Shayne Oliver of Hood by Air had already built a solid fan base around his unique brand of cool before he landed a NYFW show, a Style Print cover, and, most recently, a 100,000 euro LVMH Special Prize. Oliver, 27, had already courted heavy cosigns from fashionable celebrities like A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, and Rihanna. It didn’t happen overnight, but thanks to the LVMH Prize and a CFDA nomination, it seems the seven-year-old brand’s envelope-pushing silhouettes and print-heavy fleece knits and tees have been fully accepted into the institution of fashion. The young designer is competing with Tim Coppens and Todd Snyder for the CFDA’s Swarovski Award for Menswear, and his LVMH Special Prize comes with a year of mentoring from the likes of Raf Simons, Nicolas Ghesquière, and Phoebe Philo. We caught up with Oliver in Paris shortly after the LVMH announcement to talk about what fashion and street culture can learn from each other, music’s enduring influence in clothing, and how he’s training a new generation to think differently about style.

—Jian DeLeon

Congrats on winning the Special Prize. That’s gotta be exciting.

Yeah, it’s exciting and fulfilling. It feels really cool.

You’ve achieved success by creating your own lane in fashion. How does it feel?

It feels great. It’s kind of like the point of the whole Hood by Air project: pretty much reappropriating and reassessing all of culture, the validity and the concepts of streetwear—these concepts that are involved in fashion but are only looked at as “trends.” Personally, that’s kind of like the point of it. It feels good to be heard and that some people get what you’re saying, instead of always being seen as some sort of loose creative, conceptual person or conceptual brand.

The interesting story, too, is that you guys have built your fan base and succeeded outside of the institution of fashion. A lot of people feel like they need the cosign of an Anna Wintour or a Karl Lagerfeld before they’ve “made it.”


To me, the fact that you had a rabid fan base who came to you organically, especially in the new age of the Internet, is the new “making it.” Is there a valid legitimacy from being recognized by the old guard, or do you feel like you’re part of a “new rules” aspect of the industry?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that the old guard is kind of like a platform. I guess both worlds have to meet, and eventually it’s the beginning of a realization for both worlds—the new kids prove that we’re here, and the older crowd realizing that we make the rules in a way. We know what we want to see and we don’t have to wait on anyone to do it.

Regardless, it’s gonna happen, you know? I think that happens all the time—for instance, when Yves started ready-to-wear. Before then it was always couture, and it became a thing from couture to actually showing collections in this way, having ready-to-wear collections that were not for the masses, but outside of the realm of, like, having people come to your atelier. It’s like a new form of ready-to-wear in a way. I think that one of the things that we did do successfully was make this Internet world a reality, physical.

As a black designer, how do you feel about your work being recognized on such a big scale?

Coming from that perspective, race and all that stuff…that’s why I kind of like don’t consider myself a designer. I wasn’t formally trained, and I’m also doing this as commentary. It’s almost a backhanded compliment to fashion, showing fashion that it doesn’t control all its rules in a way. The amount of energy that comes into fashion from—I wouldn’t say “streetwear,” because I never really connected with that term, but I’ll say “street culture” in a sense, it has affected fashion in so many ways.

It’s the kind of thing where we’re taking it back but also owning and being responsible for our own influence on individuals, instead of constantly being the people that work behind the scenes, consulting for people, being star socialites or these public figures, you know—these style icons. I think now it’s a thing where it’s like, “We’re gonna own it, we’re gonna be the group who produces it and sells it to you.” Instead of it being an unknown wave of influence or this magical thing that no one knows about or miraculously came out of nowhere.

2014 CFDA FASHION AWARDS Nominee Honoree Announcement Party, Hosted by NADJA SWAROVSKI & DIANE VON FURSTENBERG

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There have been comparisons made between HBA and punk, but there’s definitely a difference between hip-hop and punk in the sense that brand awareness is part of the culture, and a lot of its proponents are minorities.

Yeah, it’s always been that way. In the beginning, rock ‘n’ roll was sort of like HBA, where it was at first “all these black people being wild and crazy,” and then all of a sudden rock was just seen as a white thing, that sort of thing. Now it can’t necessarily happen like that anymore because of the Internet—it’s very visible and you know where things come from, but more than anything, I think that we’re using the tool of the Internet to make it not happen again. Instead of fighting it, we just want to live out and do what we do the best way possible, instead of having to wait for it to trickle down so many generations later on. I think even looking at Hedi [Slimane] and the silhouettes he uses—they are very rock—it took so long for that to be considered fashion.

Kurt Cobain wouldn’t have walked in a fashion show, but Tupac walked in Versace, and A$AP Rocky’s rapping “Hood by Air, yeah I started that”—hip-hop culture prides itself on aligning with fashion and appropriating labels. It contrasts with DIY and anti-consumerism attitudes in rock.

It’s the same thing, but it’s different than when Tupac walked Versace. Then, it was like they were buying it because it had nothing to do with the hood. It was about the exclusivity of that, and this was more of like an acceptance of, like, something that nobody knew about that was emerging. That was what made it exciting for Rocky to embrace it, that’s what he meant by he “started it.”

HBA is a thing where even though it’s successful, it’s not full mass. It’s not everywhere, and we’re very selective to who we sell to. Even though we’re way larger than we ever were before, it’s still—in the sense of the luxury market or whatever—we’re still holding back and we’re not as accessible as these other brands are. I feel like that’s a new form of luxury that started in the BAPE era, where BAPE was so far away and was a Japanese thing. There’s like a reverse thing happening now in Asia, HBA’s so popular in Asia. I want people to feel like they have to work toward that feeling of obtaining this culture, like paying the price. It wasn’t meant to be an asshole thing and gouge people on the price of a T-shirt, it was more of like you paying for this, paying to be a part of it. You’re buying into a thing that comes from this culture, this mind state.

When you say you want people to sort of earn their way into the culture, is part of that putting on the clothes and steeling up the necessary confidence to proudly wear them in public?

Yeah, exactly. I think right now I’m just basically training a generation. What I want to do is train a generation to accept a new way of dressing, a new way of being, and a new way of approaching ideas and concepts within themselves, or even the idea of who they are as a person. I don’t think there’s much now that speaks specifically to “now” or a present and a future person. Everything has its reference point of being like, “Oh, it’s very boho” or “It’s very something,” you know what I mean? I want HBA to be a thing where it’s “very HBA” when you see it. That’s partially why I push the envelope with the shows, and the fact that I keep it very community-based. I feel like these ideas, when they come from a genuine place, it becomes its own entity. We can create our own reference points as a generation.

What do you hope to learn from the year of mentoring from LVMH?

Well, for one, I wanted to set a standard for the ideas that come out of the brand. I think that this is kind of like a validation in a way for certain people. For the fashion community, I just want them to understand that it’s not just this thing for a certain group of people—it’s like these ideas are valid, and they are “fashion” ideas and concepts, they’re not like this thing that eventually no one cares…so that is one thing that I think the mentoring and the experience of being involved with the LVMH thing does. I really want to get a grasp on the things we don’t know, which is like the actual fashion luxury aspects of fashion, the technical support, the techniques, production quality, and having actual luxury goods come out of the brand.

And make it scalable?

Exactly, so it’ll be a thing where the feel of the fabrics are better, the quality is higher, the technique of print—all the techniques and the things that you would learn in school, which is what I didn’t do. I built my aesthetic first, so now I feel like I’m looking into a fashion, not norm, but the luxury side of it, the business, the technique of fashion, and actually making really great, amazing clothing for people to wear.