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On July 7, 1998, Helmut Lang informed WWD that he would change the date of his upcoming spring show. Big deal? Indeed. At the time, New York showed after Europe, in November for the spring season, which, he argued, was “just too far back for our house.” The very next day, Calvin Klein, long frustrated by the schedule, followed suit. Thus unleashed frenzied debate on two continents, opinions ranging from Klein’s endorsement (“Absolutely we needed this push”) to Pierre Bergé’s accusation of inciting anarchy. In the end, Lang’s way prevailed. Spring ’99 saw a split season in New York; by fall, the city’s industry was united in showing first.
Lang had emerged as an avant-garde hero out of Vienna in the mid-Eighties on the strength of his austere, futuristic aesthetic, becoming a major architect of early Nineties minimalism. At the height of his influence he moved his base to New York, where his unique status of red-hot arriviste made him perhaps the only person who could, unilaterally, put the calendar sea change into motion. Yet Lang’s power was rooted in creative rather than commercial might. In 1999, he sold a 51 percent stake in his company to Prada Group. But the expectation of international development never materialized and the relationship turned sour. In January 2005, Lang departed his house a year shy of its 20th anniversary.