“I just try to do very honest, good clothes,” Helmut Lang told the New York Times in 1994. For our 1999-themed issue, there was no greater design inspiration than the retired fashion designer Helmut Lang. Tonight, his fashion house’s memory will be resurrected by Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver who will present his first collection in collaboration Helmut Lang, which was never quite the same after Lang’s departure from his namesake label in 2005. Lang began his career as a designer in Austria where he was born. In 1977 he set up a made-to-measure studio there and by 1979, when he was only 23, he opened his first retail boutique. By 1986, he officially founded the house of Helmut Lang in Paris.
He remained in his position after Prada Group acquired a 51% stake in his company in 1999, but parted ways when another sale was made to the Japanese company Link Theory Holdings in 2005. Under a new design team appointed by the company’s chief Andrew Rosen, the label was relaunched in 2007 with a more mainstream look at a more affordable price point. You might say it looked more like Theory than Helmut Lang. The appointment of Oliver suggests a return to something more creative.
Though similarly boundary-pushing, Oliver’s aesthetic couldn’t differ more from the minimalism that Lang is known for. His work became part of larger movement during the late ’80s and ’90s. Riding that minimalism wave, he reached a level of success and a cult following that few designers ever do. I can still recall the last Helmut Lang sample sale as we rushed to scoop up whatever we could. When he left his house, he put fashion behind him altogether to pursue art. There had been rumors that he didn’t see eye to eye with all of his new partners, but quitting fashion seemed an extreme, but also understandable move.
But his respected name lives on, and we’re interested to see what Oliver and the new creative team helmed by Dazed EIC Isabella Burley will do under it. There’s a very slight chance of a Helmut Lang comeback at this point, but in fashion we’ve learned to never say, ‘never.’ Stranger things have happened. Until then, enjoy our homage to the esteemed designer photographed by Mario Sorrenti for CR 11, which is currently on newsstands.