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Hood By Air Is Back, and It’s Ready to Radicalize Fashion

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Fashion insiders have come to remember Hood By Air, which went on hiatus in 2017, as a savior of New York fashion that was way ahead of its time, with a vision that the rest of the world has finally caught up to. Earlier this month, Essence asked former Hood By Air creative director Ian Isiah whether he could reveal anything about the future of the defunct brand. Cofounder Shayne Oliver had announced in 2017 that the brand was on hiatus, but he declared plans to relaunch in winter of 2019.

“We went on break, but we’ve been working,” Isiah cryptically said. “Again, we’ll collectively group with everybody who’s Black. That’s it. That’s all.”

Today, a fuller picture of that plan is revealed: Hood By Air is returning, a press release and new social media accounts announced this morning, with a suite of multidisciplinary initiatives intended to carve out a radical alternative to the corporatized American fashion system.

Perhaps one of contemporary New York’s most beloved brands, Hood By Air was launched in 2006 by Oliver and Raul López (who now designs his own line, Luar), and thrilled New York with a fusion of streetwear and high fashion animated by club-kid attitude. HBA trafficked in firsts: its collective approach to fashion, peopled by an LGBT chosen-family community of artists and nightlife denizens; aggressive sexuaity; unorthodox runway casting; anointment of the T-shirt as a $600 luxury item; and skeptical eye towards the workings of the fashion industry are all now table stakes in advanced fashion, and Hood By Air did them first. And the brand’s achievements were more than theoretical: you can see the imprint of HBA in the work of designers from Virgil Abloh to Demna Gvasalia. A struggle to achieve financial stability led Oliver to announce the brand would go on hiatus in 2017. Oliver has popped up as a guest designer at brands like Helmut Lang and Diesel since then, and announced in February of 2019 that the brand would return; those plans, it seems, were stalled or even scrapped.

This new announcement arrives with more urgency than last winter’s, with a slate of concrete plans and a sweeping mission. “Even now gentrification leaves no physical spaces for new, influential ideas to exist or reside,” Oliver said in the release. “So Hood By Air will be a place for these ideas to have a home.” The Instagram announcement and new website call it “The New Institution.”

The renewed Hood By Air kicks into gear on Thursday, with a charity T-shirt drop and the launch of a Cash Card designed by Oliver in partnership with Cash App. (The Cash Card perhaps echoes the American Express card released in 2004 by Alexander McQueen—another of fashion’s most beloved dark princes.) The proceeds from the shirt and card will be donated to organizations that support Black and LGBTQ communities: Black Trans Femmes in the Arts, Emergency Release Fund and Gays & Lesbians Living In A Transgender Society.

The reformed brand will consist of four “distinct entities,” as the press release describes it, that position Hood By Air as a boundary-pushing collaborative platform that promotes creatives of color and the LGBTQ community. First, Hood By Air proper will set an agenda for each year through an activation or event that launches “collectible fashion products,” the release says. Second, HBA will be a direct-to-consumer brand that will produce clothing outside of fashion’s seasonal, market-driven, wholesale-oriented system. Third, a new concept called MUSEUM will serve as a working archive for the brand’s original collections, which a designer-in-residence (“young BIPOC creatives,” the release specifies) will occasionally reinterpret.

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