Welcome to the New Helmut Lang

The iconic brand has been rebooted, but will this new strategy restore the house to its minimalist throne?

At 9:00 this morning (EST) Helmut Lang was rebooted. The brand, which, for all intents and purposes, had been flapping in the wind since creative directors Nicole and Michael Colovos departed in 2014, slowly began to make waves in January when it released a capsule collection with rapper Travis Scott. Then, in March came the announcement that Dazed & Confused editor-in-chief Isabella Burley had been tapped by the company’s chief executive, Andrew Rosen (who is also the CEO of Theory), to become the brand’s first ever “editor-in-residence,” and her first move was to tap HBA’s Shayne Oliver as a designer in residence. He will create a capsule collection, set to debut on September 11 during New York fashion week. 

Since then, it’s pretty much been radio silence. But recently, the Helmut Lang Instagram account was wiped. And last night, cryptic posts began to pop up, like, “The only COMPANY that cares for YOU,” and “IMPRESS YOUR PARENTS Wear Helmut Lang.” Then, bam! 9:00 am—new campaign, new social media presence, new Website, new millennial-friendly everything. 

And that’s kind of the point. In an interview with Vogue’s Nicole Phelps, Burley noted, “It’s really important for Helmut Lang to be an authority on Helmut Lang again. For us to take ownership and say this was done by the brand first, telling that story to a new generation is exciting to me.” Indeed, the latest generation of fashion obsessives, those who can’t get enough of the likes of Vetements or Virgil Abloh, might not realize that Helmut Lang was not always a contemporary brand that catered to downtown kids looking for an accessible edgy fix. They might not realize that Lang, who has since abandoned fashion for conceptual art, was a pioneer of the deconstructed ’90s minimalism that is so popular on the runway today, or that, as firstVIEW’s Don Ashby pointed out, the designer is the reason that runway shows are no longer held on raised platforms. They perhaps don’t know that all the gritty anti-fashion that is once again all the rage was born from Lang’s loins. And, like Paul Andrew is doing at Ferragamo, it’s essential to remind consumers that Hey! These homages are nice and all, but we did this first, this is our brand, and this is what we stand for

To Burley’s credit, she (along with the women’s atelier and design team, led by Selina Elkuch, and the men’s design team and creative department) has, thus far, done a bang-up job of uniting the Helmut Lang’s past with its impending future. For starters, the original logo has been reinstated, and a Helmut Lang Re-Edition Series, which will see batches of iconic archive pieces rereleased every four months, is coming soon, with this first selection hitting stores in September. That’s very clever, given the escalating demand for vintage Helmut Lang

But there’s a bunch of other stuff too, like a new campaign, lensed by Ethan James Green, which features a fascinating cast of characters including Shayne Oliver, Alek Wek (supermodel, activist, and an original Helmut Lang muse), Instagram star Yoshi, I Love Dick author Kris Kraus, nine-year-old Mari Copeny, a.k.a. Little Miss Flint, and actress Traci Lords, among others. And then there’s the Artist Series, for which 12 visual artists including Walter Pfeiffer and Martine Syms will re-contextualize “cult artworks as limited-edition posters, t-shirts, and special projects.” A different artist will debut his or her work each month. And then, of course, there’s the design residency, which, as I mentioned earlier, will kick off with Shayne Oliver. 

It’s all very cool, very now, and very collaborative, and the approach unites a number of creative disciplines under the Helmut Lang name. It could be just the ticket for making the brand wildly relevant again. But this approach also runs the risk of making Helmut Lang blend in. There’s a lot happening with this relaunch, and it echoes what Gucci and so many other brands are doing with hoards of collabs and capsules and creative projects. With so many different components, it’s just as easy for one’s brand identity to get lost in the void as it is for it to be pushed to the foreground. Yes, it’s important to remind everyone how completely epic Helmut Lang is, and of the brand’s role in influencing modern fashion as we know it, but the designer was known for minimalism, after all, and it might be wise to channel a bit of that in this new chapter—not only in the clothes, but in the business practices, too. 

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