NEW YORK — Helmut Lang has found its new designer — make that designers.

Link Theory Holdings Co. Ltd., which bought the label from Prada in March, is expected to announce today that it has tapped Michael and Nicole Colovos, the founders of the Habitual label, as design directors of Helmut Lang, effective immediately.

This story first appeared in the May 15, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The husband-and-wife team, who recently left Habitual and will end creative ties with the Los Angeles label with the fall collection, is slated to relaunch Helmut Lang with a capsule collection for spring 2007.

The collection will be presented during the spring market in September. At the moment, no runway show is planned for the collection, which Link Theory wants to turn into a contemporary label.

Nicole Colovos, 36, and Michael Colovos, 35, are studying the Helmut Lang archives, but they are deliberately steering away from guessing what Lang would have done had he stayed at the label that bears his name. Instead, they hope to take some of the label’s trademarks, including its minimalist spirit, sharp tailoring, utilitarian edge and knack for fabric experimentation, and add their own design sensibility.

“We’re not trying to be Helmut and continue in the way he would have continued,” Michael Colovos said, in an exclusive interview with his wife and Andrew Rosen, Theory’s president, on Friday. “We’re trying to come in and put our own spin onto the essence of the label.”

Nicole Colovos concurred: “We’re not Helmut Lang and aren’t trying to re-create what he did. There’s room to inject your own idea into it, and there’s a thread we will follow. We just started looking at the archives to explore the things we loved about Helmut’s work.”

Rosen, who has been running the Helmut Lang business since the acquisition and has been charged with putting together a team and structure for the label, said, “Ricky [Sasaki, Link Theory’s chief executive officer] and I have always believed that our opportunity globally is in the contemporary marketplace. We will continue to do things to stimulate that marketplace. Helmut Lang has the opportunity to be a global business with a strong wholesale presence in upper-end department and specialty stores and eventually its own stores.”

Habitual had been on Rosen’s radar as a contemporary label that sometimes sat alongside Theory, and he took particular interest in the Colovoses after finding out in March that they were parting with the brand they founded. The two split with Habitual and its holding company, Pacific Marketing Works, earlier this year, though they declined on Friday to disclose reasons for their departure.

The couple founded Habitual in 2002 after meeting a year earlier. Michael Colovos was raised near Seattle, and studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology before moving to Europe, where he eventually landed in the Paris design studios of Guy Laroche. He returned to New York, and in 1998 launched Colovos, a contemporary women’s collection he sold to Barneys New York, Linda Dresner and Fred Segal. Nicole Colovos was born in Auckland, New Zealand, and worked in Sydney at Elle magazine before coming to New York in 1997 to work as a freelance stylist, eventually finding her way to Harper’s Bazaar, where she was hired as senior market editor.

Habitual made its mark with cool skinny jeans, and the designers expanded the line into multiple classifications in the contemporary zone, including men’s wear, handbags, belts, shoes, maternity clothes and children’s items. Market sources pegged the brand’s annual volume at about $5 million. The designers were runners-up at the first CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

“I wanted somebody with integrity and experience,” Rosen said. “Nicole and Michael have a cool aesthetic. They have been in New York and in California and have a global perspective on fashion. Their aesthetic vision matches the heritage of the label Helmut Lang and what its future will be.

“A lot of people I have much regard for hold Nicole and Michael in high esteem,” he added.

“I see this as a big opportunity that is not limited to a price point,” Rosen continued. “There will be inexpensive and expensive pieces. The customer who buys designer and less-expensive clothes converges in the contemporary area. The contemporary business is where the customer is shopping.”

He explained that, for the most part, the contemporary business is an item business, with various players known for the best jeans, best jackets or tops, or dresses, for instance. “Helmut Lang is an opportunity to develop more of a collection concept,” he said.

Rosen disclosed he had spoken to Lang in the early stages of Link Theory’s interest in the label, though the Colovoses have not consulted with the designer.

The first capsule women’s and men’s collections will serve to establish a blueprint from which the design duo hopes to build Helmut Lang. For the time being, the collections will not be presented on the runways of New York Fashion Week, though Rosen did not rule that out for the future.

The company has taken a temporary space at 525 West 26th Street here. Rosen, who wouldn’t disclose sales projections for the venture, said he is putting together a team to run the business, which will likely consist of a mix of executives he has worked with from Theory and new hires.

“It’s a start-up, and energy and passion will be very important,” he said. “Nicole and Michael had their own business, so they know what it’s like, and they know what it takes. We have this great heritage to work with and a clean slate.”

Retailers lauded the hire on Friday.

“We have done very well with Habitual,” said Terence Bogan, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for the women’s Co-Op at Barneys New York. “They have evolved the collection into other classifications and there’s a lot of integrity behind what they do. I think there’s a big potential, as long as the clothes keep the same kind of feeling of what Helmut Lang Jeans exuded, and as long as the distribution isn’t all over the place. I am interested to see what their take will be.”

Stefani Greenfield, owner of Scoop, concurred: “Nicole and Michael are phenomenally talented. They have an amazing eye for street fashion. Habitual was one of the first to pioneer the skinny jeans. Their design spirit embodies a similar vision to that of Helmut Lang. I could see someone who wore Habitual jeans with a Helmut coat or shirt. I think it’s a good merger. They will be able to really inhale what has been done and show us what they can do within the same spirit.”