Having retired from fashion six years ago, the Austrian-born but NYC-based multi-creative quickly turned his attention to art. On the catwalk, Helmut Lang was famous for his sharp cuts, often monochrome colour palette and having defined the 90s with his minimal aesthetic. Fashion insiders and dedicated fans alike mourned the designer as he left his eponymous label in 2005, and no namesake follow-up was able to fill the void.
Now, it seems, we will once more be able to experience the joy Helmut Lang's threads - but not through retail therapy, as we are used to, but in his latest solo art exhibition. As part of 'Make It Hard', exhibited at The Fireplace Project in East Hamptons outside New York, Lang has shredded his entire archive, after donating the rest of his collected work to worldwide fashion, design and contemporary art collections, to make 16 sartorial sculptures. Mixing his own history, original claim to fame and a current back mirror view of his past as a fashion designer with his personal experiences of late and this relatively new art form makes the exhibition fundamentally interesting for fans of Helmut Lang, both as an artist and as a designer...
Dazed Digital: Tell us about 'Make it Hard', what was the original plan and inspiration?
Helmut Lang: There was no original plan to begin with. The inspiration came through outside force. In February 2010, after a fire in the building where our studio in New York is located, which could have destroyed the rest of the archive, and after going for months through the pieces to see in which condition they are, I slowly became intrigued by the idea of destroying it myself and use it as raw material for my art. 'Make It Hard' is literally the transition from soft to solid, and there is also a sexual reference implied.
DD: Are all pieces made out of shredded archive pieces?
Helmut Lang: Yes, 25 years of work, pigment and resin.
DD: Are there any old Helmut Lang pieces left? A great deal has been donated to museums as well, right?
Helmut Lang: No, after I donated a large volume of my body of work in fashion to the most important fashion, design and contemporary art collections worldwide, I shredded the remaining pieces without remorse nor preference.
DD: Is this some kind of 'fashion closure' for you?
Helmut Lang: I retired from fashion in 2005 and that was final for me then. I feel fortunate that I'm able to work in art now and able to contribute to the cultural landscape as I did before with fashion. I have been asked to collaborate with fashion houses with my artwork, which I will probably do.
DD: As a former designer currently working in art, how do you see the relationship between art and fashion?
Helmut Lang: Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't...
DD: You have built 12 sculptures with the fabric - this is an art-form you've previously worked with as well, is it the one you feel most at home with?
Helmut Lang: The sculptures are actually part of a significant body of sculptures, possibly over 100 pieces, will be exhibited in different installments or in its entirety in the near future These are entirely new, and every single columnar form is hand crafted with a unique composition.
DD: How does the design process differ for you comparing sculptures and clothes?
Helmut Lang: You have to work hard and you have to recognise when it evolves into something interesting and be able to let go of it when the work is interesting enough to fight you back. I'm familiar with that procedure.
DD: What's next for you?
Helmut Lang: Right now it looks quite good. We have a lot of upcoming exhibitions...
Helmut Lang's Make It Hard: July 22 - August 8, 2011, The Fireplace Project, 851 Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton, USA, 11937