From its founding in 1986 as an in house brand of an Austrian Boutique, Helmut Lang became one the most prominent brands, influencing both high end fashion and streetwear alike.
Founder: Helmut Lang
Location: New York, New York, USA
About Helmut Lang
Born in 1956, Helmut Lang was raised in Vienna with his grandparents. At the age of 21 Lang opened a bespoke suit store in Vienna after becoming inspired by the cities rich collection of classical art – a complete redefinition from his previous economics study. Ultimately as a self-taught tailor, Lang aimed to recreate the refinement of this art through clothing, an ambition which saw him open a boutique in the city in 1979. 1986 saw the entrance of the brand into the popular market as Lang took advantage of an exhibition of Austrian goods in Paris. Presenting both womenswear and menswear collections, Lang engaged the characteristics of his imaginative pieces, by redefining the tailoring of classical traditions, demonstrating to critics how he was prepared extrapolate from his earlier career. Relocating to Paris, in 1987, Lang continued to draw from his past work, using darker colours, perhaps associated with suits, and also highlighting the dramatic nature of Viennese architecture. However the fabric choice stood the brand apart from its rivals such as Calvin Klein – who also aimed for sleek silhouettes. Lang was famed for creating t-shirts made in PVC for his first announced womenswear collection in Paris, which were partnered with slim formal woollen trousers – a deconstructivist trait which led many to liken Helmut Lang to Comme des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto both of which were extremely popular at the time. Numerous relocations between Paris and Vienna, saw the clothes continue to manifest themselves in terms of conflict. This can be seen in the juxtaposition of fabrics and strong and opaque colour tones, notably in the ‘red’ collection of 1992. Lang was seen as a focal point at the cutting edge of avant-garde fashion throughout the early 1990’s as he led the movement which would see the division between men’s and women’s collections blur, demonstrated in the joint shows he held for both. This continued with the introduction of Jewellery, often noted for the use of more masculine shapes for the female market.
1995 however saw the most influential period in bringing the brand into the mainstream. Using unique dying and cutting techniques, Lang created one of the first dedicated ‘Jean’ lines on the market, a move which would inspire others such as Jean-Paul Gautier and Armani. At approximately $200 per pair in the 1990’s these products targeted the wealthy youth movement, who wanted high quality items but found the couture items ‘inaccessible’. Of this denim collection Lang said “It has to do with my personality, with my life, and with the idea that quality doesn’t go out of style every six months”. By continuing to support the use of hi-tech fabric choices Lang also created one of the first inlets between sportswear and high end fashion, a trend which continues to grow in popularity, for example in lines such as Prada Sport. 1998 saw the brand again change headquarter locations, this time to New York, a move which is distinguishes Helmut Lang as the only fashion house to have ever changed continents. This restlessness which undoubtedly plagued Lang was again reflected in the collections with the introduction of classical fabrics such as Tweed introduced. This move saw Lang almost appearing to be going full circle in terms of creativity as he reverted back to his early design years, a move which may be justified with hind sight. 1999 saw the brand subject to a move from the Prada Group, who took a majority share in the company, a shift which saw the introduction of scents to the brand for the first time. Therefore, Lang appeared to be suggesting that he held the ultimate creative direction over the brand and not the holding company.
After strained relations however, Lang himself departed from the brand to pursue his artwork following strained relations with the Prada group. Following a second change of holding company, Michael and Nicole Colovos were announced head of design at the brand in 2006. The pair who originally headed denim line ‘Habitual’ looked to take the brand into a more accessible region, thereby meaning the brand has reduced its price point in the market. Chief executive Andrew Rosen has stated he wants to make the assertion of Helmut Lang “not just so I am impressing some fashion impresario.” However as collections come under continuing criticism, for example designer Tony Mellilo: “I’m a fashion person responding, so my answer will be different”, it remains to be seen whether the new design time will have the same success as they continue to struggle with the exceptionally high quality of tailoring and fabric, which made the brand so popular. Although other brands such as Maison Martin Margiela have lost their original creative ‘visionary’, they have instated an eclectic 15 man design time meaning they have widespread inspiration. With this limited ‘team’ however it remains to be seen whether the Helmut Lang can once again enjoy its undeniable leadership past status.