Interview: Designer Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air Talks His New Collection and Why Cam'ron Is A Style Icon

All you need to know about the streets' new favorite brand.

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Complex Original

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Shayne Oliver may not be a point of reference when jumping on the bandwagon of dressing like a street goth, like many famous rappers today, but it's important to know where the style came from, and at the very least give Shayne some credit for a silhouette he's been wearing on the streets of New York for years. Since the first season of his cult line, Hood By Air, Oliver has been perfecting a look all his own: the perfect blend of '90s streetwear staples like oversized tees, bold logos and graphics, mixed with a bit a of bondage (jeans made to look like chaps, and shorts with a detachable skirt). It might not sound like the most wearable clothing, but A$AP Rocky seems to think his T-shirts are the best, and we've even named him one of the 10 People About To Change The Style Game. In this interview he talks everything from DJing as half of Ghe20 G0TH1K, how the business of fashion can ruin your money, and why Cam'ron should be considered a style icon. 

Interview by Matthew Henson (@matthematics)

For the people who don’t know anything about you or the line, can you give us a little background on how you first started Hood By Air and the idea behind it?

Shayne:  It basically started out as just T-shirts for friends. Then in ’07, aNYthing picked it up. They bought a few pieces. With the resources from that, I kind of made a few cut and sew pieces. That’s around the time that I met Raul. Raul knew about production and all that stuff. So once Raul came into the picture as far as production manager, like, we were able to make full on collections. Basically, we just kept flipping what we had. You know, make bigger collections and stuff like that.

You took over the brand, and it just became solely your vision and your idea?

Shayne: Yeah.

So now it’s just you doing everything?

Shayne: Yeah.

That’s kind of amazing. How is that for you? Is it easier? Do you feel like you have more control?

Shayne: Um, I feel like, it feels better because I know what’s going on. I know what’s getting done and what’s not getting done. So I don’t have a feeling like, waking up in the middle of the night thinking, “What’s going on with this?” It’s really controlled. I still have a team of people that are there for me in the ways that I need them. Leilah (Shayne's close friend, Leilah Weinraub who is a film and video director) helps me out a lot. Basically, I feel more confident because I know exactly what’s going on.

Everybody knows Hood By Air Classics because that’s the T-shirt line. Are you going to be doing the full ready-to-wear collection again in the future?

Shayne: Yes. Well you know, I felt like, in the break, I guess a lot of... you want me to go off?

Go Off! 

Shayne: I felt like a lot of the concepts that I had been working on and building were being used. I felt like building an actual structure for the company. So when I do something, people are paying attention and they get the full vision. I think like, maybe by this upcoming September or February, I’m definitely going to do something. I’m going to start easing back into the collection. I’m going to start mixing the ready to wear pieces with the classics, to build a lifestyle that way.

I remember when you had a huge show at one of those now-closed clubs on the West Side. Even from early on, you had a really strong vision as far how you thought men should be dressing. Without naming names, there’s a big fashion house in Paris whose current collections almost mirror things you did back then. How do you go on from there? 

Shayne: I feel like it’s all about mastering the look.

Because it’s something that you created?

Shayne: Yeah. Doing it the best way possible with the resources that I have.  I feel like, that’s the most important thing for me right now. Having the resources so I can master this look. To the point where it doesn’t even matter. I feel like houses go in and out of trends. They're gradually going to be moving out of it, and I’m still going to be there doing what I do.

Leila: I think the fucked up thing about copying or when a huge label copies, is that they’re going to use that idea once. So they don’t know where that come from. You can’t reproduce that season over season. You can’t focus on it, and develop it and then turn those ideas out over and over and over again. They’re going to play that style out and that’ll be it. 

Where are you from originally because I have no idea, you never talk about that?

Shayne:  I was born in Minnesota. I grew up in the Caribbean, in Trinidad. Then when I was like 11, I moved to East New York.

That’s where the bangy comes from?

Shayne: Right!


Do you feel like you hold on to your roots from Minnesota? I don’t see anything country about your look today or in your designs. 

Shayne: Minnesota is more of admiration of the Hoodness. Minnesota has a lot of people that migrate from St. Louis or Detroit so it’s like really, really gutter. I got a sense of "glamour meets street" from that whole scene. Nobody could afford really good clothes, but everybody would find things to make their outfit look really good. Whether it was jewelry or hair. I got a sense of this like aesthetic from there. I mean really everywhere. Trinidad is where I get the like sexually suggestive stuff from.

Yes, there’s a certain perversion to Hood By Air.

Shayne: It’s crazy down there in Trinidad, I have to draw off of that.

I know its hard as a creative person but if you could you articulate who the guy is that wears your clothing? Is there a point where you can pin point it and say he’s this and he’s that?

Cam’ron changed everything; he made men feel okay with being bold.

Shayne: I think the aesthetic to me is in the garment itself. I try to make the garment tell the story, and the story is in the visual effect and in the garment itself.  With me growing up around women, I feel like me being in menswear is like this territory where I’m like suggesting and playing around with. So it’s like more of like an exotic place for me.

Onto your love of music, from The New York Times, if you read any music blog, they talk about GHE20 G0TH1k, the trip-trap dance party, which you’ve been doing for years. Do you still DJ? 

Shayne: Yeah. We’re (Shayne and his partner Venus X) going to start doing GHE20 G0TH1K again. I love DJing.  Outside of the collections, it was how I was making petty cash when I was younger, and I guess with the fame of GHE20 G0TH1K, it propelled this thing I was doing for a while to do with my friend Venus, us blending our favorite beats and sounds and it became a recognizable statement. So I feel like, with her DJ history and mine as well, we made an impact.

Do you think that music affects your design?

Shayne: Yeah, for sure. I can’t see myself doing something that isn’t music-based. If its a video I'm doing, there has to be music. The music will go with it. Everything is visual, you can see sounds.  

We did an interview with A$AP Bari, and he spoke very highly of you. He basically was saying how much he admired you and how he felt so strongly about Hood By Air. What you’re doing inspired him to come out with his own line. 

Shayne: He’s taking on the spirit that I was hoping that younger guys would take on. He’s actually living it. So it’ s so cool to see it actually play out and even how it transcended into Rockys’ style and all of that is such a world now. I have high hopes for him. I give him tips, I give him resources, he’s like a really cool kid.

We did a list of The 50 Most Stylish New Yorkers Right Now and we put Rocky as number 1 because of he has a definitive style that’s kind of to the left of what most people are doing. He wears a lot of Hood By Air. When I was in London he was performing in it. It was really dope to see. There were kids in there like “what T-shirt is he wearing?” What is Hood By Air? It’s crazy to know you have a cult following.

Shayne: Yeah that’s really cool. I’m really happy with that. You know, for a while, I didn't know how to handle people liking my clothing,  I can be really introverted. So I kind of like to talk through my clothing, so that’s like me talking to people through my clothes. It’s good to like have a language.

Who are some guys that you think have some great style? 

Shayne: Cam’ron. He changed everything; he made men feel okay with being bold, and going off with their clothes. 

I agree, think Cam is really good example of being untraditionally stylish. 

Shayne: The idea that you can be that masculine and that pretty at the same time changed America.

He was super Harlem. Fresh hair cut, big ear rings. Now that you have your own line and a bit of a following, do you still shop often?

Shayne: No, at this point I guess people give me stuff. So I just kind of pull stuff together mix it with my own pieces.

Who are some of your favorite designers?  

Shayne: I always loved my friends' designs, just because I knew where it was coming from. So, like Telfar for sure. Oh and I like Phoebe Philo. She’s not my friend, but she's really good. 

Did the retail environment ruin your passion for design when you first started Hood By Air? I know that a lot of places kind of fucked up the fun and messed up your money in the early years. How do you plan on doing it differently this time around? Where do you think your clothes should be or where do you want your clothes to be?

Shayne: I am trying to work with stores that I feel like I can trust — that I’m actually building a friendship and relationship with, as opposed to offering a collection based off delivery dates. I really like people that appreciate what’s actually happening. I feel like sometimes buyers just do it because they’re like "oh, it's hot." They kind of just don’t understand what’s going on. That’s why Opening Ceremony’s really important in that sense because they get it; they fully get it. They're almost like family at this point.   

It’s great to hear that from you because it's a tough environment out there, and to hear that you’re going to be doing all of these things is impressive.

Shayne: That’s what I’m  really focused on. I almost feel like it’s more about the message right now than anything else. Like the garment represents something more than “oh that’s hot” or something like that. That’s really important to me.

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