Where They Were Then: Helmut Lang

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Helmut Lang ditched fashion for art almost ten years ago, but he was SUCH a design darling back when. He’s one of the people—along with Calvin and Jil—who really defined nineties style. And you know the nineties: so buzzy right now. —bea koch

1956 - Helmut is born in Vienna, but his parents divorce when he is just five months old—so he spends most of his little-kid years in Ramsau au Dauchstein with his maternal grandfather, who’s a shoemaker.

1966 - Returning to Vienna to live with his newly remarried father, Helmut heads to Catholic school, which, in his own words, leaves him with “a great big helping of guilt and unworthiness.” Whoa.

1974 - Ahhh, time to find himself. In his case that also means settling on a uniform, which he eventually creates with the help of a seamstress. Friends are so impressed that they ask him to make them the simple tees and jeans he’s masterminded, too.

1977 - Helmut’s first studio opens in Vienna. Fancy ladies come in asking for ball gowns, and his pals still want perfectly cut jeans.

1986 - Nearly a decade after he starts designing, Helmut makes it official: He launches his namesake line and presents his first real-deal collection at the Centre Georges Pompidou.

1992 - The opulent look of the eighties no longer fits the economic reality (recession, party of one), and Helmut’s perfectly minimalist pieces are there to fill the void. His use of technology and nutso materials (feathers…and rubber) gets tons of praise.

1997 - Makin’ moves! After years of seeing his designs, ahem, borrowed by other designers, Helmut heads to NYC, hoping that he’ll have more creative control if he’s in the thick of it. He collaborates with pal Jenny Holzer on a super-cool downtown store.

1998 - So over the whole fashion show thing already, Helmut cancels his Fall/Winter 1998 event. Instead, he sends CD-ROMs (yes, those things your AOL trials used to come on) to editors and shows his collection on the internets—a first for any designer.  

1999 - Helmut shocks the fashion world by selling a controlling stake (51%) of his company to Prada, hot on the heels of Jil Sander’s failed partnership. But Helmut just wants to design—and leave the marketing and distribution to somebody else—so initially everything goes smoothly. 

2000 - Nominated for all three major categories at the CFDA awards (womenswear, menswear, and accessories), Helmut once again creates some dramz when he bails on the ceremony. GASP.

2005 - The fan-boys and -girls shed minimalist tears: Helmut says goodbye to the fashion world, selling the remaining stake of his co. to Prada and retiring to his home in East Hampton. But he can’t escape the urge to create. His new medium: sculpture.

2007 - It’s baaaack: Prada relaunches the line, but with a more accessible vibe—and price point.

2008 - Helmut’s first solo show, Alles Gleich Schwer—that’s Everything Has an Equal Weight in English—opens at the prestigious Kestnergesellschaft Gallery in Hanover, Germany. His pared-down, cool vibe is now translated to simple-but-beautiful sculptures.

2010 - Looking to the future, Helmut begins distributing key pieces from his fashion archive to various fancy museums and academic institutions…

2011 - …then he destroys the 6,000-ish remaining pieces, uses them to build 12 stalactite-esque sculptures, and shows them in an exhibition called Make it Hard at the Fireplace Gallery in East Hampton. Annnd, scene.

Get to know more major fashion forces.

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Winifred Grace’s Style Muse: Her Grandma

Coolness most certainly runs in the family.

Winifred Grace grew up in an art-loving family—her parents were both avid collectors—but it was her grandmother who really pushed her into the creative life. And, damn, was this is the jewelry designer’s grandma stylin’. Get a load of her look below. —raquel laneri


“My grandmother was an artist, and she had this amazing style. I don’t want to call her a hippie—because she was more sophisticated than that—but she was a bohemian. This picture of her was a studio shot, but she actually carved those little figurines out of soap, if you can believe it.”


“My grandmother always lived close to us, and she would come over and sit with my brother and I and make things. Please note her cool pinky ring and layered chains—it makes me happy. Because of her, I knew early on that I wanted to make a living making things and selling them.”


“My grandmother was sort of a tomboy. She wore men’s wallabies—they’re like suede desert boots with rubber soles and sturdy laces—with brown corduroys. She had a very unique sense of style and marched to the beat of her own drummer.”


“When her husband died when she was in her fifties, she went and lived in San Miguel, Mexico, in an artist community, where she took all sorts of classes at the art institute there. Seven or eight years ago, I went to San Miguel and took metalsmithing classes in the same exact classroom that my grandmother had taken classes. It was a very cool thing.”


“When I went down to Mexico to take metalsmithing classes, my mom brought this sculpture my grandmother made, which weighed, I don’t know, 75 pounds. We brought it to the art institute, and the son of the man who taught my grandma during the sculpture class made a mold of it and made copies so that I could have one and my brother could have one. I have it in my studio.”


“This is one of my all-time favorite photos of her, sipping coffee with her kerchief on. I wore a kerchief like that for years before I ever saw this picture. Though she’s no longer living, I feel very connected to her. I channel her taste a lot—a lot of the pieces I make, I can see her wearing, which makes me really proud.”

Winifred’s crazy-wearable edition comes tomorrow! Make sure you don’t miss it.

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Meet Forage

These two go way back.

Stephen Loidolt and Shauna Alterio have had quite the history: They met some 13 years ago as undergrads at Kansas City Art Institute before ending up together at grad school at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, later bopping around a bit, and eventually landing in Philadelphia. The two artists—Stephen’s background is in sculpture, and Shauna’s is in printmaking—have been major influences on each other’s work through the years, and Forage, a bow tie line they launched in the summer of 2010, is a full-blown collaborative effort. Every aspect of each tie—from the fabric-sourcing and hardware-attaching, to the tag-making and boxing—is hand-executed by the duo out of a rehabbed tire factory. Lest you think the ridiculously thoughtful approach might feel like a burden: “When we were first making the bow ties, it almost seemed like Shauna was most excited to be able to package something in these boxes that she had found,” Stephen says.

The name for the line comes from the joy the two take in digging up vintage material, which helps keep the creation process feeling fresh. “For the first collection, we went to New York, and we told ourselves, ‘We better find fabric that we love, or we’re in trouble,’” Shauna explains. “At this antique mall, Stephen found this insane stash of plaids from the forties, and he was like, ‘You mean like this?!’”

In honor of our birthday month, we’re bringing back some hits, like these guys. Check our the striped bow tie they made for us right now—just 35!

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Sophie Gets it From her Dad

The jewelry designer shares the large-scale pieces that have influenced her smaller creations.

Sophie Monet shares a studio with her father John Okulick, a California sculptor best known for his work in wood—the same medium in which the jewelry designer works. Though he’s hardly overbearing—“I’ve designated my table, and he doesn’t go near it”—the creative juices flow between them. Here, four of the works from her dad’s catalogue that mean the most to the talented up-and-comer.


“He puts lots of different things in those boxes—those are his signature sculptures that he’s been doing since the seventies. He took a break and went on to do more steel and metal, and now he’s revisiting the boxes again. We feed off each other. I’m always telling him what I think, what he should work with. And he tells me what he likes that I’m doing. It’s really nice that we can both make art together and get each other’s opinions.”


“Here, he’s using some sort of loud torch—I don’t know what it is called—to make the burned box [pictured up top]. I ran down and started taking pictures because I thought it was crazy. It was cool to see him in action—you don’t usually see people making something, the process.”


“I think this one looks like a woman’s figure, and it’s more light and airy compared to the other pieces he makes. It’s pretty tall, too.’”


“He has all of these miniatures of birds looking into picture frames. That coffee cup is symbolic to me because it came from our house. We had five of them, and now we only have four. We all drink coffee in the morning—everyone in my family has probably taken a sip out of that cup.”

Don’t miss out on Sophie’s edition! There are only 20 of her pyrite-and-wood necklaces available right over here.

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Forage

Stephen Loidolt and Shauna Alterio have had quite the history: They met some 13 years ago as undergrads at Kansas City Art Institute before ending up together at grad school at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, later bopping around a bit, and eventually landing in Philadelphia. The two artists—Stephen’s background is in sculpture, and Shauna’s is in printmaking—have been major influences on each other’s work through the years, and Forage, a bow tie line they launched in the summer of 2010, is a full-blown collaborative effort. Every aspect of each tie—from the fabric-sourcing and hardware-attaching, to the tag-making and boxing—is hand-executed by the duo out of a rehabbed tire factory. Lest you think the ridiculously thoughtful approach might feel like a burden: “When we were first making the bow ties, it almost seemed like Shauna was most excited to be able to package something in these boxes that she had found,” Stephen says.

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How Sarah Developed her Jewelry Habit

It all started with hemp.

Sarah Fox intended to be a sculptor. That experience playing with dyes and colors, light and scale has made her Chicago-based jewelry line Cursive Design something really special—it’s the perfect fusion of delicate forms and loud, attention-grabbing details. Here’s how she got there.

On losing her jewelry virginity:
“Growing up, I was especially always into making things, and in high school—I have to preface this by saying it was the early nineties—I started a little hemp-jewelry business. My high school was not that big. But I did have some competition, so I started to dye the hemp really horrible colors like forest green and maroon to make it different. It’s funny that I was dying the hemp, like I do now with lace. I only recently realized that I was playing with dye and color and these ideas even when I was 16. And I was pretty good at marketing and thinking about the demographics. A guy I knew sold weed, and I’d say, ‘Hmmm, I need to see who he’s selling to.’”

Pieces of Sarah’s hand-dyed lace.

On getting really into color:
“One of the first things I started studying at art school was color theory. I was really drawn to this painter Hans Hoffman, who explored the push and pull of color.”

Left: Hans Hoffman’s Equipoise; Right: “This necklace is inspired by Hoffman. The neon is like the push, and the creams and browns are the pull.”

On making dangly things:
“I pretty much decided sculpture was my thing right away at Montserrat College of Art, and then I continued to study it when I transferred to the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. I also really focused on electronics and lighting design, so it’s really odd that I ended up making jewelry because I was making these large-scale light installations. But I see a correlation between necklaces and earrings and pendant lamps. The properties are the same, and they’re hanging.”


One of Sarah’s most recent sculptures.

On playing with lace:
“I started exploring lace when I was working on a light piece. This was before laser technology was really out and about—2003 or 2004—so I was hand-sanding and trying to hand-cut this lace pattern into Plexiglas. There was just no way you could do that. I shelved the project, but I came back to the lace idea. The Plexiglas is this little relic that started this whole thing. I can’t get rid of it.”

The incomplete lace lighting project.

To get your hands on one of the 50 exclusive Cursive Design necklaces, click here.

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Cursive Design

“I’m from Mandan, North Dakota, a town of 15,000. It’s near Bismarck, but the bars are open later,” explains Sarah Fox, who says that she rarely thought about fashion growing up because in her town at that time, being stylish wasn’t really an option. 

She eventually moved to bigger cities—first near Boston to attend Montserrat College of Art and then to Chicago for School of the Art Institute, where she transferred her junior year—and, after studying sculpture intensely, got into housewares and jewelry. 

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