Thursday 15th January

| BY 10Magazine

Hood By Air Pitti Uomo Aw15 Backstage Boys

Shayne Oliver: founder of cult street-meets-high fashion menswear label Hood by Air and special guest at Pitti Uomo. Last night, Oliver put on a suitably special event at Pitti, one which I have just come back from. It started with a ride on the fashion bus (a concept which I continue to find endlessly amusing) into the hills of Florence, to Villa di Maiano. Basically, a beyond-beautiful Italian villa and a place that reminded one journalist I was with of the Kardashian-West wedding venue and me of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. As I say, it was beyond-beautiful. Think Renaissance architecture and olive groves.

But this Italian villa had been given a makeover – Hood by Air style. We entered to the sound of Gregorian chanting, we’re led through this palatial villa into the garden where we were transported from Tuscan garden to Brooklyn nightclub. We were sat and waited. Smoke machines, strobe lights and hard trance music played, so loud that it made your ear drums throb. Excitement built, lights flashed, music intensified and we waited some more.

Then out walked models – male, female and somewhere in between, wearing heels, platformed and laced up; false lashes, bleached and enormous. They wore their hair long, shaved, canerowed and with ribbons plaited into it. They wore beige, lilac and pink, fur and leather. Sounds “feminine” for menswear right? Well, no. It wasn’t. (But then what is “feminine” anyway?) The models had a strength and aggression to them that we would more typically associate with the masculine. Even the heels which were heavy-duty and clompy. This was a wardrobe for the urban warrior.

The detailing on the clothes was astounding. Take the trimming – some fur, some that looked like they were made from weave. Though born in the basements of Brooklyn, HBA has now moved its production to Milan, marking an evolution in the brand, from its beginnings as a T-shirt brand into the realms of luxury clothing. You could see signs of this evolution in this detailing, in the quality these clothes. They were beautifully made. And you could see that, through the smoke machines and strobe lights. And among the melee of false lashes and platform heels you would see not only the wearability of these clothes, but the desirability of them too.

In terms of branding, HBA is already set. There is a black market trade of fake HBA goods, particularly in China – a problem which, given the age of the brand, is quite staggering. This problem is usually the preserve of established houses like Chanel, Dior and Vuittion, not newly-established cult labels and demonstrates the breadth of the brand’s appeal too which ranges from the fashion bods you see mincing around Somerset House at fashion week, to hard-looking teenagers loitering around Camden Town drinking White Lightning and to hip-hop artists like Drake. And this is because of what HBA represents. An underground movement, a new subculture, a new punk, a social progressive, racially and sexually diverse creative collective.

You could see this, and its great draw, perhaps most clearly, in the party that followed the show. As another journalist I was with noted, “The HBA guys know how to party.” And believe me, they do. Oliver and his long-term collaborators DJ Venus X, rapper Mykki Blanco and performance artist Boychild showed us not only how HBA is meant to be worn but what it represents, it’s energy, it’s identity. The show, as the goosebumps on my neighbour’s arm testified, was amazing. It bordered on performance art, challenged the conventional relationship between certain items of clothing and gender, contained well-conceived, well-executed designs and, frankly, created a stir. It was novel, hard as nails and profoundly cool.

Photographer: Vanni Bassetti

By Ted Stansfield