NEW YORK, United States — Hood By Air’s invitation was a report card, its after-party invitation a notice of detention. Following on from his show during Paris menswear in June, Shayne Oliver still had childhood on his mind, but he’d graduated from toddler to student — specifically the ways in which cash-strapped school-kids in his native Caribbean had to ingeniously extend the life of their uniforms. Vestiges of those uniforms lingered in the pairing of white cotton shirts with little pleated skirts, and echoes of the ingenuity could be detected in the way such items were mutated, the collar extended to create a portrait neckline, the pleats scissor-ed out to cheekily reveal the backside.
Then there was the whole disciplinarian aspect of school. Oliver insisted he never minded being sent to the principal’s office because his principals were "always hot." Still, there was a strong bondage element in his collection: youthful exuberance restrained by straps, bodies zipped and belted into straitjacket-like pieces. When it was suggested that there might be some cross-reference here to Another Brick in the Wall, Pink Floyd’s classic putdown of the way schools can warp impressionable young minds, Oliver voiced instant, enthusiastic agreement.
That’s the way things go with him. There’s always a suggestion of political engagement with HBA. “Galvanize” was the title of today’s show, and the clothes themselves offered defiant new codes of dress. As he said, “a new sleeve, a new vest, new pants, new shapes.” Most pants sported multiple waistbands strung across the ass, like a low-slung hip-hop pant pushed to a ludicrous limit. Same as the Paris show, almost everything was dissected into tiers held together by straps. So bared flesh became as important to the final look as fabric. One jumpsuit was entirely backless, top to bottom.
But there is no longer any frisson of the new in such outfits. That’s because there is an HBA formula now. As Oliver himself pointed out backstage, HBA has successfully defined its own world where it has transcended questions about identity or gender or sexuality. The major problem with such success is that its assault on convention becomes a convention in itself.
Where does it grow from there?