Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How Channeling the Likes Of MTM Hit The Runway

Here's a funny little recollection. Along with the likes of MTM inadvertently, I inspired one very unassuming Helmut Lang runway look for Fall 2003. I worked for Helmut Lang from 2002-2004, right before he left the fashion world (and his label) to work full-time as an artist. My job was easy and low-maintenance, so combined with the minimal aesthetic of the brand, the experience was monastic. This fulfilled my (strange?) childhood dream of becoming a monk...! 

I was working at Helmut Lang's pet project, a perfumerie shop (with incredibly clean fragrances that are still a favorite of mine) in Soho. The shop resembled an apothecary-type lab and it also housed an art installation. It was extremely white and pristine and people seemed generally intimated by the place. Those who dropped in the most seemed to be celebrities who loved his clothes. My job was to stay there all day and represent the brand. So there I would wait, listening to French radio (Radio Nova) or the selection of music that fit the mood of the label. Several times, I helped the PR and marketing departments that lived across the street, but in general, that was it. Overall, I really enjoyed my solitary time there.

I interacted with Helmut Lang several times - which required very few words, as he is indeed a quiet man. I remember the first time he came in when I worked there. This was towards the end of 2002, and he seemed to be intrigued by how I had worn his clothes. He took a very long look at what I was wearing. My work wardrobe at that time consisted of some fitted, dark gray sweaters - one with a v-neck and buttons and one with a round neck - beautifully cut black pants, some white button down shirts and a few other items, including great shoes. 

These items were worn in rotation, but somehow I seemed to be the only female who paired the white button down under the round neck sweater, sometimes with the shirt poking out from the bottom. It was a preppier, even girlier version of how the other people at the company wore the clothes. As it happened, I was just channeling what always personally inspired me, an assortment of looks from Francoise Hardy, "Two For The Road", "Love Story", Jane Birkin and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". These were my daily style inspirations and I wore whatever items of clothing I had in that way. 

Here are the ladies in my frame of reference at the time (and still):

But again, this was 2002. At that time, this rather conservative preppy late-60's/early-70's aesthetic was not the norm. Although with plenty of incarnations since, it does look very normal today. In 2002, the style norm was extremely different... or dare I say it, rather dodgy looking. Women were wearing low-cut jeans and belly-baring tops, and tended to be inspired by the mainstream hip-hop-dancing pop stars of the day (if you don't remember, it's an easy search.) Those were styles I never registered or considered wearing... they even failed to cross my line of sight, since I lived in a fairly tight retro bubble

In that context, it isn't surprising that one quiet, minimalistic and forward-thinking designer (and as I noticed, on several occasions, famous high fashion models staring at my version of "street wear" with some level of fascination) should pause and notice how I was wearing his own clothing differently than he'd anticipated. Soon after that first visit, one of his head designers also stopped by at the store, which never happened before or since. We smiled a lot and made chit-chat, but he didn't seem to have much reason to have dropped by. Then, some time later... ta-da! When the photos from the Helmut Lang Fall 2003 runway show were released, my coworker and I were staring at the images and both gasped at what Natalia Vodianova was given to wear on the runway. The look was me, incarnate. 

Given how I was in the designer's line of sight and it was so incredibly easy for them to just pair those pieces together, it made perfect sense. But it managed to look interesting at the time and really stood out from the rest of the show. What's most fitting is that any influence I had was so unintentional. And where else would that sort of simple (but definitive) point of view have been recognized, if not through the eyes of such a quiet and observant designer? 

That is a nice memory I was able to take away with me, along with some fabulous pieces I still wear. For fun, I recently checked for a review of that particular show. Especially amusing (and so great) is how such a very simple look was singled out in the review... which goes to show how surprising it happened to be in 2002. Little did Helmut Lang himself realize he was inadvertently inspired by the likes of Mary Tyler Moore... ;-) 

Here's the excerpt from the review posted on for Helmut Lang's Fall 2003 show: "He certainly hasn’t abandoned his minimalism-with-a-gorgeous-kick: when he sent out Natalia Vodianova wearing a men’s shirt, skinny sweater and plain short skirt... his fans all but fainted." (Fainted?!)

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