Helmut Lang was born in Vienna in 1956. Having originally been trained for a financial career, Lang only decided to move into fashion after he failed to find the perfect jacket and T-shirt in the shops and was forced to make his own. ""I wanted to be an artist but I was so in awe,"" he later explained to Vogue in September 1998. ""I had a Catholic education, which leaves you with a great big helping of guilt and unworthiness that I went to business school instead.""
Lang opened his first shop to such acclaim that, in 1986, the Austrian government invited him to contribute to a national exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in France. His designs went down a storm, and, by the end of the year, he had staged his first catwalk show in Paris. But Lang was not built for the ""heat of the fashion cauldron"". Though continuing to show there, he soon moved back to Vienna. His early shows were intimate - even cramped - affairs. While executive editor of Frank, his close friend Kim Stringer explained that this was largely because ""he was always worried that no one would turn up, so he invited everyone he knew"".
In keeping with his modest reputation, he remained based in Vienna, resisting the lure of the four major international fashion capitals, until the late Nineties, when he finally relocated to New York. In April 1998, three days before he was due to show his first collection in the US, Lang decided to change his plans and broadcast it to the world instead, live on the Internet. That spring, Lang finally began to really cash-in on his achievements, with the launch of his own lower-priced jeans collection.
The following season, Lang raised eyebrows once again, when he announced that he wanted to leapfrog the collections in London, Milan and Paris and show in mid-September, almost two months before the rest of the New York shows were scheduled to start. Though a Manhattan newcomer, Lang proved to be something of a pied piper, as a dozen designers, including Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Vivienne Tam and Nicole Miller soon followed suit.