Inside ENDYMA: The World's Largest Helmut Lang Archivist Speaks to Grailed
Inside ENDYMA: The World's Largest Helmut Lang Archivist Speaks to Grailed
- Words Gregory Babcock
- Date January 23, 2018
It’s not a secret that archival fashion has undergone a resurgence (hell, if you’re reading this, there’s a solid chance you’ve done a little digging right here on Grailed.) As both fans and modern fashion designers draw from the past to fill wardrobes and create looks for the future, the value of truly knowledgeable collectors and archivists cannot be overstated. One such example? ENDYMA.
Founded by Michael Kardamakis, ENDYMA serves both as an educational resource and commercial archive, notable for—according to Kardamakis—holding the largest archive of Lang’s work (spanning from 1986 to 2005) worldwide. The project also specializes in other equally influential and relevant brands, including Raf Simons and Burberry Prorsum. What’s notable about ENDYMA’s work isn’t that it hides these garments behind glasses cases—rather, visitors are encouraged to touch, and even try on, these one-of-a-kind archival items. The hope is that, because of this approach, Kardamakis’ project will be both experiential and educational for those lucky enough to visit.
While Paris was playing host to the Fall/Winter 2018 collections, ENDYMA set up an exhibition with DMSR showroom at the Galerie Anne de Villepoix—presenting a selection of curated Helmut Lang garments in an environment specifically constructed to replicate the look and feel of Lang’s original Greene Street store in New York City.
We sat down with Michael to discuss his Helmut Lang interactive gallery-meets-showcase in Paris, understand the effect of Lang’s work on designers like Raf Simons and get his opinion on where the brand stands today. Scope the full interview below, and study up on ENDYMA here
To start, can you give us a little bit of background about ENDYMA; what is the project you’re showing in Paris, and what is its relation to DMSR Showroom?
ENDYMA is an Athens-based fashion archive and e-shop. I started the project in my late teens, while I was studying art history in the UK. After four years of selling, buying and researching, ENDYMA has amassed the biggest collection of vintage Helmut Lang in the world. Some of my research can be seen here.
There has always been a small community of creatives from around the world with an active interest in Helmut Lang’s work—designers, stylists, collectors and so on. Thanks to Instagram and other online platforms including Grailed, it is now much easier to connect and make something out of this common passion.
Greg (founder of DMSR) is one of those industry insiders that were around back when Helmut Lang was active, and he has often paid homage to those years in his work. For example, the brands under DMSR certainly share some of Lang’s heritage, which inevitably demonstrates how relevant his aesthetic remains to this day. With this in mind, we have been discussing a collaboration for a few years and ENDYMA has reached a stage where I feel confident that I have something solid to share.
ENDYMA has shown that it covers a few different brands, but definitely has a penchant for the work of Helmut Lang. What about Lang’s work draws you to his designs? How has that influenced the ENDYMA project as a whole?
I have a very personal relationship with Helmut Lang’s work, since I discovered it at a time when I was learning about fashion and style in general. Appreciating and understanding his clothing helped me connect the dots between contemporary fashion and my art history studies. A few years later, ENDYMA’s Helmut Lang collection is around 850 pieces.
Lang combined traditional shapes with small doses of avant-garde fashion and in my view this is why his clothes remain on-point so many years later. His touch was subtle but also confident and at times very unexpected. Lang is the kind of fashion designer who has made me appreciate little details such as the color of thread used on a garment or the angle of a trouser’s pockets. But he is also a groundbreaking designer who created radical garments, from his early-’90s transparent layers to his ’00s experiments with abstracted silhouettes and deconstructed shapes.
Lang’s approach has definitely influenced my work for ENDYMA. When I research garments I tend to emphasize the context of their creation as well as their construction. The aim is to highlight a garment’s tangible features, as well as the various social narratives that are associated with their forms.
Helmut Lang’s work is particularly pleasant to analyze with these categories in mind, because his designs always have clear points of reference—whether it is a contemporary military garment or Karlheinz Weinberger’s photos of Halbstarken youth. Lang is not the kind of designer who would create otherworldly fashion out of nowhere—his clothes have strong ties to tangible things and in my view, this gives them gravitas and does them justice.
What are you doing in particular with DMSR to showcase these archival Helmut pieces? We’re told you’re attempting to recreate the look of the original Helmut Lang store on Greene Street in NYC. For those who are new to Helmut (and didn’t see the original store) or for those who weren’t able to make it to Paris this season—what specific details have you added or included to this presentation that recall that former space on Greene Street?
There are some elementary aspects of Helmut Lang stores that we were very interested in; the combination of everyday and industrial materials; the juxtaposition of fabric textures with clean, linear surfaces; the prominence of repeating elements to form spaces.
For our presentation we used fibreboard, steel and canvas in a uniform arrangement that aimed to be a clean background for the exhibited looks. ENDYMA’s work is very much object-based so we wanted to make sure that the clothing was at the forefront.
I should mention that I am also new to Helmut Lang—at least in relative terms—and have never been to one of his stores. The label closed when I was 13 years old. With this in mind, the exhibition in Paris does not aspire to replicate the original Helmut Lang store experience but to remain true to his legacy.
On your website, you explain that ENDYMA’s collections are different from other exhibitions, in that visitors can touch—and even try on and buy—the garments. Why do you take this approach specifically, especially with such rare items?
I should clarify that, while I am happy for people to try things on and whatnot, it is still very stressful to me! I am confident that ENDYMA’s standards when it comes to the handling and storage of fashion objects are much higher than any other archive or vintage shop, surpassed only by historical collections where garments are no longer wearable. The more times people try something the more work this requires from us, since everything has to be brought back to shape inside and out before it is placed back in its rail.
Things are for sale because this is the only way for ENDYMA to be sustainable. I am very happy that I have been able to make a collection of clothes my full-time project, however in order to expand it and keep things going, some things will inevitably have to be sold or rented.
Sometimes something good or particularly rare goes and that can be a bit disappointing, however this is why I document things in such detail on the website. This way, there is a resource in place for everyone, even if the actual object is owned by few.
What pieces have you chosen to exhibit in Paris this season with the DMSR showroom? Why those pieces in particular?
We created a series of curated ‘best of’ looks for men. While demonstrating how ahead of his time Lang’s work was, we also try to convey how fun and wearable his clothing is right now. So, there will be some recognizable high-end stuff (think 2003 bondage-strap bomber jackets, 1999 ‘Astro’ biker jackets and so on) but also classics such as raw denim jeans, the classic backstage-print T-shirts, etc. And of course there will be shoes, accessories and all sorts of other curiosities.
How do you seek out pieces for your archive—especially when it comes to someone like Helmut Lang? As the owner of the largest collection of Helmut Lang (1986-2005), how do you not just acquire—but also maintain—such a sizable archive?
Acquiring new garments generally falls within two categories—straightforward sources such as vintage shops and online marketplaces, and sporadic sources (random emails I get, trades, encounters through word-of-mouth etc. When I started the interest in Helmut Lang (and also Raf) was nowhere near as big as it is today, so it was fairly easy to find pieces in the obvious places. But nowadays the good stuff always comes from the second category.
In order for a piece to formally become part of the archive, it goes through a process of restoration that can be quite arduous. Sometimes it is just a matter of cleaning, pressing and removing dust. But other times the process can be as intricate as deconstructing the garment, reinforcing certain parts and then assembling it again. This is a lot of work and although I enjoy doing it, it can be overwhelming, especially when other aspects of the project need attention.
ENDYMA’s Athens showroom is quite congested. Each room is full of garments on rails, indexed by color and type. Going through the entire space takes at least six hours if you want to see everything. In addition to Helmut Lang, there is Raf Simons, Burberry Prorsum, an assortment of vintage and military and a bunch of other European designers.
You’ve stated that you have a solid collection of archival Raf Simons garments. While Simons has publically noted Lang’s influence on his work—as someone who interacts with both Simons’ and Lang’s garments on a regular basis, what similarities do you see between the two designers? In your opinion, how has Simons continued on (or, not continued on) in Lang’s footsteps?
In my view, Raf had a very strong language of his own from the beginning. The style of his early collections was essentially different to Lang’s, despite sharing some superficial similarities. The shape was different and so was the aesthetic, even though both could be summed up as ‘minimalist’ when compared to most of was going on in the mid-’90s.
Raf has become truly influenced by Helmut Lang more recently—his work for Calvin Klein is a particularly obvious example, being very inspired by Helmut Lang collections from 1994, 1995 and 1997. Here’s a pretty obvious example:
In addition to the clothes themselves, Raf seems to also be interested in the iconography and overall energy of Helmut Lang’s ’90s shows—the style of press releases and show invitations, the backstage prints Lang did on T-shirts, the fetishization of New York, etc. It’s important to remember that Lang was the first European designer to relocate his business to America in 1998—Raf had a very similar experience and I suspect he was very aware of its similarities to Lang’s story.
What is your opinion on the latest revival of Helmut Lang (aka, the “Helmut Lang Seen By” series)? Do you feel like it honors Lang’s original design vision/tradition? If not, what do you feel the house needs to do to find success post-Lang?
My thoughts are on the “Seen by Shayne Oliver” collection can be seen here.
Are there any Helmut Lang “grails” that are still on your radar and yet to be acquired?
There are loads of items that I have yet to find. I have become more interested in early-’90s womenswear, which has a certain playfulness that Lang’s more famous work often reflects on.
For menswear, one of my latest obsessions is the woven sterling silver version of the Fall/Winter 1999 Astro outfit. If I remember correctly, the retail prices were $37,000 for the jacket and $33,000 for the trousers.
With sites like Grailed working as a hub for archival collectors and resellers, what is your personal take on the modern world of fashion collecting, and selling? How do you see the ENDYMA project evolving in the future?
Right now, it seems that more people than ever before describe themselves as collectors, even when their collecting is limited to purchases for themselves to wear. Curating one’s wardrobe has become a very serious project. At the same time, ‘archival’ fashion has become a huge trend, which means that the demand for ENDYMA’s services has never been higher. However, this outburst of engagement will inevitably subside over time like all trends do.
ENDYMA’s long-term aim is to contribute towards a culture of long-standing relevance within the fashion industry. It’s not about finding the latest great thing—it’s about pressing pause and looking at what is already around. With this in mind, I am hoping that ENDYMA will become more helpful as a resource of information about Helmut Lang and other designers, while sustaining itself as a shop.