Magazine article Artforum International

Langfroid

Magazine article Artforum International

Langfroid

Article excerpt

Rigor and economy of cut, a marked absence of artifice, the clash of high-tech and traditional fabrics. Helmut Lang's deceptively simple designs lend even the most basic garment a subversive edge. Yet while his use of high-tech materials has been much discussed, the frisson of his interventions has less to do with the techno-club futurism reflected in recent collections by Jean Colonna, Katherine Hamnett, Martin Sitbon, Rifat Ozbek, and Walter von Beirendonck than with his wholly sartorial solutions. Lang's fashions remain autoreferential; he is concerned first and foremost with the formal properties of clothing - cut, material, and color. In this sense, he remains a classicist even as he transforms our preconceptions as to what is appealing or glamorous.

Austrian-born, Lang began his design career at age 18 in the milleu of the Viennese art world, which until then had nowhere to shop. In 1986, he was the lone fashion representative to "Vienne 1880-1939: L'Apocalypse Joyeuse," an exhibition at the Pompidou that traced the history of Viennese Modernism in art, architecture, and design. Highlighting a profoundly Viennese sensibility, the brutally simple designs he presented in the show (his Paris debut) contrasted starkly with the highly ornamental clothing that dominated '80s fashion. The press, which labeled his work austere and accused him of intellectualism, was quick to identify him as an epigone of minimalist Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. A half-dozen years later, he was just as eagerly aligned with the new wave of deconstruction and antiglamour epitomized by designer Martin Margiela. Ironically, today press accounts are crediting him with spearheading the "new glamour" and "postgrunge" elegance, a role he emphatically rejects.

Lang, however, belongs to no movement. His paradoxical modernism is most at home in the seemingly unchanging Vienna, far from the center of the fashion world, a city he refuses to leave. And yet, as with numerous Viennese figures (from Robert Musil to Thomas Bernhard), he maintains an uneasy distance from a society he sees as irremediably conformist and superficial. it is as N he wished to combat what is derisory about fashion with fashion itself. indeed, in Lang's vision, a respect for sartorial convention meets a decidedly keen sense of the zeitgeist. He is reverent toward cheap fabrics but renders sophisticated ones if we were speaking the same language. They moved the discussion of what we were doing beyond the fashion scene into youth culture and made the connection between the underground and the establishment. At the time a whole generation - David Sims, Glen Luchford, Juergen Teller, Melanie Ward, Venetia Scott, and the girl of the '90s, Kate Moss - was finding its way in London, and I'm happy I was a part of that. OZ: Your work seems to have a certain Viennese outlook - sharp, abstract. Does the minimalist aspect of your work originate in the early-20th-century Viennese avant-garde? HL: You can't say I came out of early-20th-century Viennese Modernism. I wasn't even born until after World War II. Certainly historically speaking there's an energy in Vienna that is different from Paris, London, or the rest of Europe (though I think this is less true today) that affects the creative process. The Viennese are, on the one hand, very complex, very particular, and on the other hand there is something arch about their manner. It's hardly lighthearted. But ultimately my work is not referential; it's not about the past or the future. It's about today. OZ: Are you inspired by the energy of club culture? What about technoculture? Is there a connection between techno music and the way you use technology in fabrics? HL: Not as direct a connection as the fashion magazines would have you believe. Nothing else has moved so quickly into the 90s as music and technology. But my use of high-tech fabrics hasn't been directly influenced by techno music. Techno is a new language for music, and I am looking for a new language for fashion, but the use of fabrics in unexpected contexts has always been part of the way I work; I have always used new fabrics along with traditional ones to broaden the language. …

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