Tank Parade: Celebrating Helmut Lang’s Iconic 2004 Tank Top Revolution
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Reviewing Helmut Lang’s SS04 collection, Sarah Mower wrote in Vogue that “for all the lightness and sensitivity of color in this collection, Lang’s imagination has drifted into obsessing over aesthetic details.” It’s a review that Michael Kardamakis, founder of the Berlin-based archive ENDYMA, is more than familiar with when I read it to him, saying he’s pondered over it many times.
Looking at the collection in retrospect, he sees it in a different light, and has the tank tops to prove it.
KARDAMAKIS: I fucking sold myself to the devil to get all of these. They are very hard to find. Almost each of them is a separate story, a separate haggle, a separate seller from a separate place.
Kardamakis is the owner of the world’s largest collection of Helmut Lang garments, and walking into his archive of the Austrian’s designs is enough to make any fashion enthusiast weak at the knees. Grails are meticulously cleaned, restored, and organized to create a museum-worthy archive celebrating one of contemporary fashion’s most influential figures.
KARDAMAKIS: These tank tops are a prime example of how a simple idea can have an almost immeasurable impact when it comes to highlighting the body in an unconventional way. These stretchy, ambiguously shaped pieces look fantastic on men, women, children, dogs — it has a universal appeal.
Each item in the collection is sectioned into color and garment type and then organized from the most to least experimental. In the case of tank tops, the undergarment that has brought me to the ENDYMA archive, at the end of the rail is a classic white ribbed number, which is followed up with increasingly deconstructed and unconventional designs. The chain of variations ends with one that has just the skeleton of a neckline and armholes.
KARDAMAKIS: My starting point with Helmut Lang was people being so interested in it, that invited me to take a closer look. That’s how I began as a reseller before starting to buy into it, getting high off my own supply, if you will. With the tank tops, it was the same — I guess I was told that they’re good and I saw people really engage with them. Then as I started buying them, the purity of their form triggered a very specific response for me as a fashion enthusiast.
Along this journey of Lang’s experimentation with tank tops, which Kardamakis compares to looking at an illustration of the evolution of man, the designer strips the menswear staple of its macho associations and focuses on its sensual properties. It’s an action that we’ve seen regularly over the past two seasons, with the likes of Prada, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Bottega Veneta, and Y/Project putting tank tops in the forefront of our minds — and we can’t help but to see a touch of Lang in them all.
KARDAMAKIS: You have a turning point in the mid 2000s for the brand where they make some punk-inspired collections that involve a lot of deconstruction, and the design process appears to be very improvised even though everything was quite calculated in the final product. With SS04, the label is going full-on abstract. They are working from the position of a fashion house that can take risks, and I really respect that. Their codes are associated with minimalism more than anything else, but the way they integrate seemingly disparate things can be very unpredictable. For me, I don’t know what minimalism is if this is minimal.
SS04 is the climax of the designer’s probing with tank tops, building on his previous designs and perfecting the formula. The 57-look collection was made up almost exclusively of tanks: there were ones with nipple-exposing cutouts, ones that layered deconstructed tanks on top of each other, and ones with dragonfly-inspired iridescent fabric bulging out from various holes. The ENDYMA archive has managed to get its hands on a bunch of these, bringing them together to provide a unique look at Helmut Lang and his legacy as a fashion designer.
KARDAMAKIS: Now, looking back, I think this is some of the most iconic fashion of the 2000s. This collection is such a unique self-contained moment. When a brand takes risks, there’s always going to be a core customer who’s alienated. But what would you rather have: a brand that’s always consistent or a brand that explores different possibilities? If they hadn’t taken risks then, nearly 20 years later you wouldn’t have nerds paying thousands for stupid tank tops.
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