Over the past 36 years, we’ve watched Helmut Lang progress from a minimalist, deconstructed brand focused on gender fluidity into a high street-focused atelier which spotlights glimpses of its past.
Founded in 1986, Helmut Lang began its life as a self-made fashion house. When he was just three years old, Lang’s parents divorced, causing him to move in with his grandfather. He was a shoemaker by profession, and with materials and equipment at arm’s reach, Lang began taking an interest in fashion’s design process. At 21, he opened his fashion house, which first produced T-shirts and jackets. However, it was when he started specializing in an avant-garde fashion that things truly took off for Land – blowing up in his home country of Austria. Come the mid-80s, Lang’s women’s collections had grown in global popularity, which led to the conception of Lang menswear, with accompanying fashion shows starting up too.
From there, it seemed pretty smooth sailing – the brand was moving upwards steadily until it mysteriously sold 50.1% of the house’s shares to the Prada group. And quickly, at the turn of the millennium, Lang gave up the remaining percentage, swiftly exiting the house just a month later. Questions still remain as to why – had Lang done his part? Or was there something else on the horizon for him?
Fast forward to today, and the house is known for its continued focus on luxury minimalism – forming many of the fashion set’s grail pieces. Churning out streetwear-focused designs with small odes to the past, it has to also be said that since its change in ownership, the brand has lacked in its original ethos – one which was driven powerfully by sexual prowess, bondage and constructive fluidity.
Saying that, let’s get into a list of 5 pieces from Helmut Lang throughout the years – all of which come from the pre-Prada era in which Lang had full control of the design process. But don’t call me biassed.
BALLISTIC VEST SS98
Inspired by the tactical nature of police work, this vest rose to the forefront of fashion week when it was paired simply with a tank top and slacks. The vest represented Lang’s love for technical wear, which had a bit of a utilitarian touch. Instead of the normally stitched bulletproof interior, the vest was stuffed with goose down. We saw the vest change in colour from season to season, with arguably its best iterations being the midnight black and cocaine white.
OG PAINTER DENIM SS98
Lang had a knack for making normal, everyday wear seem luxurious. With his painter denim, he paired an exquisite cotton blend with a series of paint splattering. The splattering itself is done artfully, which makes it difficult to determine if the pattern is random or done with intention. Insiders who understand the brand’s financial statement said that at one point,
Helmut Lang denim made up more than 50% of the brand’s yearly sales. Unfortunately, the denim was scrapped once Prada assumed full ownership of the atelier. However, this piece still rests proudly in the denim hall of fame.
M69 FLAK JACKET FW98
As you can tell by now, the Lang fashion house was doing a good amount of war-ready garments inspired by in-field use. The M69 Flak jacket is no different. Lang’s release draws from the US army’s M69 Flak vest, which was developed for the Vietnam war. The army-issued attire was designed to prevent the wearer from getting damaged by case fragments which included high explosive weaponry like grenades and anti-air artillery. However, this piece from Lang is stuffed with goose down and equipped with a removable liner. The exterior features a slanted pocket on the right breast beside a zipper and button-up combo.
In true Lang style, the jacket is semi-detachable, paying homage to his long-standing affair with bondage aesthetics.
BONDAGE MA-1 BOMBER FW03
Keeping within the jacket theme, we have the MA-1 Bomber with its extreme allusion toward bondage. The jacket has a ripped stitching pattern all around the silhouette, seen most prominently in the collar. It’s overly-sized zipper moves effortlessly down into the torso area, where we see two diagonally situated pockets. On the upper left sleeve is a tactical pouch to fit your choice of cash, small wallet, or, you know, hand grenade. The sleeves are lined with cupro in order to maintain comfort throughout your time wearing the garm, and the bondage-themed hand straps help to make sure you’re not continuously reaching into your pocket and buying more Helmut.
SPRAY-PAINTED BACKSTAGE ARCHIVE TEE SS05
This rare garm comes from Lang’s last collection before the Prada merger. The backstage T-shirt features a black sprayed, stencil printed logo, which is seen on the front and back of the top. Its material is composed of Egyptian cotton, which has a stencil-printed HL piece attached to the chest. Each shirt was unique as it featured distinct curvilinear irregularities, which happened naturally during the production process. On the back is a stamp that reads “July 4th, 2004”, marking the day his collection made its way onto the runway.
We’ve seen our fair share of Lang T-shirts since then, although none of them can quite compare to this one. As of recent times, the T-shirts from Lang’s label follow a much more structured approach which is seen prominently in streetwear. Solid t-shirt colour blocking paired with an offset font colour that tends to read the brand’s name. Easy, simple and highly effective to replicate – this was the last time Lang’s T-shirts were state of the art.