In 2005, Austrian designer Helmut Lang resigned as creative director of his namesake label to focus on his new career as a fine artist. A few years later, he donated a large volume of his fashion archive to museums worldwide. MoMu was very pleased to welcome this enigmatic evening dress that is at once typical and – very – atypical to Helmut Lang’s signature aesthetic.
Lang’s timelessness designs were his minimalistic response to the glamour of 1980s fashion. He dismissed the idea of using the past for inspiration or like journalist Lynn Hirschberg noted: ‘while other designers dash from decade to decade for inspiration, doing warmed-over revisions of fashion’s past, Lang has remained, rather stubbornly and brilliantly, modern’. Lang’s creations were indeed modern and in no obvious way affected by images of the past. He designed according to the principle he coined his ‘non-referential view of fashion’. All the above make the evening gown in our collection especially intriguing as it very atypically references the past.
The intricate silk pleating reminds of Ancient Greek statues and echoes the work of French couturiers such as Madeleine Vionnet and Mme Grès. Rippling over the wearer’s body, the cascading silk pleating resembles the smoothness of marble. The lightness of the silken waves is on both sides confronted with peplum fringes of coarse horsehair. In the 19th century, horsehair was used to create volume in a woman’s underskirt. Lang similarly used it to create volume, but instead of tucking it away as an underskirt, he turned it into a decorative feature. Lang’s reference to historical styles may be undeniable for this particular design, yet Lang’s way of “looking back” to Ancient History is of no nostalgic or sentimental nature. Lang does not “reference” but rather borrows a certain kind of antique elegance, which reminds of French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky who rightly noted that ‘our borrowings no longer have a fixed origin: they are taken from myriad sources’.
Less atypical to his signature aesthetic are the dress’ veiling layers of silk pleating, interrupted by large transparent areas baring the skin. An important element in many of Lang’s designs is precisely this idea of framing nakedness by turning the skin into a crucial component of a design. The dress shows Lang’s subtle way of blending modern fetishism with ancient beauty, making it a perfect and important addition to our collection.