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Hood By Air AW16 New York Pilgrim Shayne Oliver
Backstage at Hood By Air AW16Photography Evan Schreiber

Models stumble down the catwalk wrapped in plastic at HBA

With models wrapped in clingfilm like luggage and clad in PVC, the designer riffs on displacement, disruption and escape

Displacement. Disenfranchisement. Disruption. These were the take-home thrusts from yesterday’s highly-charged Hood by Air show, and it felt exhilarating precisely because you were so often teetering on a see-saw between discomfort and euphoria. Shayne Oliver called his show “Pilgrim”, a reference to the early 17th century settlers in America, which he saw as an unusual parallel to his own journey as a designer that has uprooted to take his production to Milan, his shows to Paris and his rise from the underground to the establishment.

“It really was about me coming back to New York as I’m no longer centralised in Italy,” said Oliver backstage. “I was fetishising of that idea of myself going outside of America, coming back and this colonial attitude and how that looked when we first started coming to America.”

And so there were pilgrims and shakers – their black and white puritanical garb blown up, sexed up and rendered unrecognisable. Some of them wore deconstructed judges’ wigs, symbolic of the first British colonisers who landed on the shores of America, torridly displacing the indigenous inhabitants. Here they skulked about ominously in glistening zip-up patent and PVC hoodies, tagged up with airline luggage tags and wrapped up like clingfilm bounded suitcases. The colonisers and the colonised were in transit, circling the catwalk space – either running away from what they feared or towards a new land with new hopes and dreams.

The soundtrack by Total Freedom oscillated from a remix of Beyoncé’s powerful call-to-arms “Formation” to Madonna’s “Oh Father”, much like the clothes that then suddenly made a turn for the fierce with bodies emblazoned with ‘Bitch’ and blood red trappings that encased and engorged the models.

One of the stand-out cast members of this season’s HBA line-up included the artist Hirakish, who flailed down the runway in a black PVC suit and stripper heels with a complete lack of abandon, surging forward haphazardly and staring you down like he had a dirty secret to tell you. “He’s like the new Boychild,” Oliver explained. “Boychild is all grown-up. I really needed that ferocious energy and he had it. We wanted to bring it to a modern place and feel like they were confronting the future.”

“The land of plenty today has its own divisions that also seemed to weigh heavy on the collection, as some of the models wore expressions of fright and fear”

On a personal level relating back to Oliver, you could see the trajectory of a designer rooted in New York, who has experienced dramatic upheaval in his graduation from a small cultish label to being a runner-up for the LVMH Prize, with the eyes of the industry on him. “I sucked out that ferociousness so that I could have this moment of silence outside of my country. I feel like I can do ferocious things like that and it feels natural - it’s for my people, my friends. I didn’t want it to feel like too much of a ‘show’. What I’ve been doing for while, it feels like I’ve been going outside of myself. Now that I’m coming back, it’s very internal for me.” This was Oliver’s way of reminding us all what made Hood By Air so extremely potent in the first place.

On a broader level, though, being confronted by baggage checks, references to colonial pillaging and flailing bodies, reflected the current tense atmosphere that we live in, with heightened fears of terrorism and divisions of race, geography and power still looming large. Traversing lands to conquer and vanquish exists today, just as it did back in the 17th century. The land of plenty today has its own divisions that also seemed to weigh heavy on the collection, as some of the models wore expressions of fright and fear. Even as Oliver was bringing Hood By Air back to a place that felt rooted to his beginnings, he was still able to ask questions of the world at large that feel pertinent and urgent.