by CHIOMA NNADI
There are many levels of crowd-pleasing that need to happen at a fashion show in order for it to be successful, starting with the front row and extending all the way through to those tuned in on their smartphones. Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air is acutely aware of this, and has more eyes on his brand than ever before. His ragtag posse of underground club kids and art-world friends was joined by some pretty high-profile faces at the show today, including Naomi Campbell, Jaden Smith, will.i.am, and rappers Rick Ross and Juicy J. Dedicated HBA fans will know that Oliver’s talents go beyond the runway—with an album made in collaboration with London-based electronic producer Arca in the pipeline for fall, he’s adding musician credits to his résumé.
Wench, the duo’s joint musical moniker, shared double billing with HBA’s distinctive logo throughout today’s collection. Essentially this was Oliver’s take on the tour merch phenomenon, and a clever way to reclaim some of the fashion spotlight that has been stolen by what the likes of Kanye West, Drake, and Justin Bieber have started. Of course there’s nothing basic about Oliver’s idea of a band tee; sometimes spelled out in big bold letters and other times on name labels reminiscent of a corporate function, the word wench appeared at the cuff of hooded blazers, on button-downs that were fashioned into sexy halter-neck tops and backless blouses. The reworking of traditional Wall Street suiting was impressive overall and came spliced with all the key streetwear and gender-fluid HBA touchstones: Think suit as zippered jumpsuit, or suit cut off the shoulder with corsetry underneath—executive realness at its most fabulous and subversive.
That said, Oliver understands that the simplest designs in his repertoire are no less important. The provocative slogan T-shirts that he launched with years ago are being replaced by logo polo shirts for Spring 2017, some of which came printed with the word Hustler, and all of which are likely to be a hit on the shop floor. Given that Oliver teamed with PornHub, perhaps one of the world’s most trafficked websites, on a video series this season, it makes him and Larry Flynt somewhat strange bedfellows. Regardless of the moral questions that hover over the collaboration, it is part of a growing trend of unlikely fashion partnerships that has sprung up as young designers grapple with the changing retail landscape—early this year, J.W. Anderson chose to stream his menswear show on Grindr, the gay dating app, for example. In any case, it’s clear that Oliver is successfully marching to the beat of his own drum as he explores new paths.