At the FROW of every New York Fashion Week show until last night’s capsule collection of Shayne Oliver (formerly of Hood By Air) for Helmut Lang, people were making predictions about how Oliver would revitalize the brand. However, there was some worry that Oliver might just do for Helmut Lang what he was doing at Hood By Air, which was luxe unisex street wear with distinctive silhouettes. But is that really such a bad thing?
My first luxury purse purchase was a Helmut Lang, and I liked it because of its sleekness in contrast to the ostentatious Fendi bags (popularized by Sex and the City around the same time). To an observer, you couldn’t tell it was Helmut Lang unless you opened the purse and examined the tag. This appeal of secret coolness spoke to the fashion elitist in me. No one has to know—I know.
Fashion works best when it cracks a joke that only some get. Oliver, at Hood By Air, was able to tap into that notion of androgynous grit that hit a note with the cult of fashion-obsessed for two reasons. The first hinges on the cultural zeitgeist of resistance against gender oppression. In other words, for people who live beyond the confines of gender, dressing in unisex clothing appeals. Androgynous dressing also benefits the labels, who double their market with a single collection. Oliver picked up on this early on with Hood By Air, akin to Lang, who used the same principle in the Helmut Lang of the 1990s.
So, did Oliver deliver at his September 11, SS18 show for Helmut Lang? Indeed, the hype was met with a love letter to Helmut Lang, a revamping of classic cool that was at once true to the Lang legacy and vibrated with a millennial charge.
Deconstructed suits, along with bras and pasties, gave the collection a sensual vibe. However, as men, women, and transgender models walked together, Oliver defined sensuality outside of the traditional male gaze. Models included Kristen Owen and Missy Rayder who walked for Helmut Lang in the ’90s, alongside nightlife queen, Sophia Lamar. Inclusivity, one of fashion’s most powerful touchstones right now, reigned supreme.
There were shades of Hood By Air’s long draping, especially in looks that included a cape or puffer look. Most palpable was the power of fetish that was taboo in Lang’s time, but today feels like part of mainstream vocabulary. After the show, Oliver told reporters, the collection marked a “relevance to real lives, fetish ideas, school uniform gestures, but most of all sensuality.” And there you have it.