Photography by Walter Pearce, all rights reserved.
Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver is in a precarious position. He has won the attention of international fashion’s governing cabal. He has built a thriving business of logo branded knits. His clothes are worn by some of the music world’s most influential celebrities. And he has single handedly written a new chapter in the long history of American fashion. But that cabal of fashion businessmen and editors have their attentions split thin, the youths who buy his clothes in droves are fickle, the celebrities even more so, and his aesthetic, so ubiquitous, grows increasingly familiar. The pressures for him to expand his business and scope while still remaining true to his core values are mounting. It’s an exciting but challenging time, but I think he’s more than up for it.
In his first showing since winning the LVMH runner up prize Oliver returned to many of his go-to tropes. Present were the Jean Paul Gaultier and Helmut Lang-isms that have so heavily informed the HBA codes. Present were his ingenious riffs on urban dress and gender identity. And more than present were the wild theatrics that have made his shows such a hot ticket (there was, to many audience member’s delight, a big dog on the runway). But what was most curious was what felt like an earnest and committed exploration of women’s dress.
Oliver has toyed with the idea in the past either directly or indirectly through his ongoing critical re-contextualizing of masculinity and sexual norms. And though he has shown his clothes on women before, the feeling this time was less Aaliyah in an oversized jersey (as good as she looked) and more Le Smoking by Yves Saint Laurent. The looser, body-averse silhouettes Oliver has sourced from urban/black/hip hop dress, and has deconstructed and reconstructed throughout his career, proved electric when applied to the female form, which Oliver ceded more to its conventional ideal than ever before. Already Oliver has mastered the manipulation of gender appropriateness (with a special knack for reallocating the feminine flourish of freeing fabric to men’s clothes). On a man it was machismo subverted. On a woman the effect is a bit harder to describe.
It unfolds in waves. At first you can’t be sure if the clothes were actually conceived for a woman or if it was a mere styling and casting choice. But then you realize that categories like “womenswear” or “menswear” mean nothing for a designer who is fluent in the mechanics of both and has engaged each with deft maneuvering and visual wit for years. And then you realize Oliver may have always been a keen womenswear designer, even if he was dressing men. And then there is the hushed glee that overcomes you as you consider his new audience and you entertain the thought of a Vogue socialite dressed to the nines in a Hood by Air ensemble with pumps by Manolo. Manifest Destiny. Let’s see where Oliver’s breadth can go.
The emphasis on womenswear highlighted an overall sophistication in the collection. The shapes were more succinct and concise and there was a more concerned line through all the straps, and wraps, and zips, and cut outs. But, while most of the forms Oliver was playing with were beautifully composed not all were totally finessed. The snaking of form around the body with woven fabric is a dastardly affair. Perfected by old school couturieres like Maggy Rouf and Augustabernard and handled consistently with great effect by few (Rei Kawakubo, Vivienne Westwood and Haider Ackermann come to mind), it’s something Oliver will have to learn and develop. And he will. He is a technician, a tinkerer, it is simply a matter of time. The foundation is firm, his will is strong, and his voice is so righteously clear.