NEW YORK, United States — Hood By Air thrives on discomfort: clothes which restrain or distort the body, footwear which, in the case of Sunday’s show, featured doubled cowboy boots, facing front and back, making for an uneasy stride. Physical discomfort is the simplest way for Shayne Oliver to issue a challenge to anything remotely resembling status quo.
You feel uncomfortable watching people look uncomfortable. Which quickly leads to the sexual aspect in his shows, with their fetishistic overtones. This one was produced in cahoots with PornHub, the biggest on-line sex site in the world. It was titled “Handkerchief”.
Hood by Air has its own codes. We’re our own world of fetish.
One thing that name signified was all the folding on the runway, particularly the folded shirts which worked as breastplates. The other thing was a reference to the hanky codes of the gay community. “Hood by Air has its own codes,” said Oliver. “We’re our own world of fetish.” His latest models glistened with globules of something viscous. Did it represent placenta? No, Oliver corrected, it was actually supposed to be cum. Either way, it was about the birthing of new forms.
That’s HBA’s speciality. Oliver reminds me of young artists like Brian Jungen and Kevin Beasley who alchemise items of everyday dress — turn trainers into extraordinary ceremonial masks, mould pieces of clothing into eerie sculptures — in a way that compels fundamental and often disturbing revaluations of the familiar.
When HBA peaks, it can be stunning. That was last season. This season, not so much. One insider said that’s because summer isn’t really for HBA. But Oliver claimed he had made a conscious decision to broaden the framework, loosen it up a bit. “Not based on me,” he added. There were still the obvious structural deconstructions — wayward sleeves and trouser legs and pulled-down necklines — but there were also easy polo shirts and slim fitted pants, both enlivened by creative zipper invasions. There were even pleated skating skirts.
In a season where designers have been namechecking highbrow artist references, Oliver put his on the catwalk: Wolfgang Tillmans.
In amidst the drama of the show, it’s often easy to overlook the wit. “Never trust a church girl,” read one top. Oliver said that was his dig at being judged by people with high opinions of themselves, churchy types from Trinidad where he was brought up, for instance. His fabulous mother, who was standing next to him, huffed at his cheek. But she knows she's raised a fabulous kid.
Another footnote: in a season where designers have been namechecking highbrow artist references, Oliver put his on the catwalk. Wolfgang Tillmans photographed the designer for Fantastic Man, but Oliver’s favourite pic didn't make the final cut. “You owe me one,” he told Tillmans. The artist obliged by walking HBA’s runway, a tall and dignified presence amidst Oliver’s shambling tribe.