Fashion is in a state of flux. Whether the system is broken or whether patience has gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage can be debated. What’s clear is that the global reach and immediacy of the digital world has increased awareness of and desire for fashion. It has also shown up the lag time between presentation and fulfillment, which can run up to six months later. In a see-it-want-it-now world, that might as well be eons. While there’s no consensus yet as to how the situation can be fixed, Vetements, Burberry, and Tom Ford will break with the current system going forward.
So is the upcoming Fall 2016 season the last as we’ve known them? Or rather, as we’ve known them since the Fall 1998 season, when modernist Helmut Lang, perhaps the most emulated designer among the new gen, turned the system, successfully, on its head using technology to democratize the experience of seeing his collection? (A season later, Lang would move his live runway show from Paris to New York; he is the reason the season starts in the U.S. rather than it once had, in Europe.)
For Lang, this was much more than the mere flip of a calendar page. The presentation of his Fall 1998 collection on the Internet was part of his inclusive, forward-thinking, and technology-friendly philosophy. And it made sense in terms of his aesthetic, too: It wasn’t a stretch to think that a designer who embraced minimalism and tech fabrics and who had long incorporated elements of workwear into his garments would be tech-savvy. The same could not be said of the fashion world at the time.
Photo: Courtesy hl-art
So how did it all come about? We reached out to the designer turned fine artist, who explained via email:
“This was at the moment when I moved my company from Europe to the United States. As I was preparing for our next ‘séance de travail,’ which was highly anticipated, I felt that it was in many ways a new beginning for me, and also a new beginning for how to communicate my work. I sensed at the time that the Internet would grow into something much bigger than imaginable, so I thought it was the right moment to challenge the norm and present the collection online. It was a shock to the system, but a beginning of the new normal. In terms of the broader context of the industry, we made in the same season the entire collection available on a public platform, allowing consumers for the first time to get an unfiltered view of my work.”
Today, in homage to Lang’s brilliant move, we present on Vogue Runway his timeless Fall 1998 show in its entirely. We asked Kirsten Owen, the designer’s muse, to share her memories of the collection. “If I can quote Juergen Teller,” she replied, “ ‘It was more of a smell than a memory, of raw concrete and hi-fi. Definitely a buzz.’ ” Generating this excitement was Lang’s masterful balance of tailoring and flou, neon brights and neutrals, and the unexpected touch (bunny ears) that made this first virtual show as sartorially memorable as it was historically important.
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