GOING BACK TO PARIS? HELMUT LANG PONDERS LEAVING NY RUNWAY

Byline: Bridget Foley

NEW YORK — Is Paris a movable feast? Not for Helmut Lang, who is mulling a return to the City of Light to show his spring 2002 collection.
Yes, Helmut Lang — the same guy who shook the fashion schedule a few years ago when he moved his company from Paris to New York, and in his second season here decided to show before the European collections, a move that ultimately changed the fashion calendar.
In an interview on Tuesday, Lang told WWD that while his decision is not yet “written in stone, I don’t want to get completely out of touch with Europe.”
Lang said that he had spoken with Chambre Syndicale’s schedule organizer Denise Dubois, who was “thrilled” at the prospect of his return. Right now, he is weighing his options and expects to decide within the month. He stressed that the move, if it happens, “wouldn’t necessarily be forever,” and that he and his company will continue to be based in New York.
“Just to make it clear, in case there are any doubts, we are very, very happy to be a part of New York and the New York fashion scene,” Lang said.
Lang said the possible move has nothing to do with Prada, which owns a controlling stake in his company. “There’s been no pressure at all,” he said. “I make these decisions on my own, 100 percent.”
Lang first showed in Paris in March 1986, and presented collections there continuously until his 1998 defection to New York, where he made an exciting addition.
The presence here of a major European with an avante-garde reputation instantly elevated the fashion image of the city, perceived internationally as a mecca for marketing rather than creativity.
Two months before his much-anticipated runway debut here, for fall ’98, Lang announced that he would forego his show in favor of an internet presentation, a move that left fashion editors woeful.
But that was minor compared to the next season’s news — he would take to the runway once more, not in October, but September, before the European shows got under way.
Until that time, New York had been the caboose on the fashion train. But the next day, Calvin Klein announced his decision to move up along with Lang. Several others followed suit, creating a split season. By fall ’99, everyone in New York, both fans and critics of the shift — and there were plenty of both — were resigned to showing first.
“I’m not intending to change the system,” Lang said at the time. “That’s a decision to be made by American designers who have been showing here for years.” He still rejects the notion that he singularly caused the shift. “No I didn’t,” he said on Tuesday. “That’s a misconception. We moved our show to what made sense for us, and then the whole of New York followed.”
Nevertheless, Lang’s flight, temporary or otherwise, will no doubt stun the New York fashion world. Recently, there have been grumblings that New York isn’t strong enough to open the collections and should revert to its old position on the schedule. Already people are grousing about the tentative spring dates — women’s collections from Sept. 9-14, with men’s up in the air, either in July or Sept. 6-9. With or without men’s, that’s just a little too close to Labor Day for the comfort of a lot of people.
Even Lang agrees. “Timing can be an issue,” he said, although it’s not his primary concern. “The French basically raised me. I started out in Paris. I still have a very strong connection. I miss it, somehow, a little bit.”
He said that each season, many retailers and editors — some who cover New York, some who don’t — campaign for his return.
“What intrigues me is the idea that Paris is still very much our place to show,” Lang said. “I don’t want to give that away. If I show here for two or three years more in a row, then it’s gone.”
Whether original opponents of the move will feel both vindicated and peeved that Lang rocked the boat and then jumped ship does not concern him. Besides, when everyone talks about global this and global that, he finds it a bit old-fashioned to tie oneself to a single city forever.
“It’s not such a big deal,” Lang noted. “It’s only an option. But we have pioneered a few things — the Internet, showing men’s and women’s together, things that turned out to be not so bad. Why not show in different places? It doesn’t seem so incredible to me.”