Shayne Oliver Makes His Helmut Lang Debut, But Does it Matter?

On Monday evening, Shayne Oliver made his debut as the designer – albeit temporarily – of Helmut Lang, the highly influential, yet entirely cult, label. Dazed and Confused’s editor-in-chief Isabella Burley is overseeing all creative aspects of the brand, and will sign up individual designers to work on solo collections, beginning with Shayne Oliver of the recently defunct Hood By Air.

"Shayne is the first of an on-going series,” says Burley. “We’re keeping it fluid in terms of the timelines – there won’t be a new designer every season necessarily. Each collaborator will work in a very different way so it’s about allowing them that space.”

Shayne Oliver seemed a perfect starting point, according to Burley. “It made sense. As I was getting into fashion and seeing the earlier Hood by Air shows, I felt this energy, and I think it’s the energy [people] talk about when they remember Helmut Lang." (And Mr. Oliver delivered on Monday evening, drawing big-name buyers, fashion folks, tastemakers, and celebrities to the event and putting on a show for them - something everyone could downright expect from Hood By Air). 

As Burley told Vogue this summer, “It’s really important for Helmut Lang to be an authority on Helmut Lang again." To this, I initially wondered: Why can't we just let the brand die a peaceful, dignified death already? It has, after all, been subjected to a string of misses since its eponymous founder left in the mid-2000s. 

And then a quote from Jean-Jacques Picard came to mind. Not too long ago, the fashion and luxury consultant said: "In fashion we have to accept that there is an end to success. Every designer has a life cycle. An older designer retires, and a new one can flourish. This is the way it should be. That’s why I’m not keen on the revival of fashion houses. Why doesn’t a conglomerate invest in a new designer instead? An executive would say that an old brand already has a reputation, a ‘heritage,’ and that it will take less time to revive a brand like that than to build a new one from scratch. It’s a calculated risk, and succeeding in fashion is about taking calculated risks."

It turns out, there seems to be enough of a market for Lang's original works (and the brand's name, as well) and that is the calculated risk that its owner, Link Theory Holdings, is willing to take here.

With that in mind, the press that is being drummed up and the attention being grabbed in connection with Oliver's runway show – and in a larger sense, with the brand's new practice of introducing new creative directors every so often – is being used to sell clothes but almost certainly not the new ones, at least that is not the primary focus.

No, these efforts – which are not all that different than Chanel building a rocketship to sell perfume and bags – are being used to draw attention to the relaunch of Helmut Lang's most coveted and beloved designs. It is not a coincidence, of course, that the brand just launched a "Re-Edition collection" of archival pieces originally put out into the world by Lang himself.

This is hardly a novel concept. The practice of selling unchanging "house collections" chock full of brand staples is a well-known one. Saint Laurent's "permanent collection" – with its leather jackets, biker jeans, teddy jackets and Chelsea boots – consistently sells smashingly, and to be frank, in addition to any licensed products and bags, it is what is probably carrying the YSL brand in terms of the bottom line. 

So, for a few seasons Oliver – with his undeniable ability to exude vibes and create buzz – will be the brand's Leslie Jones-at-Christian Siriano hypeman (more about that here) until there is a need for new blood, the injection of a new name to bring buzzy headlines and enable the brand to sell even more re-introduced garments originally created by Mr. Lang. And while the Helmut Lang tees - and other accessible garments - that Oliver showed on the runway on Monday evening will probably sell (he was never known for wearable, marketable fashion, and his brand was largely - if not entirely - sustained by the bold HBA-emblazoned tees before it went under), that is not the point.

The reintroduced "archival" pieces take the case in this sense.