shayne oliver brought sex back to helmut lang
And enlisted some of the brand’s original 90s muses — Kirsten Owen, Missy Rayder, and Danielle Zinaich — to help.
This article was originally published by i-D US.
"Sensuality" was Shayne Oliver's mantra for interpreting Helmut Lang. Stepping into the wildly influential house as designer-in-residence — the first in perhaps a series of many under editor-in-residence Isabella Burley — he looked at what he felt the brand had always done best: sex. Which is, uncoincidentally, something his own brand knew a thing or two about. Hood by Air's final pre-hiatus outing was a greasily sublime collaboration with PornHub, complete with tinted 70s sex-pest glasses, slightly sinister cowboy boots, and Hustler-printed T-shirts.
Backstage, Oliver explained how much he liked Helmut Lang's signature recipe of clean-cut basics spiced with fetishistic experiments. Looking at a mid-90s collection you might get a banging pencil skirt and some good T-shirts but also a pair of silver metallic underpants. Oliver looked at Lang's undergarment heritage in particular and riffed on the idea of underwear as outerwear.
Selena Forrest (a former HBA favorite) opened the show in the first of many bra-related projects, a pair of black underwired cups suspended by a network of straps (a Lang calling card). The fit was purposefully imperfect, setting the tone for a maniacally off-kilter and liberating exploration of what "sensuality" can mean. Later variations of this piece came with cups pulled far to each side or blown up to burlesque proportions. Sophia Lamar wore the littlest incarnation: an "H" for Helmut nipple pasty.
Along with the in-your-face sexy items — see also: a shirt made entirely of restraint-like straps and metal O-rings, and a red leather cod piece — there were some more low-key delights. A mottled blood-red vinyl wraparound coat, for example, a baby pink cross-strap mini dress, a pair of juicily oversized parkas, and HELMUT LANG logo T-shirts. Pieces you could wear on the street and in the dungeon. The shoes, too, came with a good blend of kink and cool: padlocked cowboy boots, simple pointy-toed stilettos, and heeled sandals that rose into curling leather zippered panels that echoed the flattened leather bags (which were shaped something like unfolded ring-binders).
Suiting was also a major note, in clear contrast to some of the collection's lighter moments. A grouping of models stomped through the venue (the shell of the sadly shuttered Pearl River Mart on Broadway) in structured blazers and the trappings of harried professionals: brief cases (though Oliver's were perversely made from transparent Perspex) and newspapers (the headline: HELMUT LANG). Oliver explained that the narrative was inspired loosely by The Bodyguard, and the truth that being strong doesn't mean you never need protection. Those suited models often followed close on the heels of models in more diaphanous looks, like security.
Fittingly, music supervisor Ian Isiah closed out the show with the floor-shaking power of "I Have Nothing," while another 90s icon, original Lang muse Danielle Zinaich, walked the runway in a shimmering sheer graphite gown. It felt like a minimalist Lang take on a knockout Whitney stage look.
While the show was juicy with nostalgia, it was also a celebration of youth. The crowd seemed to be mostly Hood by Air contemporaries who grew up exploring Lang through the Style.com archive (RIP) and Tumblr, rather than fashion folk who actually wore the brand the first time around. Hopefully the collection touched an erogenous zone that will please both teams. (Who wouldn't want to wear one of those Whitney gowns?) Regardless, Oliver's appointment and vision feel true to something Helmut Lang once said: "When you're young, you're fearless and more creative."