The models, including a gender-contorting female performance artist from San Francisco named Boy Child, wore white-out eye contacts, light-up mouthpieces and an assortment of “luxury street wear” that included baggy pairs of athletic shorts, sweatshirts with satellite screen shots and silk-screened T-shirts.
By the time ASAP Rocky closed the show — wearing a backward white baseball cap, zippered neoprene jacket and drop-crotch jersey pants — the verdict was in: Hood by Air and its 25-year-old designer, Shayne Oliver, had created a fashion moment.
“It was one of those ‘wow’ instances,” said Karen Langley, the fashion director for Dazed Confused, a youth culture magazine based in London. “After the show I went back to my office and told everyone, ‘We need to do something on that collection immediately.’ ”
Such feverishness from the front row suggests that the label has shed its cult status and has entered the fashion big leagues. With a style sensibility that draws from hip-hop and the art world, high fashion and street wear, Hood by Air straddles multiple spheres. Its commercial “classics” line is made up of basics like graphic long-sleeve T-shirts that sell for $160 on online retailers like RSVP Gallery, while its more conceptual runway pieces can cost as much as $2,000 at high-end boutiques like Colette in Paris and Harvey Nichols in London.
Weaving together these dichotomies is part of the thrill. “Almost single-handedly Hood by Air makes the New York fashion scene feel exciting — you want to be there, be part of their world,” said Nick Knight, a British photographer whose fashion film site, SHOWstudio, recently showcased a one-minute video for Hood by Air’s spring/summer 2013 collection. “And my 15-year-old son thinks they are the coolest brand, so they have to be.”
Mr. Oliver started the label in 2006, as a teenager with a small collection of T-shirts with the word “Hood” printed on them. He said that while growing up primarily in Brooklyn, in Bed-Stuy and Prospect Heights (with stints in St. Croix and Trinidad, where his mother is from), he developed a curiosity for connecting the dots among New York’s various creative enclaves.
“The name Hood by Air is a play off being from the hood, but taking the train downtown to hang out with skater boys and artists,” he said, referring to downtown personages like the late Dash Snow and Aaron Bondaroff, a gallerist who owns aNYthing, a boutique that was among the first to carry the label.
A dropout of the Fashion Institute of Technology and New York University, Mr. Oliver got his education instead as a club promoter for places like Happy Valley in Chelsea, and doing Vogue-ball dance routines at art events for Mr. Snow and Rashaad Newsome. Being a black gay man who crosses social and cultural lines, he said, has afforded him a layered perspective on how young men are subverting rules of dress.
“It’s about updating the way boys dress in the hood, the hood boys you would think would make fun of you, with the conceptual and loose way men like Dash and Terence were dressing in the art world,” he said during a recent interview at Peels, a restaurant on the Bowery. He wore a black-on-black ensemble of his own design that included a pair of loosefitting pants that could be zipped off to become boxer-length shorts. His nails were painted with glitter.
“The clothes became about pushing their look forward through an editing process of a certain taste level, like a checks and balances,” he said.
Mr. Oliver called his design sensibility “ghetto gothic” for shorthand, a phrase he shares with a popular underground party he hosts with Venus X that is spelled GHE20GOTH1K. “It’s a mix of darkness with the hood, but with a real sense of refinement,” he said.
A Web 1.0 influence is also apparent. “I got my break through Myspace, O.K.?” he said. “Everyone always forgets about Myspace, but it used to be the hottest thing. Long before everyone joined Twitter or any editors would view our clothes, it was the only outlet.”
This might explain his disparate-but-yet-somehow-connected references. His design palette is filled with aesthetic pairings that shouldn’t fuse together but do, like appropriated movie studio logos with the 1990s punk-rock conceptualism of the Belgian men’s-wear designers Raf Simons and Walter Van Beirendonck. Or the utilitarian street bravado of Supreme, with the theatrical androgyny of hooded sweatshirts cropped at the midriff.