the teeth.

Whilst those Helmut Lang leather bra bags Oliver designed back in 2017 still have us hot under the collar, it was this week’s official announcement of the brands reinvigoration that truly whetted our HBA appetite. Speaking to SSENSE, Oliver cites severe creative burn out to the brand’s sudden departure, “There came a point, towards the end, when I was pushing forward just to push and out-do myself. I needed a minute to figure out that it’s more about exposing the issues, and then also creating resolutions for them” he admited. Who is Hood By Air designing for in 2019? “For the people that have come before me as my homage to them. For the people that will come after me. It’s me creating the space for our different ideas to live in.”

An official date is yet to be set for Hood By Air’s anarchist return, but it’s bound to be pure debauchery, in all its sleezy glory. Here’s why you should be excited:

Calculated Clashes: the cuts and kitschy slogans

Nothing’s more satisfying than seeing Grace Coddington sat front row at a Hood By Air show, grinning shamelessly at a turquoise mesh hoodie that reads “NEVER TRUST A CHURCH GIRL”. Oliver’s off-beat logo placement are as ironic as they are obnoxious. HBA tracksuits were plastered with “DO YOU KNOW WHERE THE CHILDREN ARE” and “NEW WORLD LOSER” long before H&M got all Hot Topic with their t-shirt slogans.

Though it’s the swimmingly oversized silhouettes Oliver masters with such procession, that we are truly desperate to see again. The roomy cuts from AW16 hold a particular fondness. Hybrid XXL outerwear included bomber jackets made from deconstructed duffle bags, alongside stocky neoprene strait jackets, with sleeves that practically glazed the floor of the catwalk. Isn’t that a lot more thrilling than seeing half a dozen blokes walking down Brick Lane in the same signature Britpop parka?

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Just Like Nokia, Shayne Oliver is all about connecting people

Aside from the NYC it-crowd who regularly congregated at club night GHE20 G0TH1K dressed to the nines in HBA, Oliver has had some familiar faces charge down his catwalks over the years. Before dissing the brand on Multiply, A$AP Rocky, flashed a cheeky grin when closing HBA’s AW13 collection. Usually a man who lingers behind the lens, Wolfgang Tillmans also made his catwalk debut at the label’s SS17 collection. Head covered in lube, balls firmly tucked into a skimpy pair of black boxers, the former Turner Art Prize winner flaunted it all in a pair of thigh high leather boots – a look that would guarantee entry on his next trip to Berghain. Fellow New Yorker Telfer Clemens, actress Hari Nef and experimental musician Arca all lived their supermodel fantasies courtesy of HBA, the latter even forming WENCH, a experimental sound project with Oliver back in 2015.

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HBA’s ball gagging order

Entering a field dominated by hyper-masculine styling and commodified hetero-visual codes, Oliver was met with the challenge of being progressive, yet marketable to a mass market. Whilst most queer menswear designers may underscore their design process with subtle homoerotic reference points, Oliver tramples on Hood By Air with fetish and filth. Bondage, BDSM and kinky turn-ons form a large part of the brand’s aesthetic. But in the house of HBA, there’s no such thing as a safe word.

From holding their SS17 menswear presentation in a gay sauna were models were advised to press against the fashion flock watching in awe, to three months later collaborating with Porn Hub on a collection of t-shirts and underwear – sleaze bleeds into HBA’s exploration of queer sexuality.

And whilst the brand’s SS16 collection consisted mainly of a white palette, it was anything but virginal. Shirts were spliced to expose muscular torsos, whilst models deconstructed trousers in white denim and PVC were worn askew. The mouths of the boys morphed into bejewelled glory holes. The collection throbbed with explicit homoeroticism, an unbashing sexual exploration with a joyful sense of violence. A striking contrast of masc and femme, there were muscled men with broad shoulders sauntering down the catwalk in clip-on-bangs and padlocked pacifiers – does it get any better than this?

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Let me see you one, two step

Two seasons before Raf’s ode to cowboys and all things Americana at his Calvin Klein debut, Hood By Air’s double sided cowboy boots divided opinions. Though interesting to gaze at, models brushed the knees of the front rowers, practically having to drag themselves to the finish line. You may call them impractical, a tad silly even. But Oliver is a disrupter. And he isn’t going to be making plain black brogues anytime soon. Whilst dancers are free to vogue at HBA’s catwalk shows, models are sometimes restricted by difficult fits. Thinking back to AW15 when models had their hands trapped in plexi stockade chokers circling their neck. Chaotic, theatrical, some reviews even pin Oliver’s work as political. Whatever Shayne Oliver’s intentions are with Hood By Air, we are gripped.

@hoodbyair

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