Understanding the Hyperreal with Liam Hodges & Fila31 May 2019
Celebrating the release of the Liam Hodges and Fila limited edition Mindblower sneaker, END. caught up with the London-based designer to discuss collaboration, social media and hyperreality
Theorising on the power of the image within contemporary culture, the French sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard examined the disassociation of objects, meaning and images in his postmodern analysis ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. Coining the term ‘hyperreality’, Baudrillard posited that consumerist excess in the late 20th Century had instigated an “effacement of reality”, which resulted in the original image losing value, replaced with a hyperreal simulation. Epitomised in the 21st Century with the increasing presence of social media, augmented reality and fake news, images are continually presented without the necessity for truth, reality or honesty. Our everyday lives become inseparably entwined with our online personas as projected impressions of the self become even easier to manipulate, eroding reality into a hyperreal world that becomes disconnected from the physical universe.
Examining this concept with his unique take on contemporary streetwear, London-based designer Liam Hodges teams up for a final time with Italian sportswear stalwarts, Fila, to offer an embodiment of modern day hyperreality. Culminating in the release of the Liam Hodges x Fila Mindblower sneaker, a triple threat of chunky, distressed, ‘90s style captures the essence of Hodges’ label, capitalising on his unique approach to design and thematic interest in ideas of the hyperreal. Accentuating the distinctive aspects of the signature sneaker model, the Mindblower offers an articulation of hyperreality, proffering a way to decode our lives while serving as a crossroad between tongue-in-cheek style and sincerity.
Heading out onto Park Lane in the early-summer sun with Liam and his team, we discuss the past, present and future of his collaborative output, his work with Fila, social media, and the impact of hyperreality on modern-day life.
END.: How did the initial collaboration with Fila occur?
Liam Hodges: We started with Fila in SS18, which happened as I’d been working with a friend who had actually been working with them himself. We made samples and went over some ideas that ultimately never came into being, tested out a few things and time didn’t match up at that point. It took about a year of going back and forth before anything transpired. For SS19 we focussed on a footwear collaboration, which happened to coincide with the brand’s relaunch of the Mindblower silhouette, which was luckily the style I had already seen and wanted to work on.
END.: What originally drew you to working with Fila?
Liam Hodges: It was a combination of wanting to work with a sportswear brand and being able to have the freedom to play around with my ideas. Working with a label who understood that was important. We were able to take the Mindblower and really put our own spin on it with the tarnished wash, the material selection and colourways. Because we had this freedom, it became a runner specifically for the character of our SS19 collection, and in turn was much more unique through that.
END.: How has your practice changed or been influenced by this collaborative process?
Liam Hodges: Working with Fila was very much about putting our mark on their silhouettes, which was a great opportunity to understand materials and footwear construction - exploring what was actually possible under their manufacturing rather than just trying to make a whole new thing from scratch, which is a much longer task and can end up being rushed.
END.: It then shows you the framework for how to go about making a completely original model in the future.
Liam Hodges: It’s something we do want to do at some point, but with creating your own footwear you’ve got to think that if it isn’t going to push creative boundaries, then why would you just make a basic runner? There are already so many good quality products out there that have had the development and research put into them. Otherwise you’re basically just putting your logo onto something that already exists.
END.: You want to bring something to the table that is identifiably yours.
Liam Hodges: Exactly. Doing this collaboration first gives us the space to show people what we’ve done with footwear before, rather than coming up with something completely left-field straight away. You want to take people on a journey, to show them the process, instead of just presenting a nuts trainer. For a young and growing brand, it’s about people understanding it and going on that journey with you.
END.: It helps your audience understand the style codes and conventions that the label is interested in pursuing, and you’re able to learn more practical design skills yourself.
Liam Hodges: Yeah, I think that is the whole point of collaboration. We look at it from the perspective of testing ideas and gaining knowledge through working with bigger brands. It helps us learn about the industry more, preparing us for when we then go on to do our own thing with footwear.
END.: Fila have cultivated a specific cultural capital due to the internet and the rise of vaporwave aesthetics, which is closely linked to hyperreality – a theme that runs through the DNA of Liam Hodges. Did you have this in mind when you began to work with the brand?
Liam Hodges: When we first started working with Fila, we initially were more concerned with learning and building the brand. The second season was where we started to make it more hyperreal. The Mindblower is then going that step further; the previous two collections were quite safe with colour, but this time we were more about accessing that hyperreal, Las Vegas aesthetic that SS19 captured. I even went on a trip to Vegas, driving a soft-top for two days from LA to Vegas to get into the mindset. We ended up upgrading it to the 5-litre GT version. My mates told me to slow down quite a few times – they definitely got a bit scared of my driving.
Now everyone who has a social media account has to cope with the same stresses and problems that made Britney shave her head.
END.: In your shownotes for AW19 you comment that “the future we were promised has arrived, and in some ways surpassed anything we could have imagined.” Originally penned by Baudrillard as a criticism, would you say your point of view offers an acceptance of hyperreality?
Liam Hodges: Yeah, as this is the world that we are living in. There are lots of things we want to change about it and want to develop. You almost have to accept it before you can process and deal with it, otherwise it all gets too much.
END.: Do you think that people should then make the most of social media rather shying away from it?
Liam Hodges: I think it’s more about working out what is best for you, understanding how you can work with it and integrating it into your daily life in a healthy way, rather than just doing it cos everyone is doing it and getting stressed out because your life isn’t the same as everyone else’s online. It’s something that we’re looking at a lot; with the upcoming season we’re focussing on this idea of real-world self versus online self. It’s easy to forget that this is something that people who are in the public eye have always had to deal with, but now everyone who has a social media account has to cope with the same stresses and problems that made Britney shave her head. Everyone is starting to talk about mental health and social media, but the signs have always been there when we look at celebrity culture. The difference is that now we’re all going through it, second guessing what we do with a constant pressure to be perfect online, rather than projecting normality.
END.: Is one of the goals of Liam Hodges to unpack the way we interact with social media?
Liam Hodges: It’s something we talk about and explore, because hyperreality is here and we’re living it. It’s about investigating what that means and how it can be better managed.
END.: It would be challenging to completely disconnect, as social media platforms are the dominant form of communication now, so it makes more sense for us to learn how to manage it.
Liam Hodges: We need to understand and appreciate the cost of being online all the time. I was listening to a podcast and it was talking about how keeping up to date with the news used to be seen as a good thing. Now if we are always buried in our phones it is potentially taking time away from caring for your child, your relationships or even just your everyday life. The cost of being perpetually online and being so up to date is real-world life and real-world living, and how is that going to end up? We may as well all live in a computer.
The cost of being perpetually online and being so up to date is real-world life and real-world living, and how is that going to end up?
END.: The aim then isn’t to rebel against social media, but to offer a point of view where people can live well and exist around it without being too emotionally invested?
Liam Hodges: In some ways, but I think that is where part of the problem comes from; that people aren’t emotionally invested. They think that the online world is so far removed from real life that it gives them a certain power to make other people’s life hell because to them it doesn’t matter, and they’ll never have to say it to their face.
END.: It can be difficult to know how to deal with social media pressures and a lot of people struggle with it, with digital detox retreats appearing across the globe. Would you consider the pop-culture references and light-hearted aspects of your collections as a way dealing with these pressures?
Liam Hodges: It’s meant to be fun, right!? This is something we’ve always discussed, how we can communicate that what we’re doing is meant to be fun, but not a joke. There is humour and enjoyment in it, and it is supposed to be empowering. Our clothes should make you feel good as you walk down the street, no one is going to point and ridicule you – but there are references in it. We’ve got a fuckin’ t-shirt with a Mr. Blobby print! It’s because it isn’t taking itself too seriously, but it isn’t novelty either.
END.: It ends up offering a meta-modernist perspective, balancing between irony, fun and sincerity.
Liam Hodges: Yeah, and as much as we present the brand as fun it all comes from quite serious commentary through a metafictional lens. While we study art and theories around these topics, Liam Hodges is more emotional. It is about artists' lives – it was about my life and now it is about my team’s life too; it’s reactionary. A lot of our work is based in a feeling and an emotional reaction to the world around us, whether that is the real world or the online world.