This year, cult label Hood By Air was named to the short list as a finalist to the LVMH prize and nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards, as well. Compared to some of the other participants in the LVMH competition and the CFDA nominees, some high-fashion believers have found plenty to gripe about. But, this is Fashion and there are no absolutes. So, let’s talk about why this is maybe not the worst thing to have ever happened. Or maybe you already love Hood By Air and you don’t need any convincing - in which case, you’re probably busy watching Model Files anyway.
Before we tackle any tangential reasons for HBA’s latest honors, let’s discuss the label’s bona fides purely from a design standpoint. In the few short years since its inception, nearly every facet of the design world has felt the influence of the label’s bold, graphic-centric aesthetic. This namely consists of using large blocks of color or lettering, combined with equally as large subversive graphics, to create an entirely new visual presentation. Prior to HBA’s fashionable ascent, the world of #menswear, and by extension, streetwear and high fashion, were largely focused on minimalist details. (There are obviously a handful of exceptions to this). Whether that meant raising the arm-holes and nipping the waist of a man’s suit (think: #menswear circa 2010) or wrapping your minimalist sneakers in ultra-luxe fabrics (think: Lanvin sneakers circa 2008), the design world was glad to be a few years away from the graphics-heavy explosion of the mid-2000’s; the era that will sadly be forever remembered as the time when otherwise educated, upstanding citizens wore Ed Hardy and his myriad rip-offs.
Amidst the fashion industry’s withdrawal from graphic-heavy designs (and we’re not counting Jeremy Scott. No one is counting Jeremy Scott.), Hood By Air designer, Shayne Oliver, chose to revolutionize the idea altogether. Rather than use graphics as a tool to highlight the wearer’s lack of good taste (see, again, the mid-2000’s) or in an adolescent manner like some of the more mainstream streetwear brands (we aren’t featuring them here, but you can google Crooks and Castles or 10.Deep for examples), Oliver went in a new direction in creating Hood By Air. For the first time, eye-catching graphics transformed the entire look of the wearer, rather than slightly modifying it. The guy with the skin-tight t-shirt is ultimately a guy in a skin-tight t-shirt and should rightfully be ignored, regardless of what his t-shirt says; whereas HBA graphics grab the eyes and attention of the viewer and force them to take notice. This new riff on graphic design spawned legions of copycats and disciples soon-enough. Opening Ceremony copied the looks to a T. While Stampd LA modestly employed the graphics-as-fashion motif and came away with their own vibe entirely. And then there are hypebeast favorites like Pyrex and Off-White, who have shameless appropriated some of Hood By Air’s unique designs to great financial benefit.
Whether it fits your personal style or not, or whether you think graphic t-shirts simply don’t belong in the same conversation as traditional cut-and-sew, the fact is the landscape of fashion and graphic design is different now than it was only a few years ago, largely based on the originality and, for lack of a better word, newness of HBA’s designs.
Additionally, as a brand, Hood By Air has grown to be something larger than just the t-shirts. It is a movement of sorts. The runway show has become a hub for a number of different cultures to intersect - with celebrities fighting for front row seats, music icons like A$AP Rocky walking in the finale, and the most recent F/W show’s hyper-enthusiastic “vogue” dancers - it really has become a spectacle. Or, more accurately, a celebration. In some cases, a celebration of all the things that have been anathema to the establishment in the past. Instead of haute couture gowns and the monied ladies who buy them, HBA has opened the world of high fashion to group of people who would have been shut out entirely only a generation or two ago.
Maybe that’s what is most important here. Shayne Oliver has brought the creativity and freedom found only in the world of fashion to an entirely new group of people. And these recent award nominations certainly seem to legitimize that.