What does it mean to designer in the new industrial age, where the defining borders between artifice and human are becoming more and more difficult to identify? Helmut Lang offered an original and distinctly modern vision in response to this question. Lang’s designs – industrial, sharp-cut, androgynous – are everywhere right now. Lang destroyed conventional categories of casual and formal, elegant and subversive, creating a new standard to serve as an object of both inspiration and imitation.
Helmut Lang, beyond revolutionizing the garments themselves, revolutionized how garments were presented to his audience. His collaborations with neo conceptionalist artist Jenny Holzer embedded his message into actual landscapes on a scale that was unprecedented in the fashion world. His collaborative ads with Jeurgen Teller are recognized as one of the most provocative and defining campaigns of the 90's generation. Helmut Lang streamed fashion shows online, put his ads on Taxi Cabs, and even handed out CD-ROMS with images from his runways shoes to style writers. Lang brought modernity to fashion, bending convention and offering alternatives to established conservative methods of building a brand.
Prada bought 51% of Helmut Lang in 1999, setting in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to Lang leaving his eponymous label to retreat to a home in East Hampton in 2005 to reimagine himself as a fine artist. His empire of minimalism was declining in revenue at the time of his departure in 2005, but eventually quickly resurged in 2006 when the brand was sold to Link Theory Holdings. Lang, born in Austria, strongly believed in maintaining a European sense of both privacy and work-life balance, something almost impossible to envision in today’s age of the fashion designer as celebrity. He cultivated an image of an artist whose success rested on challenging convention and rising above the expectations and norms of his peers – and his unexpected, unceremonious departure from his label was no exception.
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text: Aaron Gray