Peter Do’s Helmut Lang debut came in for some sharp reviews. This season’s should be better. The collection is more confident and less fussed-over than his first, and for a bonus he had Kirsten Owen, the archetypal Helmut Lang model, in pole position.
Among the critiques last time was Do’s failure to recapture the vibe of a Helmut Lang-the man-show—that feeling of being in the room with the in-crowd seeing new fashion as it was happening. The fact that it’s an exceedingly rare feeling doesn’t make people long for it any less. Do’s onetime boss Phoebe Philo had the touch, but it’s not something that can be taught. Can a revival ever really hope to recapture that original Helmut Lang feeling? It’s complicated: As Owen herself once put it, when asked by a Vogue reporter about Lang’s heyday, “It was more of a smell than a memory, of raw concrete and hi-fi. Definitely a buzz.”
What Do has going for him is his tenacity. Asked about his reviews, he said, “the last show was a foundational reset; we spent a lot of time working on those blocks [meaning silhouettes and patterns], and all of those blocks for spring became these. I couldn’t be here without doing that first.” He also mentioned rebuilding the atelier, and the months of trial-and-error that went into what he’s calling his “apex” story of tailored jackets and coats with seams and darts on the sleeves and from back-to-front that all point to the center. “I want people to be able to tell that this is Helmut tailoring from miles away,” he said. The cut of those suits is unimpeachable; tough in a way that does indeed feel reminiscent of Lang.
Do said he was thinking about protection and projection, and how the two qualities are intertwined. The chin grazing collar of an oversize shearling aviator would ward off a chill and look boss, too, while the mid-layer garment (to borrow a Virgil Ablohism, who borrowed liberally from Lang) modeled after a bullet-proof vest was all projection—no good in a gunfight, but a useful accessory for accentuating a well-formed torso.
The weakness in Do’s armor might be the literal lifts from the Helmut archive. For instance, the Chinatown bag plaids, whose fashion lineage traces from Lang to Philo’s Celine via Marc Jacobs’s Louis Vuitton, seem designed more for Instagram than real life. But as Do becomes more assured, he’ll learn to rely on them less and his own sartorial skills more.