Few fashion designers have impacted their contemporaries and the global fashion industry such as Helmut Lang did in the 1990s. The Austrian-born visionary launched his womenswear label in 1984—menswear followed three years later—and reached a resounding success almost immediately. While the fashion world was accustomed to the opulence served by Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana, Lang appeared as a U.F.O in the high-fashion sky. Yet, his ability to turn street inspirations into desirable luxury items was nonpareil.

The year 2003 marks Helmut Lang’s return to Paris Fashion Week. At the time, his business had gone from raking over $100 million in revenue to $37 million, dropping dramatically in a matter of just five years. The termination of his successful denim licensing deal in 2001 and his failed attempt at creating a bankable fragrance are to blame. So, it was time for the designer to prove that he could still deliver.

All the elements that made Lang’s fashion popular were front and center in his Spring/Summer 2003 collection: technical fabrics, skinny silhouettes, abstract prints, concept recontextualizations, and the dichotomy of ultra-luxe basics. But what makes this Helmut Lang collection definitive is the evolutive step he bravely took. It wasn’t just about streetwear and rebellion, it was about upgrading his style and making grown-up clothes. Instead of denim and cotton, the collection showed an array of luxe materials including chiffon, silk mesh, and top-notch leather. Whether it is the slim-cut trousers or layered tops, cut-out cardigans or day dresses, there is a persistent sense of uncomfortably-chic to the proposition.

Fashion critic Cathy Horyn once asserted that Helmut Lang is responsible for a genetic line that led to Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. But, today, one cannot deny that he’s created a look that highly influences the aesthetic of designers such as Rick Owens, Kanye West, and Demna Gvasalia of Vêtements. Helmut Lang’s uncanny sophistication will remain exquisite.

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