The Zeitgeist, Bottled: Vogue’s Sally Singer on a 2000 Launch of Helmut Lang’s Fragrances

March 22, 2016 - fall Denim

This essay creatively seemed in a May 2000 emanate of Vogue, it has been edited and precipitated for a Web.

Backstage during a Helmut Lang tumble 2000 show, a conform situation—not to be confused with a conform moment—has arisen. The world’s hottest garments hanger, also famous as Gisele Bündchen, has motionless not to join Stephanie Seymour, Claudia Schiffer, Tatjana Patitz, Cecilia Chancellor, and the other pleasing somebodies fabricated on Pier 94 of west Manhattan, on a runway. Helmut has postulated a amiable Brazilian customarily one exit, i.e., catwalk outing—and she and her unkindness of handlers (does anyone strap some-more or shrill louder than a luminary coadjutor holding sympathetic offense?) have taken displeasure and motionless to exit in a required sense.

Helmut—who, according to Simon Doonan of Barneys, “casts his shows like a Fassbinder movie”—is unmoved. When Kate Moss was a hottest indication in town, he done a indicate of regulating her customarily once per show, too. To circle out a tip lady some-more mostly would have seemed too many like going with a cheesy flow—and Helmut hates a cheesy flow. Which creates a following attempt all a some-more mysterious: Appearing on a show’s broadside sheet, along with a names of a parties obliged for hair, makeup, and music, are smell credits (for women, Helmut Lang Parfum; for men, Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne). How, observers wonder, could this idol of serious individualism have stooped to a industry’s many pure blurb ploy plugging an aroma that nobody can indeed sniff? Does a czar have no nose?

This doubt becomes all a some-more forked this month, as Helmut Lang launches a aforeplugged perfumes on, of all places, a Internet. It’s constant that PCs have come a prolonged way, yet a scratch-’n’-sniff pier has nonetheless to be invented. So since sell smell that can’t be smelled? The answer, of course, is that a launch of Helmut Lang perfumes is, among other things, a launch about a launch. It pushes to a judicious impassioned a element that expenditure is driven by code awareness—in this case, “Helmut Lang”—rather than by product awareness. As Richard Gluckman, a engineer behind Lang’s stores and residences, observes, “The Internet launch is during one mislay from a experimental experience.” In other words, we are invited to take leave of your senses, literally.

This isn’t a initial time that Lang has tested a expectations of a open and a industry. He was a initial engineer to transplant a conform residence from Europe to America, in early 1998; once here, he became a initial engineer of note not to attend in a New York collections but, rather, to uncover his work on CD-ROMs and on a Net, thereby serious a notoriously technophobic attention to get with it. Then, in summer 1998, he motionless to theatre his open ’99 collection in allege of a European shows, a breathtakingly confidant pierce that triggered a frenzy of rescheduling by other, distant some-more determined New York designers (Calvin Klein, et al) that left a inviolate conform calendar looking as unsettled as, well, a span of Helmut Lang unsettled jeans.

Ah, a jeans. Was there ever a cheekier act of conform brinkmanship than charging engineer prices for paint-spattered, dirt-colored denims? And yet, as ever, a attention stumbled gratefully in his wake. Lang’s crony Kim Stringer, conform executive of Japanese Vogue, says that on a Tokyo Sunday she contingency have seen 20 or 30 pairs of these faux-Pollock numbers walking around. “I indeed usually bought a span myself,” she owns adult apologetically. “What can we say? They’re a right length, right color, and a blemish of bullion is in a right place. It’s unequivocally elegant.”

The czar competence have unwashed clothes, yet wherever he goes, conform folk follow. Just try squeezing into Lang’s shoe box of a boutique in Milan during collections week. Drawn by a dollar-friendly prices and initial dibs on a new season, Helmut Lang wardrobe is done in Italy—a shirk of fashionistas creates for a Via Sant’Andrea approach from Malpensa Airport and, fighting jet lag, melatonin withdrawal, and one another, shop. A seen-it-all editor in arch happily announces that a hot-pink T-shirt with extralong sleeves creates him “feel like an aristocrat”; a super- glamorous Prada-clad editor scoops dual suits and a coupler and declares that they’re her “whole work wardrobe” for a season. Men and women who have entrance to each mantle in a universe are going crazy for sweatshirts and jeans and dark khaki suits. Only once they have slaked their lust for Lang do they cranky a travel to Prada. Perhaps it was a philharmonic of this bolt that finally stirred Patrizio Bertelli, conduct of Prada and father of Miuccia, to buy a infancy seductiveness in Helmut Lang in 1999. For Miuccia Prada, Lang’s pattern sensibility is all about false ease: “He has elegance, and when he is during his best a unequivocally specific fact gives an corner in a unequivocally elementary way,” she says.

Fashion professionals adore Lang’s clothes—“They’re my uniform in life,” swoons Cecilia Chancellor—for their anonymous, worn-in, deliciously world-weary beauty and functionality. “His garments concede one’s celebrity to come through,” says Stephanie Seymour, “and nonetheless are strange and have a graphic style.” Narrow cashmere crombie coats come with swinging straps that double—make that triple—as belts and cloak hooks and rucksack-type straps; straight-cut trousers lay low on a waist and are slight and lengthening and never, ever adhere to one’s unlawful posterior; parkas with shearling hoods seem both sporty and angelic; and organza pouf dresses, in low emeralds and amethysts, are conventionally flattering nonetheless greatly modern. The artist Jenny Holzer—Helmut Lang also binds good seductiveness in a art world—describes his demeanour as “functional, effective, minimalist, and easily nude down. His suits have all a essential elements, and afterwards there’s something better, or worse, about them than there would be otherwise.” In short, Helmut Lang creates meaningful wardrobe for those in a know. “Everything about him is sly and for a cognoscenti,” says Doonan. The lady on a travel competence admire an attractively worn-out span of leather motorcycle trousers, yet she’d never theory their maker’s name.

“It’s a conflicting of logomania,” explains Lang. “We mount for something unequivocally conflicting and modern, yet normal and good made, as well—something that usually feels right. Our clients rest on us; they know that when we put something out it’s been suspicion about carefully.” Lang is a handsome, long-haired male in his 40s who works in a black-and-white bureau staffed by appealing immature people wearing a black trousers and white shirt adored by their boss. The outcome is not one of fabulousness yet of a grooviest entertainment of architects one could imagine. What’s underneath construction is a vaporous cathedral that is a Helmut Lang brand, and a stream spire climbing into a sky is a new line of perfumes.

Chlo Sevigny
Chlo Sevigny

“Well dressed and good neat is a opinion of a time,” says a designer. (And fantastically sexy, one competence add.) Red cashmere and silk turtleneck and skirt, and boot; Helmut Lang. Photographed by Annie Leibovitz. Fashion Editor: Editor: Elisa Santisi. Hair, Sally Hershberger for Sheer Blonde; makeup, Denise Markey for Club Monaco Cosmetics.

Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, May 2000

Lang was initial alerted to “how many we are surrounded by smells, and how critical scents are to all cultures” during a Florence Fashion and Art Biennale 3 years ago, when he combined an aroma aromatic of sweat, starch, and skin to accompany Jenny Holzer’s insinuate account of adore left bad. From this frowzy partnership sprang a intense seductiveness in a possibilities of incense and a partnership with Procter Gamble. The formula are surprising. His crony and redolence guinea pig, a photographer Elfie Semotan, says that “people conflict unequivocally strongly” to a new perfume, that they “think it’s stimulating, interesting, erotic.” To smell of Helmut Lang is, for a woman, to wear a smell that is old-fashioned, vaguely Parisian, and—as Lang says—“quite voluptuous. It’s a smell that is not on a marketplace during a moment.” Indeed, Helmut Lang Parfum has zero of a grapefruitiness or grassiness of many of a competitors. Helmut Lang Eau de redolence (pour homme), that is proudly husky by a eponym, also “doesn’t exist during a moment” and sits “on a equivocal of aftershave.” Lang sees these scents as “the commencement of a redolence tradition”; he will, in a entrance months, open a Gluckman-designed perfumery in SoHo to sell his things in a non-cyber surrounding. A department-store boutique will follow, yet a normal sell marketplace will sojourn utterly selective: “It is not a mainstream blurb product,” Lang says. “I consider it should rise solemnly in a approach that aged perfumes did.” He is quite unapproachable of a packaging—a complicated molded-glass bottle with a European weightiness that is infrequently contemporary. “Being modern,” Helmut Lang theorizes, “is about a right brew of things—certain elements have to be traditional, certain things have to be new. It does not meant carrying no roots during all.”

Lang’s possess roots are famously unpropitious. He was brought adult by his grandparents in a remote Alpine encampment (think Heidi, edelweiss, yodeling), complicated business in Vienna, and took adult pattern with no genuine training. By a mid-eighties, he was display in Paris and injecting Austrian ich weiss nicht was—lederhosen, horn buttons, marriage lodens—into silhouettes that were severe, minimalist, and during a time fashionable in their minimalism. Linda Dresner, a Park Avenue and Birmingham, Michigan, boutique owner, remembers Lang’s entrance collection in 1986 for a “oversize string shirts and some arrange of lederhosen. There was some out-of-date spin that captivated me to a clothes.” Christian Lacroix recalls “very elegant, unequivocally couture clothes. A pointy geometry was already during work, unequivocally neat and abstract.” Jenny Capitain, a German conform editor who helped Lang with his initial Parisian shows, says, “In a beginning, he had dual Viennese pattern-makers and Austrian fabrics. The peculiarity was amazing.”

The Tyrolian dimension faded out after a few seasons; these days, Austria is represented in Lang’s work by aged pals from Vienna who continue to indication his leek, seductive suits even yet they have jobs as physicians and attorneys. But a peculiarity of a clothing, and a artistry of a alloy of a classical and a antic, is undiminished. Consider, for example, Lang’s take on a stream lust for all things ostentatious. Whereas other designers are charity changed furs and lots of bullion accessories subsequent fall, Lang gives us ragged, furious shearlings in a golden-honey tone that leave a container distant behind in terms of complicated oppulance and glamour. He creates a cocktail dress in dark carnation-pink organza that trails 4 strips of cloth like celebration streamers, and it looks grand, not girlie. He places a plume on a high heel, and it looks bold, not fragile. “Last season, things were already starting to be unequivocally polished,” Lang says. “Part of a opinion of a time is that we have a event to be unequivocally good dressed and good groomed. After a whole sportswear thing, it usually feels unequivocally right again.” His feel for what’s unequivocally right is desirous and inspiring: Lang has always been an successful countercurrent in a mainstream of style. In a eighties he introduced a wording of dressing—downbeat tailored suiting, inventive low-key layering (of ideal tanks, tees, and dresses), technofabrics for bland (and easy evenings)—that came to conclude a nineties. And if we wish to snippet a roots of this year’s “lady” look, usually remember his knee-length silk-feather cloak with relating dress in glow pinkish from open ’98. “I consider he’s a good stylist,” says a engineer Kostas Murkudis, who assisted Lang from 1985 to 1992. “When we see a motorcycle things or a NASA things”—space suits for tumble ’99—“you know he’s picked adult on a right garments during a right time and given them a new spin.”

This talent for spin manifests itself in Lang’s offered strategy, which, even after a sale to Prada, is wholly his possess and follows his counterintuitive clarity of what’s suitable for his brand. This customarily means not doing anything so apparent as display a product as such. When he wanted to launch “a denim line with edge,” his ad debate was limited to Robert Mapplethorpe photographs that gimlet no snippet of his jeans. His cab ads admitted “Helmut Lang” with a postage-stamp mop shot or dual of his Austrian indication friends. (The new cab campaign—to be run on a thousand cabs—dispenses wholly with pictures.) For his accessories line, he places a sketch of a disorderly raise of his leafy bags—think fox in a duck coop—in, provocatively enough, National Geographic (“the printed homogeneous of a Internet. All conflicting kinds of people review it, and nobody throws it out”). Lang is not indeed perplexing to strech a masses, however. He’s doing what tickles his fancy—and, in his sincere populism and egalitarianism, doing that cold thing that involves avoiding a recognizably cool. It’s a terrifyingly assured plan that reveals an stern self-belief. “When it’s a clever code name,” he says, explaining a Internet launch of his perfumes, “you buy it and we try it.”

Lang’s certainty about a value of his name has authorised him to leave his corporate autonomy though losing assent of mind. Even after Prada’s catastrophic descending out with Jil Sander, Lang is unfazed about being in partnership with a Italian megacorporation. “After we changed to New York, we had to make a preference to go to a subsequent critical level,” he says. “I always wanted a partner to take caring of a business side—my essence was not trustworthy to it. Merging with Prada was an acknowledgment that they know how to do it and on that spin of peculiarity it has to be performed.” With Patrizio Bertelli’s expertise and capital, new Helmut Lang boutiques are now on Gluckman’s sketch play for London, Los Angeles, Paris, and several cities in a Far East; and a Milan store will shortly pierce to a some-more sweeping location. In further to a perfumerie, Lang skeleton to open a tiny made-to-measure salon in SoHo from that he will pattern one-off looks and customize ready-to-wear pieces for a ideal fit. This venture—the conflicting of his unbiased Internet exploits—promises to be an ideal opening for his talent for complicated tailoring: “It has zero to do with couture,” Lang says, “which to me is old-fashioned. Luxury has been tangible differently in each decade. It’s time to conclude it anew.”

Housewares also distortion in a future—“something unequivocally clever and unequivocally high quality; it’s still good to have handwoven linen”—but for now a genuine advantage of a Prada sale is a respirating space it affords a designer. “The final 4 or 5 years were unequivocally crazy,” Lang says. “Now we combine on a artistic stuff, and that gives me adequate room for life.” In his mind, creativity and a low-key existence go palm in hand: “You have to know what’s going on in life to emanate fashion. You have to have a normal life.”

Normal life, these days, involves a loft in downtown New York and a $15 million skill in East Hampton that he snatched from underneath a nose of Jerry Seinfeld. You won’t see print spreads of these places in any magazine, since Helmut Lang likes to keep his private life private: “I’m not from this aged propagandize of designers. Basically, if we concede everything, you’re always on a compelling tour.” Lang prefers a association of a constant and long-standing set of friends with whom he can eat McDonald’s Quarter Pounders—“maybe 3 times a week,” according to his Viennese internist-friend and indication Wolfgang Ruisz—and debate a Chelsea flea markets in hunt of aged books about portrayal and botany. It seems that after his peripatetic European years, when he divided his time between Vienna and Paris, Lang has staid down. Certainly, a seductiveness of Austria hasn’t been increasing by a country’s new spin to a far, distant right. “What is there to say?” he mutters despairingly when a theme of Jörg Haider is raised.

However many his day-to-day life is now secure in a U.S., Helmut Lang’s clarity and sensibility will never be deracinated from Mitteleuropa. “He has a Austrian robe of being unequivocally discreet about everything,” says Ruisz. “He wants all about his garments to work.” More mystically, it is maybe Lang’s hereditary clarity of Central European unhappy and anonymity—think Kafka, consider Musil—that enables him to evolve, with a alone prescience, a code though borders that resonates so mysteriously yet authentically with a winding conform world. Helmut Lang can sell redolence that nobody can representation for a elementary reason that what he’s unequivocally offered is a Zeitgeist in a bottle. He’s means to do this since his supporters know that not customarily is this czar wearing clothes, yet damn excellent ones during that. “I met Helmut 10 years ago,” Kim Stringer recalls, “and he told me afterwards that we have to be unequivocally clever about what we put your name to. You have to trust in it. You can’t usually put a napkin out with your name on it, since your name—your brand—is all we have.”


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