By  on March 24, 2005

MILAN — Helmut Lang’s New York office, the creative center of the designer brand for almost a decade, is set to shutter.

WWD has learned that Prada Group plans to close the SoHo space, just two months following Lang’s resignation from the company he founded 19 years ago. A Prada spokesman confirmed the imminent closure, but declined to elaborate further.

It is understood a handful of assistants worked in the design studio with Lang, but packed up their sketches and swatches and left with their boss in January. If that is indeed the case, then it begs the question: Who is designing Helmut Lang?

Since Lang’s departure in January, Prada has been tight-lipped about the future of the brand, which at its pinnacle defined minimalism and made designer denim and white racer-back tanks fashion staples.

It is believed that a small part of Helmut Lang’s creative team remains in Italy, where the line is produced. One industry source speculated that Prada might even have some of its in-house design staff moonlighting on the Lang brand.

Lang’s team developed the fall collection, which was shown by appointment in its satellite press offices earlier this month rather than on the runway in Paris, as it had been for the past several years.

One of the defining figures of the Nineties, Vienna-born Lang built his edgy women’s collection around sharp lines and abstract shapes. His contribution to men’s wear was equally cutting-edge, being one of the first designers to put men in skinny, razor-sharp suits.

He moved his business to New York in 1996, at a time when wholesale volume was approaching $100 million. Prada Group bought 51 percent of Lang in 1999 and the remainder last year.

While Prada sought to develop the brand worldwide — opening Helmut Lang stores in Paris and Milan — the lofty plans never quite materialized.

For its part, Prada has been trying to reposition the brand and shutter some unsatisfactory wholesale accounts. In October, a Prada spokesman said that closing those accounts, along with outside factors, such as a strong euro and SARS, hurt Helmut Lang’s most recent sales figures.In its 2003 balance sheet, Prada reported that Helmut Lang sales suffered the biggest drop of the group’s brands, falling 33.1 percent to 27.9 million euros, or $36.5 million. Clothing accounted for 77 percent of sales, with footwear and leather goods — products developed with Prada — making up  17.4 percent and 4.8 percent of the business, respectively.

Prada, in a cost-cutting effort, has sought to reduce overhead where possible by creating synergies between its brands, which include Miu Miu and Jil Sander.

One source close to Prada said keeping Helmut Lang’s New York office open “just didn’t make sense.”

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