THE TAO OF LANG: Bite-Sized Life Guidance from the Austrian Designer

From 1986 to 2005, Helmut Lang systematically deconstructed every assumption about clothing and the way it is worn and communicated. As he himself once said, “I kept all the traditions and shades that were good – and then re-thought it all.” Since his retirement from the industry, his absence from fashion has been felt like a Phantomschmerz. Today, Helmut Lang is responsible for the fluid boundaries of our current landscape. His explorations into utilitarian clothing and the sexual presence of objects opened up an entirely new plane of possibility. His garments predicted the physical and emotional needs of the digital age, transforming the burden of the past into a moveable language. His legacy is so large that it almost cannot be seen.

During our research for the 48-page dossier on THE HELMUT LANG LEGACY for issue #31, we rediscovered another one of Lang’s superpowers: his dazzling wit. It is vacuum sealed in archive interviews with the Austrian designer. What made his designs so striking was a certain sense of integrity – Lang’s clothes were manifestations of a world view. And his commitment to the same took center stage in his interactions with the press. Listen carefully to the wisdom he laced his language with. What Would Helmut Do? Here’s our guide – accompanied by some of our favorite YouTube gems, featuring Tim Blanks’s narration, Helmut Lang fashion philosophy snippets, and some of that infamous show soundtrack magic.

 

RELAX

“I like to hang out in front of the TV and go brain dead. Actually, I don’t feel guilty about it – I kind of like it. And lottery tickets.”

– In conversation with Eve MacSweeny, Arena (2001)

 

FOLLOW YOUR HEART

“I came [to New York] for a weekend, I stayed for two weeks, then I started to go back and forth, and one day I just said, ‘I’m staying.’ And I called Vienna and said, ‘OK, put all the stuff together, and whoever wants to come to America, come over. We’re moving.’”

– In conversation with Eve MacSweeny, Arena (2001)

 

DISCONNECT

“No, I don’t [use the Internet much]. The company uses it a lot, and I log on to eBay for global flea marketing. It makes working life much easier – like the phone or the fax – but I don’t want to take it to an extreme. I don’t have a cellular phone, either. I know about the importance of being connected, but I don’t want to be connected all the time.”

– In conversation with Eve MacSweeny, Arena (2001)

 

DO IT TOMORROW

On the way to his new perfumery, Lang tells a story. A few years ago, after a show in Paris, he returned to his hotel room and lit a candle that model Tatjana Patitz had gifted him, a good luck charm. Exhausted, half asleep, Lang noticed that the room was unnaturally bright, and then, suddenly wide awake, that his bed was aflame. Two pillows and a blanket had caught fire. Lang grabbed the duvet and suffocated the flames. Then he lay back down on the sooted linen sheets and went to sleep, “I thought, I will take care of this in the morning. That’s my attitude.”

– In conversation with Thomas Hüetlin, Der Spiegel (2001)

 

KEEP IT INTERESTING

“Like it is with everything, it was insanely exciting, like a romance, intense at first, impulsive and uncontrollable, you’re ready to give it your all after carefully testing it, and you get hurt for that. Then it starts becoming more ordinary and you have to put a lot of work to preserve all the things that were important at first. It reaches a different emotional level, but it gets almost more interesting, because the shadows become more subtle, but at the same time there are very intense phases.”

– In conversation with Monique Traska, Die Presse (1991)

SAVOR THE NOW
“I’m not really interested in my own or others’ nostalgia. Living right now is really great. My years – or days – in nightclubs are slowing down, but my mind is still the same. There is no better moment to live than now and one step ahead for tomorrow. That’s what is quite modern in life, that attitude. You only live twice: once in the day and once at night, and then every day again.”

– In conversation with Kim Cihlar, Esquire UK (2003) 

 

 

DON’T HOLD BACK

“In the current economic climate, I do feel you have two possibilities. You either get completely commercial, or just do what you want even more. I think it’s much better to be even more courageous than normal and just go for it.”

– In conversation with Charlie Porter, The Guardian (2003)

 

GET REAL

“You can’t be everywhere – unless you busy yourself almost exclusively with trying to live everywhere in the world. It’d actually be great to have a job like that.”

– In conversation with Ulf Poschardt, 032c (2001)

 

FIND YOUR TRIBE

“I’ve always felt quite borderless. I’m more interested in groupings that have to do with familiarities of the mind. I think that fashion, art, and everything else can only work globally. People everywhere are looking for a certain idea – for things to look at, to dress in, to be inspired by.”

– In conversation with Peter Halley, INDEX (2004)

 

BE SOMEBODY

“You have to take a point of view,” he says, pushing away his plate, “even if it’s not the popular one. And this concerns everything – this ability to take a position. How you dress depends on your age and your context and what you want to show and what you want to express, because clothes are a way to pretend to be. Or to define yourself. It’s a language.” Lang smiles. “And you can say the truth, or you can lie.”

– In conversation with Lynn Hirschberg, The New York Times (1997)

 

 

QUESTION EVERYTHING

“I think, with anything in life, I kind of assume it is what it is, unless I have to question it. I mean, a friend is a friend forever, a relation is what it is, a situation is what it is, unless I’m forced to question it, and then I’ll do it. Creatively, it is rather the opposite. I question everything to begin with, and if it still feels comfortable, then I confirm it. If not, I move on.”

– In conversation with Ezra Petronio, Suzanne Koller and Desirée Heiss, Self Service (2003)

 

DECONDITION YOURSELF

“[There] are still things about American culture that seem slightly strange to me, like the way Americans tend to automatically smile madly as soon as a camera is pointed at them. That’s really strange. You come to New York and it already seems familiar to you because of movies and TV and so on, but then suddenly these little things show you how culturally things are different here. Fundamentally, the view here is, ‘You can do and be whatever you want.’ The European view tends to be more, ‘You should be happy for just being alive.’”

– In conversation with Ashley Heath, Arena Homme + (2003)

 

DON’T PLAN AHEAD

“If you really make a strict plan for the future, you exclude so many possibilities along the way. I mean, in 2000, everyone asked me, ‘What do you think is going to happen in the next five years?’ And all the answers were whatever fantasies you could think up, or, somehow, you tried to say something lucid, but nothing could predict what would happen shortly after. I’ve always thought this was pointless. You’re alive, that’s already pretty good to start with, and life is a good gift and you just live it, whatever comes along. And a lot makes sense when you look at it afterwards. There was no plan, and there must be a certain fate to it. That’s how I see that.”

– In conversation with Ezra Petronio, Suzanne Koller and Desirée Heiss, Self Service (2003)

 

EMBRACE INSTABILITY

“I don’t know what you mean by stable.”

– In conversation with Ezra Petronio, Suzanne Koller and Desirée Heiss, Self Service (2003)

 

 

TRY YOUR BEST

It is the last day before the day that Helmut Lang starts his summer holidays. Staff across his numerous Greene Street offices try hard not to break into a sprint while grabbing the last few minutes of his time; the huge wooden eagles that furnish the front of his SoHo store are being hoisted away for a summer, er, spring clean; and Helmut? Helmut is a model of relaxed Euro New Yorker zen. If things don’t get finished, then, heh, he’s tried his very best this week. Now there’s a beach front home on Long Island waiting just a couple of hours’ drive away. And the phone number’s certainly not listed in the directory.

– Ashley Heath, Arena Homme + (2003)

 

LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE

“Fashion is an expression and a reaction. It’s a reflection, and even a proposal, on the current situation of our society. In line with this, whatever side steps you take should have some humor and some element of provocation. This work should contain some ideas that will eventually grow in the future, and some will just go off like fireworks – that explode and glimmer briefly, and then fade. Hopefully, the consistency of the work over the years adds up to an interesting story. Depending on how strong you are, that story can be long or short.”

– In conversation with Peter Halley, INDEX (2004)