Helmut Lang was hectic and hair-raising under Shayne Oliver's direction this season, wrestling the brand's 31-year-old DNA with Hood By Air's queer, twisted fist. The timing of their partnership was arguably dire and tremendously effective--Helmut's long been struggling with sales and slashing stores, while Oliver remains one of today's most powerful industry provocateurs. And his impact was significant for spring '18, from the overwhelming production to the sexy, S&M silhouettes.
Oliver was brought on board through Helmut's editor-in-residence program, the brainchild of New York agency Black Frame's Brian Phillips. This first relaunch saw 26-year-old Dazed Editor-in-Chief Isabella Burley taking the reigns, and approaching the development of a collection with the same editorial eye used to create a magazine. Naturally, Burley infused the outsider voice of Dazed with Helmut's new era, rallying HBA's original creative crew, from consultant Ian Isiah to casting director Walter Pearce and stylist Akeem Smith.
The production was a strong sensory experience, with stacks of speakers posted throughout the Soho space and a centerpiece of arena-sized lighting. Where most runways offer a traditional narrative arc--the alluring introduction, energetic middle and dramatic resolve--Helmut's was scattered and haphazard, with a screaming, sporadic soundtrack and lights that flashed, dimmed and dropped at their own discretion. This all set a tone for Helmut's subversive lineup and an unsettling pace for models (cast by Midland Agency), who hastily walked like they were catching a departing train.
Helmut's collection was largely black-and-white, which has beeen a defining characteristic of the minimalist brand since its 1986 launch. Through Oliver's distorted lens, however, black meant aggressive leather and white clear lucite--two key elements that supported his fetishistic exploration for spring. Men in bras worn under trim suits, cherry red chastity belts styled over trousers and pointed heels all queered Helmut's lineup with a sexually charged, genderful edge--attitude that felt familiar for longtime followers of HBA.
Similar to HBA's high-low strategy, Oliver paired the ambitious editorial pieces with more approachable tour merchandise inspired by his passing Helmut residency. Available today, the graphic washed tees and hoodies offer fans an approachable taste of new Helmut, printed with phrases like "Techno Jungle" and "Autumn Tour 2018." Where the guest designer's work consistently comes from left field, he's undoubtedly a cultural master at drumming up attention and cult-like desire--two things Helmut will certainly benefit from in today's shifting fashion climate.