What [Helmut Lang] achieved in the nineties is so little written about, so far beyond the existing reach of the Internet—and was so elusive, even at the time—that it’s hard to capture its enormity. What he did went far beyond inventing a casual-formal, elegant-subversive uniform—things to wear every day that emitted confidence, centeredness, and sexiness. It was more than that. Everyone who packed his shows felt it when they saw his model army marching at speed in single file around the white spaces he commandeered in Paris, and later, New York. The audience got it. The models embodied it. Nobody voiced it, but everyone knew: It was the coming of age of the cool.
Despite their groundbreaking implications, Helmut Lang’s transformative aesthetic choices are rarely written about. Compared to other popular designers, his short tenure in high fashion makes him an oddity, a brief creative infusion that was gone shortly after it arrived. If Lang did not bring minimalism to fashion, he can at least be credited for making minimalism cool. The montage of references—BDSM, militarism, industrial workwear—enclosed in his garments are compassed by the turn to abstraction and reductive reinvention that defines his creative project.
Like all designers though, Lang would be nothing without his models. Lang first arrived in Paris in 1986, where he came to know the English stylist Melanie Ward. The two became good friends during Lang’s stay in Paris, and Ward introduced him to many significant figures in the fashion community. In 1990, Ward discovered a fourteen-year old girl who she decided would be the new face of high-fashion. The era of the supermodel had entered full swing, and the name Kate Moss would soon be inseparable from the catwalk.
Moss’s name would become synonymous with a new aesthetic direction in fashion and the modeling world. Lang’s minimalism matched Moss’s subtle, striking beauty, and she became one of his most essential muses.
While Moss is often known for the ‘heroin chic’ label with which the fashion press of the 1990s saddled her, her work with Lang reveals the depth and complexity of her place in fashion history. In these images, Lang’s attention to the subtractive power of cutting garments—the reduction to essential forms—becomes clear as Moss deftly heralds the dawn of a new age of minimalism.