Peter Do’s debut as creative director at Helmut Lang fits well into the narrative of New York City and the brand, with help from poet Ocean Vuong
Peter Do usually wears a face mask in public, but the vulnerability lent by Ocean Vuong’s words to his debut collection at Helmut Lang is perhaps all that was needed to be shown to the world.
Do and Vuong are both Vietnamese American immigrants, both poets and prodigies in their own mediums. Their paths parallel somewhat: they arrived at the US within a few years of each other; Vuong received an Academy of American Poets college prize out of Brooklyn College, while Do was awarded the LVMH Graduate Prize as he graduated at the Fashion Institute of Technology; both cut their teeth in their respective fields, achieving accolades and building communities. In 2018, Do established his namesake brand with friends; in 2019, Vuong released On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, and was named a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
Now, 4 or so odd years later, Do has been anointed as creative director of Helmut Lang, and Vuong’s words were quite literally on the wall at Do’s show a few hours ago in New York City:
At Peter Do, there is evidently magic in the air. Details pieced together from atelier visits from multiple publications share: the clothes are made for and on the body of actual people, fittings happen at regular intervals. They are for someone, instead of idealized versions that become no one.
Vogue Philippines’ photographer on assignment Martin Romero confirmed as much when he visited the atelier over the Labor Day Weekend, when Do and his team were doing fittings for their Helmut Lang debut. It seems especially correct to call it theirs in this context—the brand’s culture of inclusivity, fluidity, kindness, and collaboration is often reported, and Do continuously mentions the brand’s co-founders, art director An Nguyen, press director Jessica Wu, CEO Vincent Ho, and director of operations Lydia Sukato, at every opportunity.
They let the clothes do the talking, however. Just as Peter Do wears a face mask, his friends at work similarly asked for their faces to be removed before their photographs at the fitting were published. Romero affirms: “Their ‘quietness’ is loud and heard throughout.” On the runway, with the slow tectonics of Vuong’s words, it is louder and even more heard than before:
But we should talk about the clothes. Helmut Lang was known throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s for the most luxurious minimalism: luxurious fabrics and denim that fit well, classic basics and cutting-edge basics that fit well. Everything fit well, subjective as that may be—but it’s exactly what Peter Do is known for too. In the heyday of Helmut Lang and in the present of Peter Do, they designed clothes that could walk off the runway and straight into the street. These clothes hung in closets whatever the season, whether bought brand new or secondhand. Timelessness, maybe; but more than that, it feels like a very honest take on fashion and style and where all of this goes and where all of it is worn in the end.
The answer to that: a body. The body. For his Helmut Lang debut, Do seems to have taken the pieces that most whispered New York City and recontextualized them for the present, seen in neutral button-downs and basics, a billboard print with Helmut Lang’s name emblazoned, the ‘90s-esque black leather boots of different heights and heels. And of course the denim—that denim that fit so well.
It was not all only Helmut Lang. A lot of it was Peter Do himself, most notably in the desconstructed and reconstructed suit; the addition of sashes and criss-cross echoing the Vietnamese traditional dress Ao Tu Than, updated in modern palettes and silhouettes; the look of layered fabrics and colors.
With his many accomplishments, most impressive today is Do’s ability to tell multiple stories at the same time. That of himself, that of his namesake brand, that of Helmut Lang the brand, that of Ocean Vuong, that of the industry and young creative directors at the helm of older houses, that of an Asian American perspective at such an institution, and that of the woman, the man, the person on the runway, the person on the street. These stories have been told in different ways, at different times, but today they intersected in New York City, in a sort of planetary alignment that is fabled to come only every few decades. Today, Helmut Lang once again tells the story of New York City’s people, but this time, in a new way, one that fits very well: