What is that? This may be the first question a human being asks of him or herself. Watch an infant’s eyes dance over the space around him: Is that shape a bottle or a cat? Is that my mother or a chair? The need to identify the forms that surround us runs very, very deep—it’s a matter of survival, distinguishing between that which provides us with care and the stuff that poses a threat. The unclassifiable defaults into the “threat” category.

Hood by Air impresario Shayne Oliver likes to play in a liminal space, where things and people are neither this nor that. And his desire to elude category was front and center this season, in a collection that essentially took on human evolution and sought to defuse the fear we all feel when confronted with the unfamiliar. His strategy was pretty much to take the most mundane stuff in our wardrobes—khakis, button-downs, puffer jackets, sweaters, tees, and so on—and hybridize them or otherwise mess with their customary silhouettes to make them feel alien. Is that a polo or a dress? A camel coat or a tank top? The answer wasn’t always clear, or to put it more exactly, the answer was often: It’s both. You could read this rejection of binaries as a political stance, at a moment when the transgender rights movement is picking up steam.

Or you could just appreciate the clothes, which Oliver said was his primary intention here. His focus on wardrobe staples provided him an opportunity to fill his collection with relatively commercial pieces, like the pleated button-downs or the tailored black wool overcoats detailed with buckles and zips. Even Oliver’s more challenging silhouettes were accessible: Perhaps the key item on the HBA runway today was the wide-leg pleated pants, worn either full-volume or buckled in various ways to adapt the shape. It was a cool idea and well-executed. Likewise, the jeans that extended over the foot to create the look of a denim boot, and the wool and puffer hybrids. Occasionally, Oliver’s taste for theatrics got the better of him—a halter-neck fur, for instance, came across as rather unsubtle point-making, out of step with the nuance of much of the rest of the collection. In general, though, this show proved that Oliver—with the aid of his HBA entourage—is getting very good at distilling his keen and playful intellect into viable looks. They get his point across just fine. He can afford to stop hammering it home.

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