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Kenzo' co-creative directors Carol Lim and Humberto LeonPhotography by Bruno Wersinski

Kenzo vs Hood by Air

Carol Lim and Humberto Leon go head-to-head with Shayne Oliver to talk streetwear, subcultures and logo nostalgia

As the free spirit of board culture grips fashion for spring 2014, Selfridges and Dazed have joined forces to present Board Games, a skate and surf magazine celebrating the landmark retailer’s Board Games takeover. Throughout March and April, the store goes surf and turf with the season’s best street fashion and a deck-tastic Board Room shop with limited edition designer decks, hardware and wetsuits.

Taken from Selfridges Board Games, Spring 2014 issue of Dazed:

The landscape of streetwear is shifting. Street codes have become so much a part of the fashion vocabulary that its very presence as a separate category is up for debate. Just ask two forces in the streetwear revolution: Carol Lim and Humberto Leon – Californian founders of Opening Ceremony and co-creative directors of Kenzo – and Hood by Air mastermind and native New Yorker Shayne Oliver. The trio met back in 2007, when Oliver would hang out at the duo’s Manhattan HQ. Later, Lim and Leon were among the first retailers to stock Oliver’s progressive label, which puts a subversive gender-defying spin on street via counterculture figures like performance artist boychild. The three designers were still buzzing from their AW14 menswear shows when we brought them together once again to talk about  labels, logomania, the suburbs and creating the subculture heroes of the moment.

Dazed Digital: Carol and Humberto, what first attracted you to Shayne’s work?

Humberto Leon: I always felt like it was a little bit twisted. In many ways, we’ve all come from similar points of view, whether it’s the suburbs of New York or the suburbs of LA. When I look at what Shayne does, it feels like when we began doing things: as a reaction to what’s happening in the world.

Carol Lim: I feel like this collection reflects Shayne and his community. And it feels really fresh. 

DD: How do you feel about the term ‘streetwear’ in relation to your work? 

Humberto Leon: ‘Streetwear’ is a label the industry put on things they can’t really put their arms around. We make clothing that people wear on the streets, that real people would wear. I think maybe that’s where the original term came from. To be clumped into this larger, industrial version of the word streetwear undermines the authenticity of what it is… 

Shayne Oliver: My intention is the original meaning of streetwear: concepts that come from a different world, but made easy to understand and interact with; almost tricking people into trying new concepts. Instead of it being extremely high and awkward and obtrusive, it’s a way to bring new ideas into the norm or the real. 

Humberto Leon: There’s definitely a bigger dialogue happening right now beyond the pieces themselves. I think fashion today is a way for people to create a community. It’s a conversation. That’s where the individuality of people takes it to another level. It takes it back to a point in time when clothing meant something. It’s important to speak back to that time. 

Shayne Oliver: It’s like when you’re in school and you hang out with people that wear the same clothes as you. It can spark a conversation or begin tribes or friendships. It’s a conversation between a group of people.

Humerto Leon: In a world where subcultures are easily exploited I feel like we’re still part of a subculture. And I would assume that no matter how big Shayne’s company gets, authentically we’re all still part of the same subculture. For us that’s really important. The world has fewer subcultures nowadays, and we always try to find the new and stay true to them.

DD: The logos you use also seem to play to ideas of belonging to a group…

Humerto Leon: When we introduced that at Kenzo it was from almost a suburban point of view. When I was in high school I really wanted these Town & Country surf pieces that all my friends wore. I remember my mum buying me an extra large, saying, ‘You’re gonna grow into it.’ I still have that. To me, a lot of what we do speaks back to this feeling: to really want to be a part of something, and relating to brands. 

Shaye Oliver: For sure. I mean, I use fonts and things like that as a code. In New York, you’d see all these cool people who were really secretive about it – like tonal logomania, where these logos were really loud but also seemed hidden. Mine are stark and intriguing in a lively way. 

DD: Shayne, you work with ideas of genderless fashion, and we see men buying women’s Kenzo and vice versa. Is fashion moving beyond gender?

Shayne Oliver: I think it’s becoming more that when a piece talks so much, it’s no longer just about gender. Like, ‘This piece means this much to everyone,’ as opposed to, ‘I need to look like a girl or a boy.’ 

Humberto Leon: Yeah, and I think people are just open to having fun with their own fashion, creating something individual that they love, and it doesn’t matter what the label says. I feel that
the three of us come from a culture of shopping thrift and finding things for $5. At that point, gender of clothing does not matter. It’s just what looks cool and what doesn’t. Now, you can look at any fashion at any level and have that same perspective. 

Shayne Oliver: We’re creating the heroes of our moment. The people that are around us, like boychild, are the only people that express that. They’re like the pop stars in our subculture.

Humberto Leon: I think the interesting thing is that we all feel there are other subcultures but we won’t even talk about it! The new subcultures are more a feeling and unspoken at this point. 

Shayne Oliver: Subculture is all about people protecting themselves. As things become more exposed they are going to become more introverted. It’s almost anti-hot to point a finger at it, you know?