Helmut Lang anticipated many things that are taken for granted in the fashion industry today.
With his collections, the Austrian, born in 1956, developed an unmistakable signature from 1986 that is still being imitated by many.
In 2005 he sold his label of the same name and has since lived as a visual artist in New York and Long Island.
His old designs are meanwhile being traded at top prices - on the Farfetch sales platform, for example, an army green cotton coat from 1998 is being offered for 3900 euros.
Michael Kardamakis began chasing and trading in the designer's fashion ten years ago - initially to finance his art history studies by reselling the valuable items.
It was worth it from the start.
His collection currently includes around 1,600 pieces, which he shows on Instagram (@endyma), sells to enthusiasts, lends to museums, leases to musicians and makes them available to designers from other labels for research.
The 28-year-old Greek recently moved from Athens to Berlin, where she now occupies most of a seven-room apartment in the Wilmersdorf district.
As an intimate connoisseur and critic of Helmut Lang's designs, Kardamakis is the ideal conversation partner when it comes to the legacy of the designer who has proven to be a pioneer in many areas.
1. Fashionable purism
His reduced design language - black or white tops, simple coats, classically cut suits - stood in stark contrast to the baroque aesthetics of the 1980s with their shoulder pads and puffed sleeves.
Together with Jil Sander and Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang is therefore often treated as the inventor of minimalism, which shaped the following decade.
"To be honest, I don't think that he founded minimalism," says Michael Kardamakis.
“Helmut Lang's designs were generally more simple than minimalistic.
He liked basic, pure shapes.
That makes a difference. ”For outsiders, what is special about the designs is often not immediately recognizable.
"But for people who are intensely involved with fashion, his things are manifestations of the purest design."
A reduced design language that stood in stark contrast to the baroque aesthetics of the 1980s
Source: Conde Nast via Getty Images
2. Unisex on the runway
When the English label Burberry announced in 2017 that it would show its menswear and womenswear together in one show, it was celebrated as an innovation that fits well in a time when gender boundaries are blurring.
Helmut Lang did this back in the 1990s.
"When the label went well, he got off it again," says Kardamakis.
"In this respect, it was perhaps more of a financial than a conceptual decision - a practical consideration that became a statement because he carried it out in a masterly manner." There were always men's and women's collections, but they were often almost indistinguishable, for example when Lang designed tight-fitting men's suits for women.
“As a woman, you had to be very slim to wear his designs,” says Kardamakis.
“The fewer curves, the better.
In the mid-1990s, everything became very straight and flat, almost as if it were designed for the coat hanger.
It looks stunning until someone attracts it. "
Purest design: Helmut Lang top from 2003
Source: Toufexis Petros
3. Amateurs as models
For many shows in the early 90s, Lang cast not only supermodels like Stella Tennant and Kristen McMenamy but also friends and people from his personal environment: the photographer Elfie Semotan, who ran for him when he was over 50, the model Cordula Reyer or an acquaintance with a character face - Nobody had done that either before him.
Today it is standard practice to cast the cast in a rather unusual way and to ensure diversity on the catwalk.
"As creative director, Helmut Lang was interested in the 'cool factor' of his models," says Kardamakis, "which is why he cast the most interesting people from his circle of friends.
Over the years the same faces could be seen over and over again at his shows - and you could see how they got older. ”In the fashion world fixated on youthfulness, this was a novelty that Lang introduced seemingly casually.
Friend and colleague Cordula Reyer in a cool 1991 long look
Source: Conde Nast via Getty Images
4. Fashion meets art
Associations of fashion designers with artists who are supposed to give some depth and others visibility outside of the art world are not uncommon today, think of Jeff Koons' handbags for Louis Vuitton or the collaboration between Raf Simons and the artist Ruby Sterling.
Here, too, Helmut Lang was earlier than everyone else.
At the 1995 Venice Art Biennale he showed an installation entitled “I Smell You On My Clothes”, which combined art and fragrance and which he developed together with concept artist Jenny Holzer.
Holzer later designed a light installation for his New York flagship store and designed the campaign for his perfume.
With a crown on her head, the then 88-year-old Louise Bourgeois also appeared in one of his campaigns - 20 years before other fashion labels discovered women over 40.
"Helmut Lang brought art and fashion together at a time when there was still a strict separation between the two disciplines," says Kardamakis.
In 1998 Holzer, Bourgeois and Lang even designed a joint exhibition for the Kunsthalle Wien.
5. Luxurious cuts, cheap material
For a long time, fashion only knew two categories: high fashion made from noble materials and ordinary clothing made from cheap fabrics.
"Helmut Lang was one of the first to bridge this gap and make luxury fashion from super-cheap materials," says Kardamakis.
For his 1995 collection, he designed a tank top made of red nylon mesh.
It is processed diagonally, the shoulders are slit.
“The whole thing cost a maximum of one euro to manufacture,” explains the collector.
“It's super-puristic and reserved - and damn beautiful.” It is this mixture that makes Lang's designs so striking to this day.
6. Better to advertise in an unusual way
After Helmut Lang moved his label from Vienna to New York in early 1998 and his collections were first available in Barney's department store, he placed advertisements on the roofs of New York taxis.
Until then, the moving lightboxes had been the ancestral territory of money houses and Broadway plays.
At the same time, Lang placed ads in National Geographic, a magazine that has as much to do with fashion as Patagonia has with Paris Fashion Week.
"Helmut Lang wanted his brand to be perceived outside of the fashion world," explains Michael Kardamakis.
“His message was: It is really timeless and universal clothing with a fashion subtext that you may or may not care about.” The advertisements themselves were also groundbreaking: the Helmut Lang logo ran across the Side, only in the upper right corner there were two small photos.
7. Digital shows
In April 1998, Helmut Lang presented his runway show live on his own website - at a time when you were still dialing into the Internet via modem and you couldn't even think of smartphones, Instagram and 5G.
"At the time, it was a completely new idea to open your work to the public outside of the fashion community," says Kardamakis.
Today digital presentations are so ubiquitous that many designers are going in the other direction, deleting their Instagram accounts and showing their shows only to a very select group of people, like Bottega Veneta recently.
Helmut Lang told Vogue: “Back then I felt that the internet was growing into something much bigger than you could imagine at the time, so I thought it was the right moment to challenge the habit and present the collection online .
It was a shock for the system, but also the beginning of the new normal. "
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Our podcast THE REAL WORD is about the important big and small questions in life: What do breast selfies have to do with feminism?
How does the long-term relationship stay happy?
And what can you learn from the TV “Bachelorette”?
Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Deezer, iTunes or Google Podcasts or subscribe to us directly via RSS feed.
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