Olivia Oblanc is using repurposed materials to bring to life her utilitarian designs
Fresh out of New York’s Parsons School of Design – which counts Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and Alexander Wang amongst its alumni – designer Olivia Oblanc hasn’t wasted any time in embedding herself in the New York fashion scene.
The 23-year-old designer first launched her label OBLANC in 2017, building the brand around the defining tenets of her practice: genderfluidity and sustainability.
The two come together in Oblanc’s utilitarian design signatures which manifest in her use of repurposed materials – tarpaulin, canvas, and hi-vis fabrics. Looking to the details, zips, webbing, chains, and straps punctuate her pieces, pushing the bounds of functionality to playful superfluity. With 16-pocket jeans, zips from waist to hem, and adjustable knee straps, she’s playing with the boundaries of practical design and pushing her aesthetic.
Oblanc started in her fashion career in her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana, where she got a head start on her education with local designer Kelli Cooper. “Kelli gave me sewing lessons in her studio,” the designer explains. “She taught me how to create a garment in my head, create the pattern from scratch and then construct the garment from start to finish.”
It was the move to New York to attend Parsons, however, and the creative and social atmosphere of both the city and the school that informed Oblanc’s definitive style. “New York’s streets are the perfect source of inspiration for the utilitarian lifestyle,” she explains. “I started sketching and creating garments with traditional workwear materials and silhouettes, recalibrated to create new age utilitarianism in fashion.”
As well as riffing on the motifs of the city itself, Oblanc took full advantage of her time at the world-renowned fashion school, winning both the CDFA’s Geoffery Beene Design Scholarship and the Hugo Boss Award. She also earned a place as a finalist in the Parsons x Kering Empowering Imagination Design Award.
Another significant strand of her creative education came from her final year internship at Hood By Air, which helped lay the foundations for her own brand’s DNA. A focus on branding and typographical detailing reveal the stylistic facets of HBA that were soaked up during her time there. The brand’s ethos also left a notable impression. “I became really inspired by the androgyny and the unconventionality of the brand,” Oblanc says. This means no separate menswear and womenswear offerings; she isn’t here to uphold binaries.
“I make clothes for the new market of genderfluid individuals,” she says instead of her audience. Her ability to do so, she explains, comes from her “knack for pattern making and construction skills” which allow her to create and tailor pieces for all body types.
“New York’s streets are the perfect source of inspiration for the utilitarian lifestyle” – Olivia Oblanc
While established brands are scrambling to assimilate genderfluidity and sustainability into their collections, Oblanc has woven them into her foundations without a cliche in sight. The workwear silhouettes that dictate the rhythm of her collections not only nurture gender and body inclusivity but also foster season-defying longevity. Although stamped with her hallmarks, her versatile pieces communicate her message in an open-ended way: bold, functional, directional and yet with enough breathing space for the new boundary-eschewing customer.
It’s this inherent ability to read the current cultural landscape and spin it into her own narrative that’s won Oblanc fans like Kehlani, Joey Badass, and Lil Peep, and stockists like VFiles. Just a few years into her career as a designer, the significance of her position isn’t lost on her.
“I want to contribute with fashion and I believe I have the chance to,” she says. “I would love to see my designs on everyday people walking down the street, grabbing the attention of the people they pass by.”