Shayne Oliver and his ubiquitous Hood By Air label sits atop the dichotomies of luxury, high-end fashion and cult-streetwear. And the ability to straddle both of these opposing sides is something the 25-year-old is clearly aware of. After all, it’s been the inspiration behind the brand since its advent six years ago. ”[HBA] embodies a sense of luxury, street and was a saying that evolved into something bigger,” the 25-year-old designer explains to XXL, after flying in from a business trip to Hong Kong.
Dappered in an HBA shirt—a long-sleeve black button-up with white designs—along with blue fitted denim jeans tucked in a pair of fresh wheat Timberland “Construction” boots, Oliver sits here at the XXL offices humbled by all the attention his Hood By Air line has been receiving these past few months. Born in Minnesota, then moving to Trinidad (at 11 years-old) and eventually East New York in Brooklyn, the young fashion leader always shared an affinity for clothing, cultural style and design. So much so that in 2007 he decided to drop out of FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) to focus on his now fledging business.
Through Hood By Air’s rather eccentric aesthetic—which Oliver best describes as “Ghetto Gothic”—the line has spread like wildfire in the fashion world, even being swagger-jacked by a few other big name designers. Of the many who’ve been seen rocking the line, A$AP Rocky and the Mob are most famous. Aside from bragging, “Hood by Air man I started that,” on the bonus cut (“Angels”) to his chart-topping debut Long.Live.A$AP, Dat PMF also performed and closed out HBA’s Fall 2013 runway show for New York Fashion Week earlier this year. Rocky’s also been showing love to the brand while on his current tour with Rihanna and even sported HBA on XXL‘s recent March/April cover.
Speaking on his relationship with the A$AP Mob and the popularity surrounding Hood By Air, Shayne Oliver kicks it with XXL‘s The Good Life to share some insight on his already booming career. —Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon), Christian Mordi (@mordi_thecomeup)
XXL: Hood By Air has grown in popularity these days. The name of the line started off as a saying between you and your friends right?
Shayne Oliver: Yeah, Hood By Air was a saying that came about from friends. It represented looking fresh. Saying “Hood By Air,” is another way of saying “swag.” It embodies a sense of luxury, street and was a saying that evolved into something bigger. At first it wasn’t a brand thing, it was more of a crew thing. I first was putting it out there like a community, like my friends are “Hood By Air.”
Then it became popular especially among the A$AP Mob. How did you make that connection with them?
We all grew up in the same environment. I got connected through them from my friend DJ Venus X in 2008. She was hanging around Rocky for awhile and was [telling me how] he was really into the line. I remembered him because we all used to hang out downtown on the Lower East Side with a couple of our friends. At the time, I only knew A$AP Bari and A$AP Rellz. Everyone else is more like rappers and musicians, but those two are more like fashion people. Bari used to be like, “That’s my boy [Rocky] you should dress him.” So he would collect all these Hood By Air items and they would trade off items [amongst each other] in the A$AP crew. Soon after I stopped producing for awhile.
When did you stop and for how long?
I stopped making stuff around the beginning of 09′. Around 2011 is when they started getting pieces again. Thats when I started producing again. Before then, it was like 08′, one of their friends, A$AP Rellz, he was a fit model for me. I used to give him clothing as payment. They would take his shirts and then began to buy some. They began to switch off and trade, it became an internal thing within the crew.
Now, both you and the Mob especially Rocky are popular figures. Your stars have really aligned. How does it feel to be this young and experiencing this popularity? Most people don’t breakout like you did so early in their career.
You’re also one-half of DJ/Production team GHE20 G0TH1K. How important is being in the night scene to the Hood By Air?
I think Hood By Air is based off how we live. Whatever we experience through nightlife, music, or whatever the case may be. GHE20 GoTH1K in a way has become involuntarily the lifestyle of Hood By Air in a sense. Our life is based off of music. I think that’s where it comes into play.
It’s a group of us, our friends host the party, we all help out with dj’ying, it’s a tight knit community. Being around them kind of influences what is happening with the brand. Even though its me personally going into the HBA world and seeing what is next to evolve, the personal life plays a factor. Venus and I are best friends. Basically Venus, myself and Ian who handles the vocals hosts the parties. Also we have emerging dj’s in Brooklyn involved. I feel like that is what it is known for the platform it creates for talent.
You’ve lived in the Caribbean and New York, but you speak very highly of your time in Minnesota and the sense of style there. Tell us a little about your experience while in Minnesota.
Minnesota was a really American experience. The Caribbean is different, you can see the levels of economic status easy, you see people with really low and really high economy. Hood By Air is the merge of many things, concept based clothing, music and the street. Where I come from, I don’t feel as if I have to be separated from that.
Minnesota taught me a lot. I learned more from the hood girls. Out there crips and bloods was really live at the time. For the girls to be around the boys, they would have to dress in sweats, but would always have the craziest jewelry or hairstyles. They would maintain this really high standard but there clothing allowed them to still run around and be down for whatever. There was no one being good. Either you were in school, which was very little, or street dudes. At least that was what a lot of the black population was. It was even less about school and who was in church.
It’s huge. I feel like we are at some pinnacle where we are learning a new culture because all cultures are being broken down. Due to the internet and blogs. Redefining who we are as people is important to me in a time where everything is referential. Everyone is mixing everything together to make something new, because no one is taking the time to realize what time we are in, and take advantage of this time. It can be something new, rather than combining things.
You have strong feelings about the word “urban.” You may or may not feel this is a adequate word to describe the clothing, so if you were to choose one word to describe Hood By Air, what would it be and why ?
To be honest I couldn’t say that because I am still trying to define what that is. I don’t consider things urban, because I feel like people take it in a sense like it actually is coming from the actual hood. Urban sensibility are everywhere. All music is based off of urban music right now. Same thing with Rock & Roll. People don’t consider that to be black at all. That’s really what it comes down to at the end of the day, urban means black. I just don’t appreciate that term because in a sense it means a race.
I mean there is some truth to it with what it essentially meant, but now I don’t know. I mean is Lil’ Wayne urban? Can you say that he’s a rapper? He isn’t doing urban things. I take pride in gaining inspiration from the streets. They are the first voice of everything. Corporations find a way to market their voice down the line. We are the ones really who breathe things to the world. We are the ones who start trends.
You’ve openly expressed that you grew up as a fan of Cam’Ron’s style. Why did Cam stand out to you?
I think Cam was being flamboyant in general, but about hood inspiration. He wasn’t saying, I want to dress nice, so I am going to dress in a suit. He was being flamboyant with hood influences. Like let me take this bandana and do a full outfit, or let me take this fur coat I saw drug dealer dudes wearing back in the day, and make this pop now. I feel like he was creating a new sense of luxury within the however many blocks he was running in Harlem. It wasn’t meant to move somebody, it was just him. He embodied it and it seemed genuine.
I heard he was just designing and making things happen. I heard he had his own store in which they were doing all of their customized stuff. I took a liking to that and it stuck with me. It helped me understand what I was thinking about was valid and important.
Anyone else you think style wise has that type of vision?
It was a bit different with him because he was being artsy in a sense. Sometimes Lil’ B will touch on things that are ok and cool. Soulja Boy at times also, even though he can be a bit over the top with a lot of things. I think he is figuring out ways to incorporate different styles and not make it derivative of anything.
Obviously A$AP, I think they are doing a great job with their movement. I saw Ferg the other day, and his outfit was on point. He was just on his Tommy Hilfiger swag. People like Kanye are doing it in a post modern-esque way, so its a little hard for many to appreciate it. He does it for the simple fact that he considers it to be an art form. I think hes doing it in the reverse. Like he is grabbing high stuff and bringing it down, like look at this. Even if you don’t like it or not, the clothing is here. You can step out the box and it be ok. I am not really a fan of people, just more what they give off for the culture.
You went to Hong Kong recently, how was that experience?
SO: It was amazing. It gave me a break from New York. It helped me see you don’t have to play the game, its more about a person with a talent. I learned that just because you are doing something in the city, doesn’t mean it has to be just about the city. You want people to see that from afar and be like wow that is unique. Business wise it was great, I got a lot going. The next couple months is about stabilizing all of these opportunities that came. We focused on production, investment and distribution.
So whats next for Hood by air?
SO: A lot. I think we are going to get into more of an A&R role for my personal experiences. I will look to incorporate the brand into those. In the sense of creative direction for people.I am just building my calendar right now. First thing is the web store coming up. When that happens we want to launch a network that will be pushed out to the fashion and music community. We are also looking more into Europe. Paris, London, Tokyo. In regards to the music it is actually its own face. I am hoping that Venus is ready to come on board with me. We are working on a whole summer program for GHE20 G0TH1K. When that takes off I would like to release merch for that too, I want it to have its own t-shirt line.