2014 was a big year for Shayne Oliver of Hood By Air. In May he scooped the special prize at the LVMH awards, giving him a vital cash injection to grow his brand and the necessary acclaim to prove that it was more than just a cult fad. It makes sense then that he was starting 2015 with a bang. Indeed, nothing says menswear industry acceptance quite like being invited to show at Florentine trade show Pitti Immagine. The Italians are known for their luxury expertise more than their penchant for innovation, so this nod of acceptance to HBA says a lot. Indeed, he's sharing the platform with Marni, an Italian label that deals in truly high end luxuries like fur and leather and who just celebrated their 20 year anniversary. HBA has only been around since just 2006.
It makes sense then that Olivier was playing to his crowd. When in Italy, show a good camel coat. Show some good tailoring. Riff on tradition. So while committed fans of the brand may have been surprised by the fact that sweatpants and hoodies have been swapped for jackets and tailored trews, this new focus on tailoring made sense given the audience. That said, it was jolly to watch the reaction of the waiters on standby at the edge of the catwalk, ready to spring into action for the after party, and who looked shocked and appalled in equal measure at the way the tailoring had been sliced and diced to suggest bondage wear, a regular motif for the label (they've probably worked the Pitti festival for years and are more used to seeing cosy cashmere and polite outerwear by the likes of Ermanno Scervino or Andrea Incontri, who was also showing on the Pitti schedule tonight). But really, this was HBA does normality and nice boys. Yes the models wore flashy eyelashes and platform heels but those were styling tricks. The meat and potatoes of the collection was an exploration of formality and traditional suiting. Oliver gave enough twists and turns to keep things from getting flat, so some coats came decorated with long hairs which stretched to the floor, while certain trousers looked like they'd been ripped along the backside to reveal a more daring, brighter coloured pair underneath. But conservatism was the new buzz word. That had even informed the palette which prioritised expected, polite eveningwear colours camel, lilac and black.
So what does this mean for the HBA label? Well it's all part of a process of growing up. Oliver's sold enough branded t-shirts, but to make HBA a mega brand - the kind that LVMH own and invest in - you need a more diverse repertoire. You have to sell to those with money, not gift to those that look cool. So while it's a more daring man than your average 3-piece-loving Pitti peacock who'll rock one of those cut-out coats or a jacket furnished with hair extensions befitting a winning contestant of RuPaul's Drag Race, this collection will still offer something new to someone new. HBA is growing up and getting big.