Where They Were Then
Helmut Lang ditched fashion for art almost ten years ago, but he was SUCH a design darling back when. He’s one of the people—along with Calvin and Jil—who really defined nineties style. And you know the nineties: so buzzy right now. —bea koch
1956 - Helmut is born in Vienna, but his parents divorce when he is just five months old—so he spends most of his little-kid years in Ramsau au Dauchstein with his maternal grandfather, who’s a shoemaker.
1966 - Returning to Vienna to live with his newly remarried father, Helmut heads to Catholic school, which, in his own words, leaves him with “a great big helping of guilt and unworthiness.” Whoa.
1974 - Ahhh, time to find himself. In his case that also means settling on a uniform, which he eventually creates with the help of a seamstress. Friends are so impressed that they ask him to make them the simple tees and jeans he’s masterminded, too.
1977 - Helmut’s first studio opens in Vienna. Fancy ladies come in asking for ball gowns, and his pals still want perfectly cut jeans.
1986 - Nearly a decade after he starts designing, Helmut makes it official: He launches his namesake line and presents his first real-deal collection at the Centre Georges Pompidou.
1992 - The opulent look of the eighties no longer fits the economic reality (recession, party of one), and Helmut’s perfectly minimalist pieces are there to fill the void. His use of technology and nutso materials (feathers…and rubber) gets tons of praise.
1997 - Makin’ moves! After years of seeing his designs, ahem, borrowed by other designers, Helmut heads to NYC, hoping that he’ll have more creative control if he’s in the thick of it. He collaborates with pal Jenny Holzer on a super-cool downtown store.
1998 - So over the whole fashion show thing already, Helmut cancels his Fall/Winter 1998 event. Instead, he sends CD-ROMs (yes, those things your AOL trials used to come on) to editors and shows his collection on the internets—a first for any designer.
1999 - Helmut shocks the fashion world by selling a controlling stake (51%) of his company to Prada, hot on the heels of Jil Sander’s failed partnership. But Helmut just wants to design—and leave the marketing and distribution to somebody else—so initially everything goes smoothly.
2000 - Nominated for all three major categories at the CFDA awards (womenswear, menswear, and accessories), Helmut once again creates some dramz when he bails on the ceremony. GASP.
2005 - The fan-boys and -girls shed minimalist tears: Helmut says goodbye to the fashion world, selling the remaining stake of his co. to Prada and retiring to his home in East Hampton. But he can’t escape the urge to create. His new medium: sculpture.
2007 - It’s baaaack: Prada relaunches the line, but with a more accessible vibe—and price point.
2008 - Helmut’s first solo show, Alles Gleich Schwer—that’s Everything Has an Equal Weight in English—opens at the prestigious Kestnergesellschaft Gallery in Hanover, Germany. His pared-down, cool vibe is now translated to simple-but-beautiful sculptures.
2010 - Looking to the future, Helmut begins distributing key pieces from his fashion archive to various fancy museums and academic institutions…
2011 - …then he destroys the 6,000-ish remaining pieces, uses them to build 12 stalactite-esque sculptures, and shows them in an exhibition called Make it Hard at the Fireplace Gallery in East Hampton. Annnd, scene.