Numéro : Why did you decide to put your label Hood By Air on standby? Was it before or after being contacted by Helmut Lang?
Shayne Oliver : I put HBA on standby in January 2017. We were trying to figure out what the next steps would be for the brand, thinking about moving to Paris. There was a lot of miscommunication between the business side of things and the management – a lot of the decisions were made in this very panicky way, and no one created a real business system within HBA. We could have moved to Paris and become a sort of intimate brand, close to the customer, but we didn’t really have a sales director. Everyone began working on personal projects. It was the right moment to pause and figure out internal problems. And a lot of insiders in the fashion business have started to… not steal, but become part of the market that we’d created. These people had a business structure, and that wasn’t part of the DNA of HBA. I felt I was just putting ideas out there, creating new brand theories, new ways of thinking about marketing, about the meaning of fashion, without gaining anything, not only financially but also in terms of recognition. It became really discouraging for me to want to do something new, upgrade the game, while no one internally was taking advantage of it businesswise or creating a guideline for people to speak about the brand. It was the right time to take a break. Especially given how things are now – I didn’t want to get involved in this weird streetwear thing that’s happening at the moment. Those are ideas I grew up with, things I know. I’m not doing it because I want to take advantage of the streetwear market. Where HBA is concerned, the next step will be finding a structure for the brand that lets me do what I need to do as a designer. I want to do something I’m comfortable with, something I feel is new. As a consumer, I don’t feel like I want to buy – I’m lost. Because everything looks like gimmicky clothes. It’s all about statement, there’s nothing that’s really designed.
Your role at Helmut Lang, where you produced a collection called Helmut Lang Seen By Shayne Oliver, was very much like that of a curator. Did you approach it in that spirit?
Yes, absolutely. Because if I’m working with them for just one season, it doesn’t make sense to create something new. You just curate. It was like both Helmut Lang and myself in this conversation, about creating a taste level for myself based on the history of Helmut Lang. That was the most organic thing to do.
“Today everyone is becoming a brand, there are no more designers. I don’t think that’s a problem, but I just think that you can’t call things fashion when there are no designers. No one is saying, ‘This is what I designed this season, you can buy into it.’ It’s the other way around: ‘Look what I’m implementing into these criteria, buy into this because this is actually just a brand.’ People forget that the aesthetics that someone created are for a reason.”
As a designer, you’ ve been strongly influenced by Helmut Lang in your HBA work. What aspects of his oeuvre did you focus on in this collection?
I wanted to explore the sensuality of what he’d done in the past. There was very little physical archive for me to explore, so the idea of working with his oeuvre became very fetishized. I began to think about how he’d been a sort of fashion pornographer, and created a new fetishism based on fashion, on how people dress in codes. I began to think about bras, socks, underwear, undergarments, lipstick, ritualistic hairstyles, and essentially just pulled and plucked at the archive that I had. From what little there was I picked three coats, and all the basics: a pair of slacks, a pair of jeans, a tank top, a men’s shirt, a women’s basic dress. I wanted to follow a storyline of keeping it sensual and focusing on his eveningwear. Because I’m sure that some of the designers who come after me will focus on the bomber jacket, but I feel this is something that has been exhausted by the current generation. I’m not trying to sell Helmut Lang to this generation – I want them to understand the attitude and the vibe he put out. So I took whatever they had and restyled it – made the waist lower, made it higher, pulled the jacket to the side, pinned the dress up. And we created new patterns from that. Nothing was created from scratch. It was only about using old things, pulling and tugging. Except for the accessories: the collection was heavily accessorized because it just felt right. I was trying to distil what I felt about the clothes. That’s where the bra bag came from, and the folders based on a school-uniform idea – we created fashion binders, as though you were going to school but with a clutch.