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Shayne Oliver Reinvents Helmut Lang

By Morgan Kendall

Helmut Lang was -the- ubiquitous 90s fashion label behind some of the industry’s most replicated and versatile women’s fashion techniques: elegant silhouettes, sharp lines, and fixed tailoring with a nuanced palette of black and white, celebrating the peak of minimalist fashion. From its beginnings in 1986, the brand continuously managed to distort the lines between art and fashion in a way that no other designer has been able to, and so effortlessly. The designs had a cult appeal that conceived modern fashion; ironic modesty and industrial aspects underscored by a subtle sensuality that exuded confidence and empowerment in the modern-day woman.

Lang made choices that were daring within his time. Presenting men-and-women’s wear simultaneously, referencing military garb and silhouettes in streetwear, and adorning his diverse cast of models in fetish wear. The influence of his intrepid regard remains omnipresent, and his vigor and disposition permeate the industry, with the industry’s top designers openly praising his work and sourcing inspiration for their current collections.

Yet, Helmut Lang’s reign ended in 2005, as he sold his share of the brand to Prada (who then owned the label), and shuttered himself off from the fashion world in his opulent seafront mansion in East Hampton. Then in 2006, Helmut Lang became part of Theory Inc., whose Chief Executive, Andrew Rosen, rehauled the brand. At the helm of the creative team were longtime Helmut Lang design duo Michael and Nicole Colovos, but with the changing of hands and business partnerships, the brand wasn’t able  to recapture the original spirit and pervasiveness of Lang’s influence. Ultimately, the Colovos’ left the brand, and Rosen took on Isabella Burley, editor-in-chief of Dazed Magazine, whose mission was to find a designer that would honor Helmut Lang’s contemporary fashion sense, ageless tailoring, and androgynous silhouettes-  a designer who had the innate ability to marry Lang’s iconic vision with innovation and modernity.

Advertising campaigns by Robert Mapplethorpe, Juergen Teller and Bruce Weber

And that seems to be Shayne Oliver’s modus operandi. Oliver’s work goes beyond clothing; it’s about diffusing culture and politics. In his defunct (or “on hiatus”) label, Hood by Air, Oliver’s use of the 90s aesthetic mirrors the emerging trends of that time. The S/S 18 collection is Oliver’s first foray with the brand. Oliver’s interpretation, though overtly sexually charged, is a love letter to the effortless cool of Lang’s legacy, as well an homage to Hood By Air’s millennial-inspired and gritty, controversial streetwear. Most profound was the influence of fetishism: the disruptive marker during Lang’s career is now prominent in today’s fashion culture. Oliver’s decision to focus on Helmut’s fascination with fetishism brought that tantalizing energy back to the brand- one that was neglected since his departure. And it’s no surprise to see the opulent and chaotic nature of his work seep into the designs:there are notable parallels between Oliver and Lang, making this appointment seem more like reincarnation.

Helmut Lang’s millennial resurrection came with a notable cast of models: Lang’s 90s catwalk icons – Kristen Owen, Danielle Zinaich and Missy Rayder- were seen sharing the runway alongside felon model Mekhi Alante Lucky and nightlife queen Sophia Lamar. His diverse cast of  male, female and transgendered models walked together, conveying a sense of sex appeal evading the conventional male gaze.  Oliver masterfully referenced Helmut Lang’s erotically-charged and revered minimalist past. Deconstructed suits, latex, bondage straps, and heavy chains and bra-shaped satchels were the main aesthetic, giving the collection an edgy-erotic sensual vibe. Oliver’s transgressive image is an ode to Helmut’s darker side; elements that were once subtly referenced have now become the focal point, a radical concept without compromise.