Bianca Chandôn: Where Skateboarding, Fashion, and Drag Ball Culture Meet-------
Skateboarding, like art and fashion, is at its best when it subverts conventions. When it fails to do that—if it doesn’t surprise you or change the way you see things—it ceases to be worthwhile.
For pro skater Alex Olson, it seems the skate brand universe of T-shirts, hats, and sneakers had fallen into conventional banality. Mainstream acceptance, while it’s helped skateboarding grow, has had an inverse effect on the unrestrained creativity that made it cool in the first place. So Olson left his board sponsor and created Bianca Chandôn.
“The name doesn’t mean anything,” says Olson. “There were a couple of different reasons why we landed on Bianca. Bianca Jagger was one. My middle name is Chandon, which comes from Olivier Chandon, who was a race car driver and has a weird tie-in with Studio 54.
If Studio 54 isn’t exactly what you’d think of as a touchstone for skateboarding, that’s because it isn’t. Like his father, Steven Olson, a pioneering pro skater of the seventies and eighties who helped introduce punk rock to skate culture (and was apparently fond of Vivienne Westwood), Olson is finding new cultural ground on which to build his brand.
“We were pulling a lot of inspiration from old Purple magazines and nineties and eighties fashion,” Olson says. He liked the name Bianca Chandôn because it sounded like the name of a fashion designer. He wanted his brand to have a persona, some mystique. Now he’s pushing skateboarding beyond it’s very male hetero comfort zone.
Skateboarding has always been an inclusive club, particularly for social outcasts—a refuge from jocks and other mainstream conformists—but like other sports, it’s failed to be accepting of all sexes and genders. Bianca Chandôn draws inspiration from drag ball culture, the glory days of disco, Fire Island, Paris Is Burning, and campy seventies imagery. For one series of skate decks, Olson donated proceeds to an advocacy group for LGBTQ youth.
Olson isn’t shy about fashion, either, most notably through the photos he styles of female models wearing Bianca Chandôn, shot by Viktor Vauthier, that serve as an ongoing lookbook via the brand’s Instagram account. “I think fashion needs culture to be relevant,” he says. “And skateboarding is a culture that’s always changing because it’s youthful.”
Olson isn’t intentionally being provocative with Bianca Chandôn, he’s just doing what interests him. “It’s not like I’m trying to be edgy by taking on these things that are taboo,” he says. Still, he is sending an eye-opening jolt of energy into an industry that has become content with its discontent.
“My whole thing was, what would a skateboard company not do?” Olson says. “Just think that way.”