Fashion outlier Shayne Oliver wants her clothes to make you cry

As he launches his first collection under Anonymous Club, designer Hood By Air talks about his slippery relationship with the press, questioning the fashion system, and the horror

Shayne Olivier has been talking for about ten minutes and still hasn’t answered a question. Just as his train of thought begins to crystallize into something vaguely decipherable, he launches into another non-sequence, another reference, which takes him down into another stream of consciousness. “Do you have air conditioning there?” he says, in the middle of a monologue. “I pray for you guys.” He’s barely slept, admittedly, having spent most of the previous night in his studio, but there’s a slipperiness to his speech that could easily be interpreted as reluctance. “I don’t think the press ever took me particularly seriously as a designer. I don’t draw on traditional references and my work is multifaceted so people tend to think of me as some sort of artist. But I’m a designer. I am creative director.

Although critics, like Cathy Horyn at Silver Tongue, have described Oliver as the only “disruptive” designer where does ever come from New Yorkfashion has always struggled to impose itself on the chaotic nature of its practice, straddling music, clothing, porn, art and entertainment. But Oliver has also actively evaded categorization, banning reporters and photographers from his presentations, fearful of explaining everything. “If I speak, the work becomes cataloged. I know exactly what I want, but I can’t control how it’s going to be made official by the outside world,” he says. At one point, the industry gave in, landing on “streetwear” as a catch-all term for how Hood by air had turned the fashion system upside down – it was only in 2017 that the brand took a sudden break, getting too close to the sun.

Those intervening years gave way to a slew of big-budget collaborations, including Diesel, Colmarand Helmut Langbut Oliver has now made a triumphant return on his own terms – not just with HBA, which relaunched in 2020but with a homonymous label, ShayneOliver, and Anonymous Club, which combines all of its artistic activities in a single creative studio, made up of emerging designers and former HBA collaborators. And last week, in a Boiler Room takeover in Bushwick, Anonymous Club launched its first clothing collection, christening the first-ever Club Couture: a series of late-night events welcoming the public to presentations once deprived of Oliver. “I’m moving more towards a founding role here, building a structure for next-gen creatives to have a base to grow from,” he says, aware of the irony of portraying this collective as somehow “anonymous” when he himself is such a recognizable leader.

“As a person, I feel a lot more comfortable being a figurehead than when I was at HBA,” he explains. “It was awkward for me at the time because I was never comfortable being seen as an institution, but I feel anonymous with this project because I’m just a point of reference for the work. .” While Oliver oversees the development of a collection, the design process remains as collaborative as possible. “It’s about being able to shamelessly borrow from my archive without feeling like I’m repeating myself, digging up my old canvases and letting the kids have fun with it.” As part of its first offering, this approach emerged in horned helmets, distended knits, curvy hoodies, chain-cut denim, and air-brushed t-shirt dresses in slime, cobalt green leather. and white. And while the collection demonstrated sophisticated – and often gruesome – twists on construction, it’s Anonymous Club’s organization that really challenges what it means to make clothes.

“It’s about being true to the beginnings of HBA, which were ever-evolving, starting as a magazine long before we brought clothes to market. That’s what made artists come back, what put them off, was the fact that it had become a “work”. In time, Anonymous Club would manifest itself in records, festivals and exhibitions – “both simultaneously and separately” – bursting like cherry bombs into the club’s children’s fashion contests. “But I only list these examples because it makes the conversation easier,” he says. “They are only a guide and I eventually want to leave these descriptors alone.” That’s not to say Oliver won’t return to the catwalks with ShayneOliver or HBA – he plans to re-establish himself on the ready-to-wear calendar within a year – rather it’s an attempt to standardize experimental formats. more amorphous. “The idea is to break down the walls between who is considered the public and who is not. There is an inherent point of queerness to this.

He compares these demonstrations, quite unexpectedly, to Ralph Lauren, a world of equestrian class aspirations. “It’s hard to get in, to be removed, to be respected, and these people take their privacy very seriously. That’s what I would like to do here. Create a space where my people can meet safely , like an outdoor version of country club. As Oliver sets his sights on the future of Anonymous Club, I wonder if clothing – as a product, not a concept – now ranks less in his interests.” Not at all. I haven’t been a solo designer yet. I see Anonymous Club as sending my kids to college so that one day I can just focus on myself. When I reach this level, I will be more selfish. So while Oliver could attest to being “the anti-version of things”, he is a fashion enthusiast at heart, swayed by the machinations of the industry’s corporations. “I compare how obtuse my work is to Korn (the band) and that era of hugely lucrative musicians as outsiders. It’s a smart business decision in itself.

“I love that everyone is so obsessed with products right now,” he continues. “But, at the same time, the ‘calm’ does not occur. Things get ultra-reminiscent and commercialized, which is funny and makes sense, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily chic. I know it sounds pompous to say, but it would be nice to have an extra dose of romance. That someone who’s built a brash, unsettling world of severed heads, child-catching shoes, and PornHub collabs to want fashion to speak softly is something. And yet the disreputable has always been a point of reverence for Oliver, arousing deep and morbid fascinations, which are equally worthy of quiet contemplation. “Things that seem absurd are often the most romantic. There’s a sense of humor in horror and that’s a big part of keeping the conversation going, we taunt people when we’re scared of them.

“People don’t know that about me, but I’m all about emotional clothes. If a piece of clothing doesn’t make me cry, I’m not interested,” he concludes. Beauty alone is too sacrosanct, too posed to elicit those feelings, and Oliver himself is only moved when “there’s been so much attitude in the cut of a garment that it changes someone’s behavior”. rearranges you from the inside out, which alters the feeling of being in your own body; “this is what I consider masterful design.” Oliver’s commitment to transforming, shaking people into new forms, not only galvanized a generation of young artists belonging to Anonymous Club, but it spawned new ways of being, bringing creators and consumers of culture closer together. maybe not the language to house all of his ideas, maybe Shayne O is best left deliver beyond words.

Elizabeth J. Harless