In his debut as creative director, the rising Asian designer reinvigorates the influential brand for New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2024
Legacies often echo through the work of future generations. They serve as anchors, grounding the foundation in a sense of continuity—and it’s exactly that: a continuum of ideas, aesthetics, and craftsmanship. But it should never be the same. Such is the case with Peter Do, a rising star in the fashion industry and founder of his own eponymous label, with his recent debut as the creative director of Helmut Lang. The SS24 collection titled “Born to Go” marked the beginning of a new era for this iconic label, and it’s already setting a standard.
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It’s impossible to discuss the revival of the brand without acknowledging its enduring legacy. Helmut Lang, the Austrian designer known for his avant-garde approach, redefined fashion in the late 90s. He elevated everyday clothing like T-shirts, jeans, and parkas to high-fashion status, creating a minimalist yet rebellious aesthetic. Lang’s influence has transcended decades, remaining relevant and modern. In essence, he was an icon of cool.
The 32-year-old Vietnamese designer, often hidden behind masks, embodies the American dream. Like many fashion aficionados, Do’s fascination with Helmut Lang began on the internet’s fashion forums, particularly Tumblr. He then honed his skills under the guidance of Phoebe Philo at Céline before launching his eponymous label in 2018. His designs, characterized by minimalist elegance and gender-neutral appeal, quickly garnered attention from celebrities like Zendaya and Rihanna. When the Asian designer took the helm at Helmut Lang, he recognized the weight of the legacy he was inheriting. As Do puts it, “No one embodied radical thinking more definitively than Helmut Lang.”
Do’s debut was a poetic expression of the brand’s evolution. Collaborating with Vietnamese poet Ocean Vuong, author of the acclaimed On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Do wove words into the fabric of the presentation. Both Vietnamese, Do and Vuong’s journeys are similar to each other in their respective fields of fashion and publishing, design and authorship, acclaimed in their works: they are like twins, separate from wombs but bound together by fate.
Vuong’s essay explored the theme of freedom through the lens of a car, drawing parallels to Lang’s groundbreaking use of taxi cab advertising in the 90s. The poetry adds a layer of emotional connection to the clothes, much like the profound bond Lang’s customers had with their pieces. The fitting lines, in English and Vietnamese, are emotionally-changed expressions resonant to those who are begged, once after oblivion, to be seen, heard, felt, touched—much like Peter Do for one of his idols, Helmut Lang. The words were not just printed; they became part of the collection, displayed on clothing and even the venue’s concrete floor: “Touch me / So I know / I am still here // Break me / So I know / I have changed.”
One of Do’s strengths is his impeccable tailoring, and this was evident from the very first look of the collection. It featured a slick, tuxedo-esque black suit paired with a white shirt, adorned with flashes of bold, luxe fuchsia. The suits were marked by boxy, oversized blazers, cut-away arms, and criss-crossing seatbelt straps that added a subtle edge to the refined tailoring. While the palette was predominantly neutral, with only flashes of block colors, it is evident it is already vivid on its own.
Rather than diving headlong into Lang’s archive and becoming overly retrospective, Do exercised restraint while incorporating elements from the brand’s history. His vision for Helmut Lang is a blend of the brand’s ethos curated with his unique perspective: different and distinct yet familiar. The collection featured Lang signatures like dressier flat-front pants, pleated leather trousers, and bulky but casual coats. Do’s progressive cuts subtly underline each look, creating versatility. His goal is to reintroduce Helmut Lang to a new generation while retaining the brand’s core values.
Do’s debut as creative director of Helmut Lang electrified the fashion world. While stepping into Lang’s shoes is a formidable task, Do’s careful attention to detail and his ability to pay homage while injecting fresh perspective bode well for the brand’s future. The designer’s aim is clear: to open up the dialogue to a wider audience and create clothes that have longevity without exorbitant prices. His dedication to preserving the brand’s legacy while infusing it with fresh ideas and a contemporary sensibility is a testament to his talent and vision.
Inheriting such a legacy is no small feat. For Do, it meant acknowledging the weight of history while bringing his own unique perspective to the forefront. His recognition of Lang as one of his main inspirations speaks to the profound influence that legacies can have on emerging talents. It’s like an artistic dialogue across time and space, where the past informs the present, and the present shapes the future.
But legacies are not about mimicry; they are about evolution. With Peter Do at the helm, Helmut Lang aims to return to the forefront of the fashion conversation, serving as a reminder that the past can inspire a vibrant future and that new generations can not only echo, but also birth a new legacy—a legacy that can stand on its own.
Photos: HELMUT LANG and PETER DO (via Instagram)