Rudi, Helmut und Wendy

The crème de la crème of Austrian fashion

The Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK) in Vienna puts on an impressive museum exhibition entitled Show Off highlighting the best of Austrian fashion from the past 40 years. We have long envied the Vienna fashion scene compared to what’s happening in Berlin.

It seems that sponsor money always ends up in the wrong hands in Germany; not so in Vienna where the government has been actively supporting the Austrian fashion design scene. Back in the day there was an organization called Unit F headed by Ulrike Tschabitzer-Handler who is also the curator of Show Off. With Unit F, Tschabitzer-Handler organized regular events and festivals around Austrian fashion introducing Achtung Zeitschrift für Mode to designers such as Ute Ploier or Florian Ladstätter or bringing us together at a round table with Business of Fashion founder Imran Amed. Unit F was what we ultimately missed in Germany and instead the magazine Vogue used talent support as a self-promotion with its Vogue Salon. Also, the design school Angewandte and its former director Oswald Oberhuber had a major impact on the strength of the Austrian fashion scene. He came up with the idea to invite international guest professors starting with Karl Lagerfeld, Jil Sander, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Vivienne Westwood, who taught Andreas Kronthaler there, Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho, Bernhard Willhelm, Hussein Chalayan and now Lucie and Luke Meier. Also, Vienna in the happening 80s had a club called U4 where the likes of Helmut Lang and Falco danced and the owner Oswald (Ossi) Schellmann did mini fashion weeks in his club. All this fostered a local fashion scene.

Ulrike Tschabitzer-Handler, the curator of the exhibition, focuses on striking images and the creativity of the international scene. Photo: © Jork Weismann.

Helmut Lang, SS 01 Advertisement. Photo: © Inez and Vinoodh.

We have always been close to the MAK in Vienna as we had our own proper mini exhibition here in 2005 called ACHTUNG Zeitschrift für Mode as part of the MAK Design Info Pool.

How did Show Off come together? Well, MAK director Christoph Thun-Hohenstein invited Tschabitzer-Handler to curate an exhibition on Austrian fashion. Let’s not forget, MAK is the second-oldest museum in the world after London’s Victoria and Albert Museum having been founded in 1864. Tschabitzer-Handler accepted but then called Andreas Bergbaur, one of the best communication professionals in the international fashion world who has worked with Raf Simons at Jil Sander, Donatella Versace or Stefano Pilati at Zegna and most recently as head of communications at Roberto Cavalli. Bergbaur is connected and his past as instructor at design school Angewandte as well as his friendship with Tschabitzer-Handler made him an ideal co-curator.

The curator is supported by her co-curator Andreas Bergbaur. Besides the deep knowledge about the scene, they are also connected by a good friendship. Photo: © Jork Weismann.

On top, the two exchanged with long standing Achtung contributor Brigitte Winkler to help them establish the line-up of 60 Austrian designers including Arthur Arbesser, one of the most important new voices in Milan, Susanne Bisovsky, an innovator and authority on Tracht, Rudi Gernreich, the legendary 60s designer, Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, Odeeh, Germany’s independent design success story where one half Otto Drögsler is Austrian, Lagos-born Kenneth Ize, who studied and built his career in Vienna, Petar Petrov, a designer we have covered from day one and is now an international best kept secret with a recent hit show in London, Carol Christian Poell, the best men’s designer in the world, period, recent festival of Hyères winner Christoph Rumpf, Berlin-based Marina Hoermanseder, who has created leather corsets for Lady Gaga and Rihanna, and always cool and conceptual Wendy&Jim.

Left: Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood, Advertising Campaign, FW 17/18. Photo: © Juergen Teller. Right: Rudi Gernreich, The Original Thong, Triangle Jacquard Knit Top, 2019 (model: Kerolyn Soares). Photo: © Oliver Hadlee Pearch. Courtesy of Rudi Gernreich LLC, New York and Rudi Gernreich GmbH, Luzern.

The cherry on the cake are the pieces by Helmut Lang who even while being in the middle of preparing a big solo show with his sculptures at MOCA West Port in Connecticut, took time to painstakingly arrange his five vitrines showcasing mostly his black tailoring and already then apparent penchant for mixed media fashion with silver hammered giant belt buckles or multi-lace up suit jackets and one feathery evening dress donated by Helmut Lang’s friend and Visionaire editor Cecilia Dean for the occasion.

Left: Helmut Lang, FW 03/04. Photo: © Inez and Vinoodh. Right: Helmut Lang, SS 04. Photo: © hl-art.

Also presented as a highlight are pieces of the Rudi Gernreich archives and license and name holder Matthias Kind from Berlin was in Vienna and brought along some of his best pieces. The clothes are presented in a six-meter high open installation by architect Gregor Eichinger who used to collaborate with Helmut Lang on store designs in Japan. So he clearly has the right pedigree for this kind of work and his idea of a giant walk-in closet impressed. But best? The perfect selection by Bergbaur and Tschabitzer-Handler when it comes to a designer’s signature, i.e. all of Arthur Arbesser’s pieces perfectly illustrate how he pays tribute to the Wiener Werkstätten with his colorful geometric prints and at the same time how much he has evolved into a full-scale designer of smart daywear.

Left: MAK-Ausstellungsansicht, 2020 SHOW OFF. Austrian Fashion Design MAK-Ausstellungshalle. Photo: © Ditz Fejer/MAK. Right: Arthur Arbesser, SS 19, Look 13. Photo: © Henrik Blomqvist.

Underlining the willingness to further showcase fashion at the museum, MAK used the given spotlight to announce a special intervention by Lang in the MAK Design Lab where he has his own room since 2014 and put together elements from his campaigns and editorials to showcase the development of the brand and its arty identity. Let’s not forget, Lang used Robert Mapplethorpe archival images for his first campaigns or rented New York City taxi tops to popularize his brand. The Lang identity show runs until July 12, 2020.

This article first appeared in Achtung Mode Nr. 39 (April 2020).