Peter Do’s Helmut Lang debut: A balance between newness and nostalgia

Peter Do’s Helmut Lang debut: A balance between newness and nostalgia

by Ollie Cox
5 min

Peter Do opened the SS24 womenswear season with his debut collection for Helmut Lang at New York Fashion Week after being appointed creative director in May. 

Helmut Lang is a luxury fashion label founded in 1986, quickly becoming known for its minimalist and avant-garde designs. Lang pioneered an aesthetic based on clean lines and sharp tailoring. 

The New York label’s smart meets casual approach is slated by many to have laid the foundations of streetwear, which focuses on the everyday use of clothes. Lang’s designs were crafted from durable fabrics, cut for movement as ready for underground subcultures as the catwalk. 

Peter Do is a 32-year-old Vietnamese designer who founded his eponymous brand in 2018, quickly garnering a cult following. When the news broke that Do was headed to the brand, it was easy to see why, with Helmut Lang featuring alongside Martin Margiela on Do’s list of influences. Among the swirl of internet expectations that followed the news, there was a sense that this was exactly what the brand needed to bring it back to its former glory as the go-to label for avant-garde minimalism that everyone cool is wearing. 

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Do’s debut for Helmut Lang took place at Skylight at Essex Crossing in the Lower East Side of Manhattan New York. As was to be expected, Do’s collection was intrinsically linked to his Vietnamese heritage. The designer teamed up with poet Ocean Vuong, with the first part of the collaboration visible on the concrete floor, a nod to the 90s which saw Helmut  Lang team up with American artist Jenny Holzer, setting a precedent for fusing the worlds of art and fashion. 

Vuong’s words also featured on tees, collared shirts and tanks, with phrases such as “Your car was my first room” speaking to Do’s alternative reading of the vehicle beyond transport and as a space in itself. Before the show, Do shared ‘Born to Go,’ an essay written by Vuong, which positioned the car as a space for queer people to hide away from the world, and “and be more than we were allowed to be … a room that has gained the miracle of movement … allowing us to escape this world into another without leaving our bodies.”

Helmut Lang has always been about making wearable clothes, exemplified by Do’s expert tailoring in his debut collection. Boxy blazers with cutouts to the arms and legs reflected Do’s personal design input. 

Do honoured Helmut Lang’s legacy outside of the clothes. In the run-up to the show, the location and show details were announced with a video featuring a New York taxi housing Helmut Lang branding, something significant given Helmut Lang was the first fashion brand to advertise on the side of the taxi. 

In Vuong’s Born to Go,” Do’s time spent “at a kitchen table, the needle on the $20 Singer machine his mother brought him from K-Mart hammering through a piece of used pink curtain” is foregrounded, accompanied by a photograph taken in the mirror of  a moving vehicle. Not only is the show reflective of Helmut Lang’s heritage, but also of Do’s, a designer who moved to Philadelphia aged 14, being drawn to fashion and garment making from a young age. 

The colour pink accented the side of relaxed tuxedo trousers while also being the hue chosen for military-style sashes worn by models.

The collection acknowledged the roots of the Helmut Lang brand, which fused the codes of formal and casual dressing to form a wardrobe favoured by a new creative class while also feeling quintessentially Peter Do, with wearable minimalism front and centre. The 48-look collection fused androgynous tailoring with pops of colour channelling the subtly rebellious spirit that initially attracted people to the designer

Shirts worn backwards felt typically Do, while tanks and denim nodded to collections of yesteryear. Outerwear arrived in the form of overcoats in a more fitted cut than Do’s namesake collections and perfectly complimented a typically solid luxury denim offering. 

Helmut Lang was acquired by the Prada group between 1999 and 2006, with its founder leaving the brand in 2005 to focus on his career in art, with several designers taking the helm, ultimately leading the brand away from its original design direction. With one particular quote from Vuong reading, “When was the last time you were you,” it appears Do wished to veer the ship back on course, creating a collection that felt like the Helmut Lang of old, and in doing so, answering the question. The last time Helmut Lang was Helmut Lang was during Peter Do’s SS24 presentation. 

Overall, Helmut Lang’s SS24 balanced nostalgia and newness, with Do acknowledging the brand’s heritage without being overly retrospective. Do understood the assignment, bringing the brand back into focus with an on-brand minimalism through studying the past, seen in his nods to Lang’s previous work – extending beyond the clothes and into the setting. Hats off to Peter Do, an excellent debut. 

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