Helmut Lang’s introduction into fashion was akin to many menswear aficionados of late, as he took an interest in the garments worn by the stylish residents of Vienna. He admired them and wanted to explore this medium for himself. He has often been labeled as a minimalist, as he followed the modernistic architecture principle of “form follows function” religiously. He reimagined otherwise mundane clothing articles through precise alternations that ultimately transformed them into stylish wearable garments, unheard of at the time in menswear. His opus retrospectively displays a constant dialogue between the consumer and the product, as his pieces vary from those everyday pairs of jeans to gaudy sequin parkas for costuming.
Many of his design decisions centered around utilitarianism. Rationality and functionality were in priority before form making. Many of his most emblematic pieces center around three motifs – straps, stripes, and subtraction. Innovations in orthopedic therapy corsets mixed with Austria’s booming club-culture inspired Helmut’s various harnessing experiments. This specific motif creates a conversation between the wearer and the garment. From the straps around the cuffs of a sensually sliming long sleeve to the harness system built into a military-inspired parka, this motif prompts the wearer to “strap in.”
Taking a step back to his process mentioned above of reimagining every day, Helmut would often decorate his blue-collar workwear-inspired garments with a simple series of stripes. These stripes often recognized the modularity of such clothing, and through this embellishment, he accentuated the proportions of these otherwise conservative silhouettes. Finally, we are at his art of subtraction, which was were the duality of his practice as both an artist and designer truly shined. Many of the garments produced under this mindset now serve as pieces of art rather than couture. Do they display his deep understanding of construction, or are they products of cynicism? They exist as functional accessories, yet, this is true with most of Helmut’s work, critics look at it and proclaim, “Well… I could have done that.” Alas, Helmut Lang’s fashion work genius was simply “He did it so you could.”