I almost skipped this one. Be glad I didn’t.
Hood by Air showed in New York a few weeks ago and I watched the small collection of images go by (the show conflicted with others, which was a frequent problem with NYFW). They were a little bit outer space, a lot of 3D, and very much underground. Someone misused the term “urban” in their description, but this is different, this is new. The portion shown in New York was called Ego. Now, the group has given us the remainder, a set dubbed SuperEgo. Ladies and gentlemen, you need to be paying attention.
I know, I know, from our seats here in the Midwest this doesn’t look like anything anyone with half a brain would ever wear. The looks are too hard, there’s too much leather, there’s too much deconstruction, there’s too much skin and … is that guy wearing a skirt? May I suggest one shelve that bias, permanently. What’s going on here is important for a number of reasons. Just because the looks might not have caught on yet doesn’t mean they won’t and I’m willing to bet when one starts watching a number of celebrities this spring, we’re going to see these styles big, bold, and proud. This isn’t avant garde futurism, this is now, this is here.
A number of things make this collection, and this label, important. Let’s start with the fact that it is designed by a collective, which wouldn’t be all that unusual except for the fact none of them have been to design school and they’re all under the age of 30. The lead creative in this group, Shayne Oliver, can’t even sketch but he finds ways to express his ideas, going through and cutting and taping and pasting until he is able to get his concept across. They’ve been known to take samples of clothing to a seamstress with the instruction, “We want the stitch to look like this. We don’t know what it’s called, but we want it to look this way.” Their youth, their excitement, their refusal to be stopped by their limitations is what makes this brand a contender.
Let’s also make a point of noting that the majority of people in this group are not white. This is a huge issue for a pale skinned fashion industry that has seen a lot of young black designers graduate from design school only to get lost in a string of internships, grow frustrated, and quietly disappear. Fashion needs this point of view and needs to start paying attention to what they are saying.
Finally, let’s realize that what Oliver and his friends are doing is strong, creative styling with a unique voice that appeals to a community currently under served by mainstream fashion. Look at the structure, the silhouettes, and the detailing of these pieces. They challenge our ideas of gender at a time when society perhaps puts too much emphasis on what is men’s wear versus what is women’s wear. They challenge our ideas of structure with sides that are open, pants that seem to be held together with straps, and zippers that run from shoulder to knee even though the rest of the garment doesn’t. They challenge our concepts of what is and isn’t appropriate for a given place at a given time. We need these challenges to pull us out of our own stereotypes.
For now, these pieces may still be considered performance wear, or at the very least, special event ensembles. Society in general doesn’t seem to be too terribly ready to accept these looks, nor those who would wear them, into the mainstream. That’s okay, though, because sooner or later the stream is bound to shift and it is people like Shayne Oliver and company who will be considered the ground breaking designers who led the way to a new and exciting stage in fashion. Pay close attention. This really is some fantastic work.
Photo credit: Regis Colin Berthelier