Nicole and Michael Colovos are the American-New Zealand husband and wife tag-team designers behind the iconic Helmut Lang brand. Together they mash up machine-like minimalist fashion that is severe, saccharinely pretty and imbued with beautiful metaphors and cleverly coded subtexts.
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Champions of the avant-garde, in charge since 2006, Nicole and Michael are building a ready-to-wear empire that includes numerous stand-alone and store-in-store formats, break-neck growth in sales and a robust cult and celeb following. The mega-creative Colovoses are known for their intuitive sense of what customers crave and their ability to push boundaries without being too extreme. They draw inspiration from hard-edged motifs and create fashion that is cryptic, cerebral, aggressively elegant and downright sublime. With a knack for androgyny, Modernism, a dark palette and possessing oodles and oodles of artisanship, Helmut Lang is thriving.
i-D online hijacked half an hour of the duo’s time to chat about their fondness for sculpture, their admiration for skate culture and why NYC is their stomping ground.
What’s on your radar lately and what are some of your key inspirations? We’re loving Richard Serra’s minimalist, hypnotically sinuous sculptures and artist Kate McGwire’s feather-laden installations. We thought about their work and imported some of the references into the Fall aesthetic. Jan Kempenaers’ beautiful photographs of antiquated Spomeniks/monuments in the Balkans are beyond cool! We also got really inspired by LSD-addled spiders and their trippy, drug-induced webs that we channelled into our silhouettes and prints.
How often to you delve into the Helmut Lang archives? We definitely look at the archives on a consistent basis. We have profound admiration for Helmut Lang (the man as well as the brand!) and fully appreciate his pioneering approaches to design. We leverage the label’s sense of modernism while integrating past references with our own aesthetic inclinations to make it the best we possibly can.
What’s the division of labor like when the two of you collaborate on a collection? Our worldviews are basically synchronized and we do everything together. We drape and sculpt shapes and silhouettes on bodies to get a direction and refine it as we go. We source fabrics, develop materials and design prints together. In the end it’s a perfect fusion of technical and conceptual, and our designs reflect our mutual ideas and interests.
What kind of music are you into? Our playlist is a sonic smorgasbord; we love everything from Thrash Metal and Electro-pop to Hip Hop and Grunge. Snoop Dogg is performing next weekend in NYC and that will be a blast! When designing the collections we typically listen to a wide-range of genres and bands — from Metallica and NIN to Sleigh Bells and more mellow melodies.
You’re an avid ‘hobbyist’ skater and encourage your seven-year-old son to dabble in the sport. What’s your view on skateboard culture? I was steeped in skateboarding from a tender age and have a great reverence for the sport. My old-school heroes are Natas Kaupas, Lance Mountain and Rodney Mullen, to name a few. I really appreciate how skateboarders foster a sense of individualism and independence in each other and themselves; it’s a great feedback loop and you get to set your own standards. Skateboarding is amazing because it’s an expression of ‘underground culture’ and serves as a portal to other alternative modes of art and life. Oh, and it’s great exercise, too!
What do you love about NYC? We love its rich diversity and endless inspiration. It’s the perfect creative cluster with so many industrious and talented people. It just makes sense for us to be based here and for Helmut Lang to show here.
Text: Cody Ross
Photography: Brittany Kubat/Charles Billot
Image (bottom) from the Helmut Lang archive
Special Thanks to Veronica Lee