Helmut Lang: From catwalk to gallery

His sharp lines and precise designs epitomised 1990s fashion. Now his creations are being exhibited around the world
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Indy Lifestyle Online

He is, for many, the last of the great couturiers. With his chic white dresses and sleek trouser suits, Helmut Lang's meticulous designs defined 1990s minimalism. After him came a tide of celebrities-turned-designer – Kate Moss, Beth Ditto and Lindsay Lohan – sweeping in to dominate the Noughties.

Now the Austrian is looking to secure his place in fashion history as some of his finest pieces go on display in the UK this week.

Once dubbed a "futurist" for his cutting-edge designs, he is now looking to his legacy, donating 25 signature items to the Bath Fashion Museum's "Turn of the Century" exhibition. They will go on display from Saturday.

"Helmut Lang is the antithesis of the red-carpet celebrity dressing of the past 10 years," said Rosemary Harden, the manager of Bath Fashion Museum. "There are elements of anti-fashion; of minimalism. He has a very specific aesthetic, it is very pared down; there aren't frills and bows and ruffles."

Famously publicity-shy, the designer, who has been working as an artist since stepping down from his label in 2005, was noted for his architectural approach to fashion.

"He was the king of minimalism; him and Jil Sander," said Kay Barron, Grazia magazine's fashion news and features editor. "It was all about the power of the white shirt, and really going back to basics after the excess of the 1980s; after shoulder pads and extravagant dressing, it felt fresh."

His sophisticated work was counterbalanced by kinky bondage-style pants and bra harnesses.

In recent years, Lang has donated a number of designs to 16 galleries around the world, including London's Victoria & Albert Museum, the Musée de la Mode in Paris and Japan's Kyoto Costume Institute. "I suppose he is thinking that he used to be a significant designer, and people can appreciate that with the clothes displayed," said Ms Harden.

The designer has been credited with inspiring successors such as Dries Van Noten. The exhibition is expected to be a major draw for fashion students. "It is such a compliment for fashion designers when they are still alive for their designs to be exhibited as an art form," said Barron.

Lang said that he left his own-name label – a decision which shocked the fashion world – because he was worried that it had grown so big that he was moving away from the creative work he enjoyed, describing himself as "a victim of my own success". His work as an artist has been displayed in low-key exhibitions.

21st-century fashion

Helmut Lang's sharp designs dominated the Nineties. The following decade has seen a flurry of fashion lines trading on a celebrity's fame:

Madonna for Macy's

Not content with penning children's books and dominating the charts, Madge is to design a line of clothing for the US department store.

Kate Moss for Topshop

The supermodel's clothing line at Topshop has gone from strength to strength since its launch in 2007, even proving the biggest draw when Topshop was launched in the US.

Lindsay Lohan for Ungaro

The actress-turned-party girl's attempt at designing for the French fashion house last October was a disaster, with the star not invited to the label's next show.

Beth Ditto for Evans

The size 22 Gossip singer has just announced that she will be designing a second line for the plus-size retailer, promising body-conscious styles and Victoriana ruffles, which will hit stores in September.

Sienna Miller, Twenty8Twelve

The actress teamed up with her trained fashion designer sister Savannah to produce a fashion line, which Miller is often seen wearing on the red carpet.

Gwen Stefani, Lamb

The platinum blond singer debuted her successful clothing line Lamb (an acronym of her first solo album Love.Angel.Music.Baby) in 2003, expanding the collection in 2005 to include the Harajuku Lovers line.