Without Helmut Lang there would be no Céline, no Raf
Without Lang, those Balmain biker jeans your favourite rapper wears would look different. These days, streaming shows online is the norm, sparked by Lang in 1998 when he uploaded images of his shows and gave out CDs. Minimalist branding with clean typography? Maybe Lang can’t take credit for being the first, but there are few in fashion who did it better—Lang paved the way for so much that we take for granted in contemporary fashion.
Helmut Lang’s enduring influence is even more impressive when you consider he last released new clothes 11 years ago. His brand of minimalism meets conceptual design can still be felt, from Kanye West’s Yeezy Season homages to how we consume fashion online.
Even without his input, Helmut Lang the brand lives on. This is due in no small part to the visual blueprint that Lang left behind, so forward-looking that it remains relevant today. The latest Helmut Lang Mens drop mixes sportswear with camo and scuba fabric in bombers and shorts, executed with signature simplicity.
This modernist aesthetic was not a solo effort, Lang regularly called on collaborators from the worlds of art and photography in order to translate his vision. In doing so he influenced not just fashion, but how we advertise and sell it.
Here’s some of Helmut Lang’s most iconic campaigns and collaborators:
Lang’s AW97 campaign (shot by Bruce Weber) became notorious for featuring 86 year-old artist Louise Bourgeois—long before OAPs were common in high-fashion campaigns. As if in contrast with Bourgeois, the campaign also featured a fresh-faced Kirsten Owens. Era-defining in its minimalism, this shot epitomises Lang’s 90s aesthetic.
The most iconic ad Helmut Lang produced was his collaboration with Jenny Holzer for the label’s first fragrance in 2000. Holzer’s brand of text-heavy art fitted perfectly with Lang’s desire to subvert the typical glossiness of fragrance ads. The minimal black text against a white created a narrative that felt far more seductive than any airbrushed model could. The duo would go on to work together on a number of projects, serving as a precursor to Lang’s eventual move into the art world.
Robert Mapplethorpe’s iconic imagery was regularly employed by Lang for campaigns and it was not unusual for shots to have little to do with the clothes. This outlook carried over into where the ads were placed, often appearing in ArtForum or National Geographic rather than traditional fashion magazines.
It was German-born Juergen Teller that got the nod to shoot Lang’s final two campaigns. The pair had been working sporadically together for some years (in 1994, Teller shot a number of off the cuff photos backstage at Lang’s S/S show), and in many ways his parting campaign, with no face to front it, mimicked Lang’s desire for anonymity.