There are many Helmut Langs. There is the brand that upended the entire fashion world before suddenly caving. There is the artist who, to this day, presents contemporary work in some of the most renowned galleries in the world. Then, there is the man, who lives in relative anonymity on Long Island. While Helmut Lang, the brand, is firmly in the fashion sphere, and Helmut the artist clearly in the art world, Helmut the man knows no borders. A creative bar none—and I do not use the word lightly—Lang blurred the lines between art and fashion in a way no one had before or has since.

Lang was, and very much still is, an enigma; a man that came from rural obscurity and rose to international acclaim. A mountain boy that built a hundred million dollar business from nothing, sold it and then watched it crumble from the sidelines. An autodidact whose only formal fashion training came from helping his cobbler grandfather in his workshop. A perennial outsider whose influences were derived from everyday uniforms and abstract artists, seldom his fashion predecessors. A man who managed to question the very nature of clothing. Lang dared to ask what is fashion, why was it defined as such, and, most importantly, how could he change it? The most astonishing part? He succeeded.
The Lang legend, while exhaustively documented, still bears telling. Born in 1956 in Vienna, Austria, Lang’s parents divorced shortly after his birth, and an infant Lang was sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Ramsau am Dachstein, a small village in the Austrian Alps. Growing up in a home without phone or radio, Lang’s childhood was entirely removed from outside influence. As a child, he played in the shadows of towering mountains without a care for trivial things. His relationship to clothing was limited to assisting his grandfather in the aforementioned workshop, braving the elements. Fond memories of helping to resole tough leather mountain boots and dressing for the harsh winter conditions of the blistering Alps would go on to be fundamental to his oeuvre.

By age ten, Lang’s mother had passed away, and he moved to Vienna to live with his truck driver father and stepmother. A young Lang, with his rural upbringing and village customs, was wildly out of sync with his middle-class schoolmates. To make matters worse, his stepmother forced him to wear her late father’s ill-fitting suits on a daily basis. The culture shock must have been striking to the young boy who, after years in lederhosen, was suddenly forced into drab, blue collar wears. While army surplus and leather jackets flooded the Viennese streets, with the ’60s in full swing, Lang anxiously watched from the sidelines, tugging on his too-large polyester trousers, both metaphorically and literally waiting to rip free.