The Decline of Helmut Lang » Manolo's Prada Blog!

The Decline of Helmut Lang

By Manolo

Manolo says, here is the link to long article on the aftermath of the Helmut Lang leaving his firm after its purchase by the Prada.

There’s little doubt about Helmut Lang’s major influence over the fashion of the last 15 years. Consumers can thank him for flat-front pants, the number of buttons on men’s suits — first three, more recently two — and the spiraling prices of designer jeans and T-shirts. An entire culture of prestige denim was born from Lang’s low-rise jeans with intricate washes, for which he dared to charge close to $200 in the 1990s.

So powerful was his creative leadership that when he said he would show his collections in Manhattan ahead of European rivals, most American designers followed suit, and New York Fashion Week was permanently rescheduled.

Yet the designer, who was once a driving force of minimalism, has found himself in a state of free fall, with his empire being dismantled piece by piece.

Four months ago Lang left the company that bears his name after long-running discontent with the Prada Group, which owns it. In early May, Prada began talks to sell off the business, describing it as unprofitable. In late May, Prada told managers at the designer’s stores in New York and Paris they would be shuttered in July.


Publicly, Prada executives attributed the slide to declining tourism related to fear of terrorism and severe acute respiratory syndrome and to the strong euro, but not to what some retailers now acknowledge, that Lang’s dedication to minimalism was absolute even as consumer tastes evolved.

“Look at Dolce & Gabbana, Cavalli, Dior and Chloe,” said Carla Sozzani, the owner of 10 Corso Como, an influential store in Milan, where Prada is based. “That has nothing to do with Helmut Lang. The whole concept of minimalism was very good in the early ’90s, but then for the past several years, people were not interested in that look.”

Another reason for the decline in sales was Prada’s cancellation of a license to an outside company to make Helmut Lang jeans, which were responsible for more than half of the brand’s revenues. In their trademark dark blue or black, the jeans were sold at more than 700 stores around the world. The decision to cut back production was in line with the dominant philosophy of building a designer label through expensive leather handbags and shoes and opening chic retail stores.

Lang said at the time the move would protect the exclusivity of his name. That was the mantra of the luxury industry circa 2000, as intoned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and other companies.

But in reducing the production of Helmut Lang denim, Prada was in a sense killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. “This may have been good for the image, but maybe not good for the business,” Sozzani said.

The departure of the Helmut Lang, and the subsequent decline of the Helmut Lang brand, it is, together with the similar events at the Prada-owned Jil Sander, among the conspicuous failures of the recent Prada strategy of expansion. Perhaps, the retrenchment into the core of the Prada business it is needed?

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