Despite Helmut Lang’s independent streak and reputation for ushering in utilitarian minimalism to both the runway and street in the ’90s, arguably what the fashion industry has pulled most from his storied career is the idea of staple garments: from designer denim and motorcycle pants to bullet proof vests and strap-heavy bomber jackets that are now rehashed by countless designers year after year. Yes, Lang had a wildly successful $200 denim line before it was commonplace and, yes, his collections almost always included stand-out pieces of outerwear, but the fact that the majority of designers, buyers and consumers seem to engage with merely Lang’s garments instead of his design ethos is an unfortunate testament to the industry’s inner conflict between business and art. Despite the industry’s enthusiasm in praising its avant-garde, it is an industry, after all, which is why so many rising, and even established, designers partner with fashion conglomerates to, hopefully, create long-term financial stability while often sacrificing aspects of their artistic vision. Yet, for much of his career, Lang was unwilling to do so, and once he did, he quickly quit fashion, preferring to make the art of his choosing than compromise it to build a commercial empire.

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