image: HBA image: HBA

In light of Thursday’s news that Hood By Air is taking an immediate and indefinite hiatus (according to a statement from HBA, founder Shayne Oliver Oliver “will be devoting himself in the immediate future to his responsibilities at Helmut Lang”), we look back at an article from 2014 that appraised the New York-based fashion line and its special brand of fashion …

In 2014, cult label Hood By Air was named to the short list as a finalist to the LVMH prize (it eventually won the “Special Prize”) and nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America award (HBA took home the Swarovski Award for Menswear in 2015), as well. Still yet, the brand landed a coveted guest spot at Pitti Uomo, the holy grail of men’s fashion and trade shows, that same year.

Compared to some of the other participants in the LVMH competition and the CFDA nominees, and the usual Pitti participants, some of the more old-school high-fashion folks have found plenty to gripe about. But, this is Fashion and there are no absolutes. So, let’s talk about why this is an interesting moment.

Before we tackle any tangential reasons for HBA’s latest honors, let us discuss the label’s bona fides purely from a design standpoint. In the few short years since its inception in 2006, 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 are not 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. Versace tried its hand at the brand’s signatures for its Versus line. 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 shamelessly 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 do not 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 much larger than just the t-shirts. It is a movement all of its own. 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 is the most important here. Shayne Oliver has brought the creativity and freedom found only in the world of fashion to an entirely new group of radical, aggressive, non-conforming people. And these recent award nominations and other honors certainly legitimize that … not that HBA needs the fashion establishment’s approval.