Ian Isiah has been a part of New York’s Hood By Air crew nearly since the design house’s beginning. With unburdened approach to style he not only serves as one of HBA’s most recognized brand ambassadors, he also plays a large part in their collaborative, largely unstructured creative process. Isiah has also recently started focusing more on his music career with the release of his single “247” this past summer. We spoke with him about his favorite gospel artists and what a normal day in the Hood By Air office is like?
What impact did Brooklyn have on you growing up?
It taught me everything I know right now. From gangbanging, to wearing a skirt in the hood, to sex, to doing hair, to spittin’ bars, to knowing a specific language to have in a bodega. Knowing what to say in a bodega is like a whole different language—it’s not Spanish, it’s not American, it’s not English, it’s a hood language. Everything in my blood is New York. Attitude, everything.
How did you link up with Hood By Air?
Shayne Oliver, the creative director. He was in high school when he started it and we met in high school, but we didn’t go to the same school. I was a merchandiser at Urban Outfitters, folding T-shirts and telling people what to do, and was bored. At the same time, Shayne was young and he was starting to get serious about the brand and I kept pushing him to do it and pushing him to do certain things, like specific concepts. From there, it just birthed into a T-shirt and then, boom, it’s a label, and then we’re growing as the label grows as well.
What’s your title there?
My title there is designer, design team, and ambassador of the brand. What that title even means? I don’t know. It just means I make the clothes with Shayne and I teach you how to actually wear it and what it means to wear it.
What’s a typical day in the office like?
What’s a typical day in the office? A typical day in the hood. Shayne’s also a DJ, so he’s on the ones and twos. There’s a lot of mood boards everywhere. We talk in mood boards, so that just means there’s a lot of conversation all the time. It’s like kiki-ing 24/7. There’s also Akeem [Smith], who styles all of our shows, and Leilah [Weinraub], who’s the CEO, and Paul [Cupo], who’s the head of design. I don’t draw, I don’t stitch, I don’t sew, neither does Shayne. Thankfully in 2016, you don’t have to do shit like that. You could just say what you want and work it out.
So that’s a day in the office—going through every album that came out and watching every video that came out, but at the same time, creating a line and trying to hit deadlines and trying to roll up weed in between Instagram.
So before you linked up with the brand, what was it about it that spoke to you?
It was literally me. It was me. When Shayne would explain what he wanted, I would just be like, “This is crazy because this is me,” but I would never say that to him because it felt weird saying it. But he was literally explaining, like, “A boy from the hood who’s gay, but was accepted by every straight, hetero situation there is.” And once I realized it was actually me, I got a little proud, I will say. I did get a little spirit of pride, but that pride spirit allowed me to create style. It allowed me to create an actual vision of what I wanted me to be, and sometimes it’s cool to micromanage yourself if you want to be something in life, and God will meet you halfway if you do that.
Who or what inspired your own personal style?
So many people: Teena Marie, Ike Turner, Lil Kim, Misa Hylton, Diddy. What else inspires me? Black people, my people; Latinos; HOT 97, because that’s my culture; marijuana; God; church, because that’s where I’m from; music, obviously; and that’s about it. And my girls, all my best friends, like true best friends, who keep me rooted and grounded in life—niggas that keep me rooted and grounded on dudes and keep me rooted and grounded on what girls feel like, what black women feel like, which is the strongest feeling. It’s all of that, that’s all my inspiration.
What’s the story behind your song “247”?
“247” was really just about love. I was sitting in a studio with Sinjin Hawke, who’s an amazing, amazing, amazing producer. I started playing a few chords to figure it out, and then I was just like, “Well, let’s do a love song.” The song’s all about love, 24/7. You need it 24/7. That’s why in the video I tried to compare it to a drug addict or someone who really needs that hit and they need it now.
So music-wise, who are some of your inspirations?
Gospel first: Kim Burrell, Karen Clark, Kierra Sheard, that whole family. R&B-wise, there’s Kelly Price, Jazmine Sullivan, Carl Thomas, John Legend. Of soul, everything that has to do with Motown, that means Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, everybody in Motown. I was never a rock person at all. I guess now I kind of like rock a little bit, but not even really. Hip-hop of course: Cam’ron, Jay-Z, Swizz Beatz from production, J Dilla (God rest his soul), Andre 3000 overall, the list just goes on.
You mentioned gospel and God earlier, so what role does your faith play in life?
Top role, it’s the leader. I’m a very spiritual person. I grew up in church, I believe in God, and that’s really that. He’s the one that’s doing it, all and I’m proud to be a vessel that he can use, in whatever shape or form.