Helmut Lang

Elizabeth Kutesko

Designer Biography

DOI: 10.5040/9781474260428-FPA020

Helmut Lang was born in Vienna, Austria in 1956 and grew up in the Austrian Alps and Vienna, where he became acquainted with the Viennese art scene and set up his own fashion studio in 1977. He developed his first ready-to-wear collections between 1984 and 1986, and made his international breakthrough at Paris Fashion Week in 1986. Moving several times between Paris and Vienna from 1988 to 1993, he became a Professor of Fashion at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna from 1993. Lang transferred his business from Paris to New York in 1997 and sold a 51 percent stake in the company to Prada in 1999.

He is known for his minimalist, spartan designs, which are clean and precisely cut, but also exploratory and unconventional. According to Lang: “A perfect economy of cut and exacting attention to finish is something lost to the careless eye, which gives it precisely the sort of anonymous status that only the truly knowing admire.” His designs embody a number of contradictions: a utilitarian urban aesthetic is fashioned through expensive and luxurious fabrics (such as cashmere, silk, and satin) or tactile and synthetic materials (such as nylon, polyester, and plastic); a neutral and sober palette is injected with snatches of bright hues. Lang’s modernist perspective understands fashion as a narrative that continually evolves, year after year: “I have been a 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.” Within a fashion system that is defined by its seasonally shifting trends, which continually hark back to the past through pastiche or revival styles, Lang’s avant-garde design ethos is unique.

It extends to the advertising of his brand, where he has broken away from restrictions imposed by the industry. In 1998, instead of presenting his latest designs on the runway, Lang heralded a shift in fashion marketing by distributing CDs and videos of his latest collections to the international press. In 2001, and following September 11, he declined to attend Paris Fashion Week but instead presented his collections online from his base in New York, believing that this method of presentation would capture the immediacy of his designs while making them accessible throughout the world.

In 2000, Lang was presented with the award for Menswear Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, but he famously bypassed the award ceremony in order to concentrate on his next collection.

Helmut Lang, Spring/Summer 1994 Photograph by Niall McInerney, Fashion Photography Archive

References and Further Reading

Find in Library Frankel Susannah. Visionaries, Interviews with Fashion Designers . London : V & A Publications, 2001.

Find in Library Hirschberg Lynn. ““The Little Rubber Dress, Among Others: The Fashion Designs of Helmut Lang”.” The New York Times Magazine , 2 February 1997 .

Find in Library Seabrook John. ““The Invisible Designer: Helmut Lang”.” The New Yorker , 8 September 2000 .

Find in Library Spindler M. ““Lang Points the Way to a New Elegance”.” The New York Times , 7 March 1994 .

Find in Library Teller Juergen. ““Langfroid”.” ArtForum , October 1995 .

Find in Library Tredre Roger. ““The Maker’s Culture: The Wearer’s Imprint”.” The Independent , 9 September 1993 .

Find in Library Vinken Barbara. “Helmut Lang: Fabric, Skin, Figure.” In Fashion Zeitgeist: Trends and Cycles in the Fashion System . Oxford and New York : Berg, 2005 .