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Backstage at Hood by Air SS16
Backstage at Hood by Air SS16Photography Virginia Arcaro

Who wants to buy those crazy HBA grills? Lots of people

Dazed 100 star Shayne Oliver has made the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list – here’s why his fearless creativity is commercially viable

The Hood By Air tribe belongs to New York’s fashion underground. It’s seen the likes of musicians ArcaA$AP Rocky and Mykki Blanco take to its runway, along with trans model Hari Nef and performance artist Boychild. Its AW15 show closed with a troupe of topless male dancers voguing on the runway and this is just one example of many of HBA’s references to queer, largely black culture. (Think 2015’s answer to the ball culture belonging to 80s New York.) 

But despite HBA’s underground cultural currency, the brand’s founder Shayne Oliver has just received the proverbial thumbs up from a big American business magazine. Forbes has listed Oliver as one of the ‘30 Under 30’ “young game changers, movers and makers” for 2015. While fellow designers such as Simone Rocha and Phoebe English were placed in ‘Art and Style‘, the magazine has listed him in the ‘Retail’ category, proof that – despite its “quirky” presentations – HBA is selling clothes and lots of them.

Earlier this year, in the wake of the brand’s SS15 show at Pitti Uomo, Dazed contributor Susie Bubble noted HBA’s ascent from cult to mass following – to an extent where counterfeit HBA goods are now being made and sold. “[Hood by Air] has seen a rapid rise with a social media and celebrity following, borne entirely away from the fashion microcosm to a now a somewhat established mega brand (knock off merchandise in China is surely a telling indication?) with support from LVMH.”

This level of commerical success and mainstream appeal, not to mention media recognition and the production of counterfeits, is particularly staggering for a brand so hellbent on antiestablishmentarianism. HBA stands resolutely against fashion’s – and indeed society’s – status quos: its gender normativity, lack of racial diversity and uniform standards of beauty. It’s staggering too when you consider how brazenly it references the provocative, the subverse and the fetishistic – just look at the S&M style pacifiers at its last show.

But despite its anarchic attitude, the brand is a luxury one – thanks to the resources (€100,000 and mentorship) and recognition provided by luxury conglomerate LVMH. “Our voice went from claiming luxury through our ideas to becoming a luxury business in the eyes of LVMH and the world,” said Oliver earlier this year. Further signs of the brand’s luxury identity is the location of its studio which, as of last year, is Milan. Whatever you think of the Perspex shackles, deconstructed bondage silhouettes and crystal encrusted grills complete with Halloween fake teeth, Hood by Air is selling – get used to it.