HELMUT TELLS WHY NEW YORK IS HIS KIND OF TOWN.
Byline: Miles Socha, March 1998
I feel very at home here,” Helmut Lang said, discussing the permanent shift of his business headquarters to New York after 15 years in his native Vienna.
Lang said having his design studios and headquarters in Austria had long been a creative advantage. “It’s not a place where fashion is an issue,” he said, dressed in an unobtrusive gray cashmere V-neck sweater and dark trousers. “It has no distractions.” But logistically, “We reached a point where it started to get really complicated,” he said, describing the challenge of running a fast-growing international business from Vienna when the focus of activity was often elsewhere, including manufacturing in Italy and staging runway shows in Paris and New York.
“New York is, in many terms — and not only fashion terms — the most important place to be, the most urban place to be,” he said. “It adds a very interesting dimension to the European education I’ve gone through, because the U.S. is quite different. I have a lot of friends here,” he added, “so it made sense businesswise, personally and emotionally….
“I’m not looking for a huge organization,” Lang said, revealing a business style tinged with the same conviction and rigor that defines his minimalist clothing. “We work with a small group of people. That has been an advantage in the past.”
Asked if he had ambitions to license his name into any other product categories, he replied: “I think we have everything.”
“The main policy of our house is to have one strong clothing line and one trademark, which could mean that the jeans one day get absorbed in a very big main collection,” he said. “The name can carry from basics up to luxury items. For me, that’s a modern concept of clothes that one collection combines basic as well as luxury, hand-finished products. That’s the way people dress today….
“For products that have a day-to-day use, distribution can be very large,” he said, referring to jeans and underwear particularly. “For products that are very special, the distribution has to be very small.
“I’m kind of interested, after a certain while, in establishing denim as a real basic business, but still in the spirit of our house,” he said. “The most important thing will always be the product and the freedom of design, and then we take it from there….
“The copying problem doesn’t start with the runway shows, but begins with fabric and production companies,” he stated. “That’s not an issue. I couldn’t say only American designers find inspiration in my collections. That wouldn’t be fair.”
Asked about how he copes with the pressure of being a fashion leader, “It has never tortured me,” he said. “I always do exactly the thing I want to do for the next collection. I always do what I think is right for the next season.”
“In the end, we want people who wear our clothes to look good,” he said. “At the end of the road, that’s something you shouldn’t lose sight of.”