Helmut Lang is back

  1. sort of ...

    I always thought it was weird they hired Habitual designers to design the new Helmut Lang collection....The whole Habitual line was so inauthentic. The designer was Nicole but because no one wanted it to seem like Harper's Bazaar (where Nicole worked) was playing favorites, she pretended the designer was her husband (yes, I got this info from someone who worked at Bazaar). I never understood why people were so excited about a pair of jeans. Yes, it was Japanese premium denim washed seven times or something like that but the shape wasn't that innovative. Then they won that fashion award for best new designer....

    Anyway, Helmut Lang was one of my favorite designers. I have many pieces from when he was the designer.... The new strategy is interesting, bring Helmut Lang to the masses. It's a very different asethetic from what all the other design houses are showing so it's a gamble. Its simplicity will save it like in the past, but without the clout and backing of fashionistas, it may fall flat....

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/02/fashion/02HELMUT.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    By ERIC WILSON
    Published: November 2, 2006


    A FEW weeks ago in Paris, just as the vestiges of the last Helmut Lang store were being papered over with gold foil for Miu Miu, the new tenant in the space on the Rue St.-Honoré, the dormant Helmut Lang Web site was updated to announce “S/S07 coming soon.” The subtly nuanced usage of Mr. Lang’s code language for the next spring-summer season, repeated in a handwritten invitation to view a new Helmut Lang collection, suggested that that it had come from the desk of Mr. Lang.
    [​IMG] RESPECTFUL DISTANCE The new spring line for Helmut Lang will make reference to the original designer’s aesthetic, but Nicole and Michael Colovos, the brand’s new designers, say they will not recreate the exact work of Mr. Lang, who has remained vague about his next venture.

    [​IMG] Robert Wright for The New York Times
    A NEW LINEUP The designers Michael and Nicole Colovos, in clothing from their spring line for the Helmut Lang brand.



    By February, stores will again be stocked with narrow-lapel jackets made of crinkly fabrics, art-house T-shirts with superfluously detailed seams and anoraks in parachute fabrics that not only suggest Helmut Lang, but also have his name on the label. Ever since Mr. Lang’s jarringly succinct act of corporate insubordination — he sold his business to Prada Group, then resigned a few months later — his devotees have clung to the faint hope of a return, and his occasional cryptic remarks about his future encouraged that belief.
    But the Helmut Lang clothes returning to stores like Barneys New York, Fred Segal and Scoop will have precious little to do with the man who changed fashion in the 1990s, who now spends his days in pseudo-retirement at an East Hampton estate minding a brood of pet chickens.
    After Mr. Lang left his label in January 2005, Prada dismantled the money-bleeding brand and its stores, then sold the trademark to Link Theory Holdings, a Tokyo-based company that also owns the Theory clothing brand. The American subsidiary of Link Theory is now reviving the label with a sportswear collection designed by Michael and Nicole Colovos, the founders of Habitual, the denim label in Los Angeles, with no involvement from Mr. Lang. It is one of the most interesting experiments in recent fashion memory, an attempt to achieve the balance of salability and creativity that eluded Mr. Lang by lowering the prices and making the designs, well, less like those of Mr. Lang.
    “I want to make clothes that are accessible,” said Andrew Rosen, a chief executive of Link Theory’s American division, “not just so I am impressing some fashion impresario.”
    For Mr. Lang’s loyalists — stylish women like the French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld, the artist Jenny Holzer or the stylist Melanie Ward — and for the many customers who committed themselves to Mr. Lang’s severe aesthetic, the prospect of deriving the same sense of urbane satisfaction from a contemporary Helmut Lang collection will seem hopelessly anachronistic. Those who have held on to more than a few of his original pieces are not likely to be enticed by a reprise, which is aimed at a different breed of customer.
    “I have no interest in the new Helmut,” said Tony Melillo, a designer who bought clothes from the old Helmut. “Helmut is so great, and I’ll always be loyal to him. But I’m a fashion person responding, so my answer will be different.”
    The difference between old Helmut and new Helmut could be illustrated in a single pair of jeans. Mr. Lang, who pioneered the market for designer denim, cut his jeans with a low rise in the front and skinny, straight legs, a look that customers like Mr. Melillo swore by. But Mr. Rosen, who is 50, the same age as Mr. Lang, said it was unflattering to someone with an average physique. So the Colovos jeans for Helmut Lang include two versions: a slouchier skinny jean and another with a looser body and narrow legs.
    Mr. Rosen, a third-generation clothing maker, started Theory with the designer Elie Tahari in 1996, when retailers were developing the category known as contemporary sportswear to satisfy demand for separates and more casual career clothes. The label now dominates those departments with sales of $500 million annually, half in stores in the United States, although its growth has slowed as its customers have matured. In 2003, Mr. Rosen and Mr. Tahari sold Theory to its Japanese licensee, which later was listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and then acquired Helmut Lang.
    After the deal was completed, Mr. Rosen approached Mr. Lang about returning to work for him, but the designer, he said, “respectfully declined.” Mr. Rosen now believes the Helmut Lang brand could be a model for the next generation of contemporary sportswear.
    “The beauty of Helmut Lang is that you had the incredible heritage and legacy, but you didn’t have anything else,” he said. “There was no inventory, no people, no stores. You could reshape the whole business.”
    In May, Mr. Rosen, on the recommendation of editors from Vogue, hired Michael Colovos, 35, and Nicole Colovos, 36, the husband-and-wife team who, in a story eerily parallel to Mr. Lang’s, had just resigned from Habitual, which they founded in 2001. Mr. Colovos, who once designed under his name, and Ms. Colovos, a former market editor from Harper’s Bazaar who met Mr. Colovos on an appointment to review his line, were both fans of Mr. Lang. And that made them anxious about creating a collection under his name.
    “When he sold his name, he made the decision to leave,” Ms. Colovos said. “That was important to us. We would not have come into this position if we felt there had been some continuing animosity.”
    The Colovoses, who look and dress the part, with pale features and wardrobes full of bleak minimalism, returned to New York and began designing in a raw gallery space in West Chelsea that looks similar to the Helmut Lang showroom beneath his former store on Greene Street in SoHo. The Helmut Lang logo at the door is cast in the same black block letters, and the décor seems authentic, with raw light bulbs hanging from an exposed sprinkler system, padded chairs with the upholstery roughly ripped away and rolling racks made from industrial pipes. There are reminders of Mr. Lang in the clothes as well, though they are not directly analogous.

    [​IMG] Robert Wright for The New York Times


    [​IMG] Robert Wright for The New York Times




    “We are so respectful of Helmut Lang,” Ms. Colovos said. “So we are not trying to recreate what he did.”
    Mr. Colovos added: “What we tried to take from him was only his modernity.”
    From the nearly 20 years of Mr. Lang’s work, the designers reviewed only a smattering of the archives, because they wanted their concept to feel natural, making reference to his aesthetic in terms of minimalism, androgynous and utilitarian details as well as his rigorously tailored construction.
    For men, there are unlined blazers made of linen viscose or waxed cotton. The sleeves of a gray dress shirt close with an elastic band rather than a button so they push up and down easily on the arms. A cotton parka is woven with steel threads to give it a scrunchy, wrinkled effect.
    The women’s collection has man-tailored suits in similar fabrics, papery parachute jackets with knotted bows at the hems and patchwork tank dresses made of ribbed cotton jersey. What looked most like the work of Mr. Lang was a piece Ms. Colovos wore: a short cotton poplin dress with pockets hidden beneath origami pleats at the waist, offering a cool contrast of hard and soft.
    “We know it won’t appeal to everybody, but it appealed to us,” Mr. Colovos said. Dresses in the new line will sell for about $380, anoraks for $620 and jeans for $185 to $240.
    There is a natural sense of trepidation at how the collection will be received without the original designer, though it has been endorsed by several retailers, including some that carried the original line. Stefani Greenfield, the owner of Scoop, noted that the Colovos collection has the clean, linear lines of the original and incorporates similar fabrics. “What they did effectively is that they didn’t try to be Helmut Lang,” she said. “They designed within the spirit of his collections, but they still look like Michael and Nicole.”
     
  2. The afterlife of Helmut Lang is further evidence of the power of designer names, ones that have barely been dented by death, retirement or unfortunate artistic temperament. “I don’t think it matters whether everything at Chanel is designed by Karl Lagerfeld or everything at Chloé is designed by Chloé,” Mr. Rosen said. “Helmut Lang created the sandbox for us to play in.”
    In Mr. Lang’s first formal interview since he left the company, published in the fall issue of the impenetrable Dutch fashion magazine Fantastic Man, he did not address what had happened to the Helmut Lang brand in his absence. His most revealing remarks offered some explanation for the ambiguity about his own plans. In actuality, he had “planned nothing.”
    “My idea was not to be up to anything in particular,” he said, in references to his circumstances one year ago.
    In discussing his reluctance to disband the team of design assistants he left behind at Prada Group, Mr. Lang described his prospects for returning to fashion as descending initially from “you never know” to “pretty sure I wouldn’t take it up again in the same form” just six months later. Mr. Lang is now involved in several ongoing art projects.
    To fashion people, the return of Helmut Lang — the clothes — will be viewed as weirdly sad given the designer’s resistance to attempts by Prada to make his line more commercial by adding lucrative accessories and luxury pieces that could be repeated seasonally. But Mr. Lang’s unwavering dedication to his creative vision and his distinctive, if uncomfortably masochistic, bondage references will ultimately be recorded as the cause of his failure. At least that will be the case if the collection designed in his absence, a commercial reduction of his fashion identity, becomes a success on a par with that of Theory.
     
  3. This reminds me a bit of Karl Lagerfeld's diffusion line: simple, clean lines but too "contrived".... It was a bunch of designer designing under his name with minimal input from him.
     
  4. I think it is hard for new designers to step into lines like Helmut Lang or Jil Sander. They had such a clear, distinct aesthetic that new designers who don't want to "copy" the previous designer by default end up not aligning with the original philosophy of the line.