Helmut Lang‘s first time editor in residence has launched a Re-Edition collection of archival pieces by Lang himself, the Austrian autodidact who left his eponymous label in 2005 and in absentia has become the most influential designer of this decade. Burley is producing a yearlong artist series inspired by the collaborations Lang had with the likes of Jenny Holzer and Louise Bourgeois. And, most notably, she’s hired Hood by Air’s Shayne Oliver as the label’s designer in residence.
The last time Oliver put on a show in New York, for Spring 2017, he partnered with PornHub, slicked back models’ hair with “love juice,” and otherwise subverted the runway order. During its nearly three-year stint, HBA’s shows were always good theater, and its absence from the New York calendar last season was much lamented. Tonight, hundreds of people crowded the sidewalk outside the old Pearl River Mart on lower Broadway to see Oliver’s debut. Would it be Langian? Oliverian? Would chaos ensue?
The relaunch comes at a charged time. Thanks to the cyclic quality of fashion, Lang is much referenced by today’s designers, and the reinterpretations of his work have served to make the originals more valued. “It’s really important for Helmut Lang to be an authority on Helmut Lang again,” Burley said earlier this summer. The crowd at Pearl River was weighted toward her and Oliver’s generation, but there were plenty of others whose recollections of Lang shows past are still sharp. Opinions about this show are likely to divide along those lines.
Helmut is beloved for his minimalism, for making luxury items out of everyday staples, for a unisex approach to dressing, and for his fetishy streak. You can guess which aspect Oliver was interested in. Yes, there was some attractive streamlined tailoring, and yes, again, there was a swanky black parka, and a baby pink one, as well. But what there was in abundance was kink: asymmetric bras and daring peekaboo harnesses, rear-less pants suspended from the waistband like garters, leather codpieces, and strappy BDSM gear. Girls and boys both carried or wore patent bags that unzipped to create old-fashioned, hugely oversized brassieres.
“What I liked the most was that [Lang made] staples, sort of just things you needed. And everything else was built on some sort of fetishistic idea,” Oliver said afterwards. “That’s the only thing I brought back. I just wanted to bring back the vibe of sensuality.” He said he sees it as a reprieve from our politicized moment. Life is a Cabaret. Did it get messy by Lang standards? You better believe it. That was the takeaway: Oliver’s irrepressibility.
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