Born: Vienna, Austria, 10 March 1956. Career: Grew up in Austrian Alps and Vienna; became acquainted with Viennese art scene; established own fashion studio in Vienna, 1977; opened made-to-measure shop in Vienna, 1979; developed ready-to-wear collections, 1984-86; presented Helmut Lang womenswear, 1986, and Helmut Lang menswear, 1987, as part of Paris Fashion Week; established license business, 1988; moved several times between Paris and Vienna, 1988-93; professor of Fashion Masterclass, University of
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At a moment of conflicting demands, people want modernity and identity, street style and savviness. Fashion now is fast, downbeat, and relentlessly urban. Because of that, I have been developing a particular vision, what I call a nonreferential view of fashion. It is all about today. 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.
Working effectively with fashion means adding pieces to a continuing story, evolving fluently year after year. The basis of really effortless style is found in minimal exaggeration. A perfect economy of cut and exacting attention to finish is sometimes lost to the careless eye, which gives it precisely the sort of anonymous status that the truly knowing admire. If you have to ask, you don't get it, in either sense. Downbeat elegance is founded in precise proportions and clean tailoring; balancing hi-tech fabrics with real clothing. The
An attenuated, urban aesthetic, embodied by subtle mixes of luxury fabrics and post-punk synthetics, dominates Helmut Lang's confident designs. Both his menswear and womenswear are uncompromisingly modern: stark minimalist pieces in somber city shades are combined with harsh metallics and slippery transparent layers, questioning the restrictions of traditional tailored clothing.
Although Lang's work is avant-garde, he is not afraid to use sharply cut suiting, or have a punklike disregard for accepted fabric use, as cigarette trousers and three-buttoned jackets come in shiny PVC with clingy net t-shirts worn underneath. He enjoys the surprise of such cheap fabrics being lent a certain chic through their combination with their more luxurious counterparts, and often backs silk with nylon to give a liquid, shifting opacity to column dresses and spaghetti-strapped slips.
For all the deconstructed glamor of his clothes, they remain essentially understated, drawing their interest from the layering of opaques and transparents in sinuous strong lines, rather than unnecessary details that might dull their impact. Even the sexuality of his figure-hugging womenswear is tempered by a nonchalance and apparent disregard for the impact the clothes have. This parallels the growing sense of independence and confidence of women over the years Lang has been designing.
If his stylistic reference points originated touching the past, then his distillation of them is always utterly contemporary. In line with and often ahead of current trends, he honed his skills during the 1980s, contradicting the decade's often overblown characteristics and charming first the Parisian, then the international fashion scene, which was impressed by the modernity of his work. He remains a hero of the cognoscenti, influencing mainstream fashion.
The simplicity of the cut of a Lang garment is deceptive. The slim mannish-shaped trousers he favors for women may be timeless enough, but the surprise of rendering them in hot red stretch synthetic in 1992 and creating an urban warrior look with halter top and boned breastplate meant they appealed to the stylishly unconventional, who were not afraid to slip from day to night, informal to formal, disregarding the normal restrictions of what is appropriate to wear.
Lang's emphasis on the importance of innovative textiles is as prevalent in his menswear. He has been at the forefront of a shift in this area, which has gathered momentum during the 1990s. He has pushed for a crossover of fabrics from womenswear and a narrower line, shown in 19th-century cut, three-piece single-breasted suits, more attuned to the times than the big triangular silhouette of the 1980s. His deconstructed close-fit tops with visible seaming and layered angora tank tops over untucked shirts increased his popularity as fashion became tired of its own overpowering dogma in the early 1990s.
Lang's work continues to maintain a high profile in fashion magazines and the industry. The deceptive simplicity of his clothes, complicated by his constant comparisons of clear and opaque, matte and shiny, silky-smooth and plastic-hard, carried him successfully into the 1990s and enabled him to be part of a movement in fashion toward a redefinition of glamor and beauty in the early 2000s. For the 21st century, calling for a "new sensibility," Lang began to use classical natural fabrics such as satin and tweed while continuing with his characteristic shapes but changing his fabrics—such as rubberized lace replaced by real lace. Not wanting to confuse a subtle touch with sheer softness, Lang admitted that his change in fabric choice has something to do with romance and love, with "not being afraid, being able to live these different needs and different moods."
Not only did Lang shock the fashion world with his change of aesthetic, but he also moved up his spring 2000 show from November to September 1999, the same month he sold a 51-percent stake in his design firm to Prada. In essence, Lang continues to remain predictably cutting edge; he searches for hidden harmony and poetry in the multifarious, often dissonant, realms of everyday experience. Although still striving to merge and reconcile hard and fluid textures, he is now using cashmere, silk, and satin.
In 2000 and 2001 Lang ventured into fragrance and skincare products for both men (cologne, deodorant, shower gel, aftershave) and women (perfume, shower gel, body lotion). An eponymous fragrance was released in the fall of 2000, which coincided with the opening of a flagship perfumery, Helmut Lang Parfums, in New York City. After Helmut Lang came a complementary fragrance, Velvonia, which can be worn separately or along with other Lang body products. Helmut Lang fragrances and skincare products are available at Lang Parfumeries in Munich, Vienna, Hong Kong, and New York, as well as in high-end department stores worldwide.
updated by Christine Miner Minderovic