In the 1990s and early ‘00s, Helmut Lang was one of fashion’s trailblazers, disrupting the industry with his sharp, minimal designs that carried an air of intellectualism and a quiet sense of rule-breaking. It’s thanks to Lang and his moving of the date of his eponymous label’s Spring 1999 show that New York Fashion Week went from being at the back end of the seasonal schedule to the very beginning, and it’s thanks to him that one of the most prominent places to advertise fashion in the early ‘00s became the top of New York’s iconic yellow taxis.
In 2005 we saw a shift. The Austrian designer left his namesake label after almost two decades at the helm to concentrate on his artwork, leaving the brand to go through various ownerships and fall short of that originality and uniqueness that he had brought to the label.
This is all about to change. In March 2017, it was announced that CEO Andrew Rosen had appointed Isabella Burley as Helmut Lang’s ‘editor-in-residence’; the label moving away from the traditional structure and instead mimicking that of a magazine, with an ‘editor’ at the centre of the brand rather than a creative director. This was the start of the regeneration of Helmut Lang. Once again it was going in the opposite direction of the rest of the fashion industry, and with the current conveyor belt of big name designers moving between creative director roles, it may not be long before other brands start to follow suit.
Burley, the 26-year-old editor in chief of Dazed magazine, has been brought in to bring her “editorial eye and network of creative talent to influence all departments of the company,” according to a statement from the brand. Judging by Helmut Lang’s website, social media and entire digital overhaul which was launched on 25 July, alongside a new campaign shot by Ethan James Green, Burley has already lived up to that promise.
She’s taken Helmut Lang back to its roots, working with a whole host of different creatives just as Lang did 20 years previously. The campaign features images of Alex Wek, Traci Lords, Nicky Rat and more in that signature black-and-white, back-to-basics minimal aesthetic that Lang is famous for, while the original logo has been restored – all celebrating what made Helmut Lang Helmut Lang all those years ago.
Burley has also introduced three additional projects to the brand; the first is Seen By: The Artist Series, working with twelve artists (one a month over the course of a year) to create limited-edition products; the second, Helmut Lang Re-Edition, is a reproduction of some of the brand’s most iconic pieces from deep within the archives; and the third is a designer residency program, with contemporary designers creating collections inspired by the brand’s legacy. The first designer to take on the task is Hood By Air’s Shayne Oliver with a Spring 2018 and pre-spring collection, who, like Burley, will undoubtedly bring a whole new energy to Helmut Lang.