Helmut Lang 2.0, Revisited

Helmut Lang
Photo: vogue.com

Helmut Lang is fashion’s first minimalist. The 65-year-old artist is known for his utilitarian, unisex, deconstructionist, and minimal aesthetic. In Helmut’s hands, minimalism was exciting and edgy, never dull. His sexually charged designs always looked elegant rather than raunchy thanks to his healthy, fresh-faced models, the rejection of all superfluous ornamentation, and the use of GOOD shoes (the shoes were always classy and chic).

Left: Helmut Lang Spring 1997 Ready-to-Wear Right: Sid Neigum Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photos: vogue.com & Jesse Laitinen

Helmut Lang first showed in Paris in 1986. He hasn’t designed a collection since 2005; the brand exists today but without Lang’s involvement. Nonetheless, the designer’s enormous influence is felt throughout the spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear collections.

Left; Helmut Lang Fall 1994 Ready-to-Wear Right: Dsquared2 Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photo: Vogue.com

Lang’s collections always highlighted the tension between good taste and bad taste, masculine and feminine, classic and avant-garde, hard and soft, fantasy and reality, streetwise and haute couture.

Left: Helmut Lang Spring 2001 Ready-to-Wear Right: Nensi Dojaka Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photo Vogue.com & Nensi Dojaka

Nensi Dojaka specifically cited Helmut Lang, along with Ann Demeulemeester, as one of her design heroes. As I have previously noted, the Albanian-born London-based designer’s highly sought-after deconstructed lingerie designs garnered her the LVMH 2021 Prize on September 7th.

Left: Helmut Lang Spring 1999 Ready-to-Wear Right: Eckhaus Latta Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photos: Vogue.com

But even when his name is not explicitly mentioned, it’s hard not to feel Helmut’s presence in the ubiquitous transparency, the asymmetrically slashed and cut out tops and dresses, the elevated parkas, the premium denim, utilitarian touches, the use of unconventional and innovative synthetics, and high tech fabrics, the abbreviated shift dresses, and the androgynous pantsuits in black and white that are all over the recent runways.

Left: Helmut Lang cocktail dress in Vogue September 2000 Right: Prada Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photos: Steven Klein & Prada

Also notable is a renewed interest in Lang’s brand of deceivingly simple anti-fashion 90’s minimalism, which happens to look exceptionally appealing right now. Specifically,I saw a lot of Helmut in the Prada spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear collection co-designed by Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons; their first live presentation since announcing their partnership a few years ago. Prada doesn’t look like anything else on the runways, and it’s easily one of the most modern collections I’ve seen thus far.

Helmut Lang was one of the most influential designers of the 1990s — a decade that has come back into fashion now. Colleen Hill’s upcoming exhibition, Reinvention and Restlessness: Fashion in the 1990s will open February 2022 at The Museum at FIT. – Dr. Valerie Steele

All too often, designers seem to be stuck in a time warp. Studio 54, anyone? There’s too much overdoing (flowers, prints, fringe, color, sequins) and too much of an emphasis on special occasion wear, garden party dresses, and red carpet gowns. When daywear is shown, it’s often too casual, too athleisure, too plain in its simplicity, or too beachy.

Prada Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Prada

Spring isn’t just about warm, beautiful weather. Women need more than delicate frocks, filmy chiffon dresses and caftans, and string bikinis. Where are the urbane designs? Where is the gutsy outerwear?

Prada Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Prada

Fortunately, Prada hit just the right note with an uncomplicated, slick, youthful, and, yes, sexy collection. Raf says they wanted to “modernize historically beautiful things like evening gowns, trains, and corsets, and make them relevant for now.” Hands down, the most decisive part of the lineup is the pairing of slightly oversized and distressed black and brown leather bombers and pea coats with abbreviated skirts in couture-like Duchesse satin. I assume the rectangular trains, which provide the high/low hemline and offer more coverage in the back, are easily removable.

Left: Helmut Lang Fall 2000 Ready-to-Wear Right: Prada Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photos: Vogue.com & Prada

I love that Miuccia and Raf are pared down and simplified; it’s a real breath of fresh air. No jewelry was shown and the only handbags (other than one in black) were small structured bags made of a glossy red patent.

Left: Helmut Lang Fall 1999 Ready-to-Wear Right: Prada Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear Photos Vogue.com & Prada

The models strode the runway briskly in sleek, high-cut, pointy-toed pumps balanced on a very walkable kitten heel. The shoes, shown in black and strong colors like orange, green, pink, yellow, and red, added a punch of color or contrasted with the ensemble. If I have one criticism, it’s that some of the off-white mid-calf dresses that bunched up in the front were unflattering and resembled straight jackets.

Prada Spring 2022 Ready-to-Wear
Photo: Prada

The sweaters that outline the breast should not be worn by anyone with sagging boobs or someone larger than a B cup. And, while the emphasis is on legs, I still would have liked to see at least one pant. Prada makes great pants, and they will assuredly be sold in stores.

Coincidentally, there’s another connection between Prada and Helmut Lang that goes beyond aesthetics. I guess you can call it another example of fashion’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” In 1999, Prada acquired 51% of the Helmut Lang company in a multi-brand strategy.

After alleged disputes with Prada Group’s CEO Patrizio Bertelli on how the brand should be continued, and after Mr. Lang had sold his remaining shares to Prada in October 2004, Lang left his own label in January 2005. However, the designer has publically maintained that he had “no problem” with Mr.Bertelli, who also happens to be Miuccia’s husband.

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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