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  • Writer's pictureSavannah Bradley

At Helmut Lang, a New Kind of Chainmail

Peter Do’s FW24 collection tries to protect itself.

 


WHO'S AFRAID OF HELMUT LANG? Peter Do certainly is. After a mixed reaction to his SS24 collection — the first under the Creative Director mantle at Lang, a stilted paean to New York, New York that felt like a leftover Glee set piece — the 32-year-old designer went back to the drafting table. This time, he needed to innovate.


What was teased in December’s Pre-Fall collection expressed something more serviceable: a collection inspired not by New York itself but by walking in New York. Models, blurry with energy, ran down Brooklyn streets in paint-splattered raw denim, baggy pants, and weighty suiting. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was miles sexier than his SS24 collection, and felt a little bit closer to the sensual and strict Helmut Lang of the 1990s.


Conflating the Creative Director with the brand itself leads to abdominally squelched discussions that don’t reflect the sheer talent of everyone who works there (see: Demna at Balenciaga). But Do’s shows are often deeply personal, as evidenced by the Ocean Vuong-penned floor writings of SS24. It’s a tough spot for any designer: to be known for your fine-tuned, high-tailored vulnerability but asked, under an aloof heritage brand, to negate all that. Finding the scission point is practically impossible. 



So naturally, when the FW24 show began, entitled “Protection vs. Projection,” all the air was sucked out of the room. (“I literally felt my ankles shaking! My ANKLES,” a front-row friend texted me). Here is a designer at somehow his most vulnerable, his most unprotected, his most risky. Having a mixed-response inaugural collection is one thing; having a mixed-response sophomore collection could confirm your inadequacy. Do’s show notes tried to buffet our recollections with pithy mirror observations: “The way we see the world affects the way we love ourselves. The way we love others is the way we affect the world.” But what is any of that really saying? At what point are these words, all floating signifiers, projection themselves? 



What was really being said at Helmut Lang FW24 was Don't be afraid, don't be afraid. Do’s heartbeat — brilliant tailoring, a playful relationship to proportion and line — throbbed coolly, steadily. New York as a touchstone was gone; no need for it. Models walked under massive white curtains and mammillary overhead lights, like little ants trailing the edge of a hospital room. Enter a dark ​​resuscitation: cold, antiseptic, yet passionate, a Basic Instinct kind of frosty physicality. And in that, a rejection of the deeply earnest SS24. Do found a new angle: he is not Helmut Lang’s aw-shucks new Creative Director. He is Helmut Lang’s new surgeon. 


Here are perfectly-tailored women’s suits, gauzy half-pants, textured reptilian bombers, blazers strangled by armbands. Halfway through the show, bright hooded coats protected models who kept their dark eyes affixed to the floor; then, again, the suits and dark eyeliner; then, a very beautiful plaid moment (the scarf skirt in particular is magical); then, gray balaclavas, half-opened, like medieval armor. Do’s womenswear is much stronger than his menswear and feels a lot more finished in terms of idea structure. But all that coolness also felt a little feigned, didn’t it? Throughout the show, a loudspeaker whispered, “Protect me. Protect me.” It’s been the move of so many designers since time immemorial: do it edgy and they won’t see how nervous you are. Every time Do approached something of a statement, like the balaclavas, you could also feel him pulling away, squirming under the Venetian blinds. These are incredibly beautiful clothes, and they're not trying to say anything profound, but I worry about their honesty.



Is this collection borne out of insecurity or authenticity? I’m obliged to say the former, because Do clearly loves Helmut Lang, even if he doesn’t entirely understand its ethos. He doesn’t have to engage in hagiography or puppet-master a facsimile of 90s Lang back on the runway — repetition is the lowest form of fashion innovation. But Do does have to figure out what made Lang in the 90s work so well, which is not that hard to do. It just takes guts. 🌀


You can view the Helmut Lang FW24 collection here.


 

Savannah Eden Bradley is a writer, fashion editor, gallerina, Gnostic scholar, reformed It Girl, and future beautiful ghost from the Carolina coast. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the fashion magazine HALOSCOPE. You can stalk her everywhere online @savbrads.












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