For the Fall-Winter 2023 collection, Helmut Lang explores the workwear: shearling, wool, micropaillettes, tulle, and ripped leather are covered with small details in the form of metal spikes, rivets, articulated sleeves, and bangs. The exploration of work uniforms in all its possibilities is stocked by an understanding of ‘UTILITY. CIVILITY. DEVIANCE.”: three core principles for the brand, evident in its identity and the way it communicates. They are pillars that live together, creating a play of balance, tension and excitement typical of Helmut Lang. The designer draws from his archive by bringing back to the runway the iconic word “COWBOY,” first seen printed inside out on a white cotton T-shirt in the Spring 2004 collection. The word was subverted, shown upside down, and the t-shirt was combined with a traditional tailored suit. The theme was present throughout the collection in tailored garments adorned with chaps details, pointed leather shoes that resembled the classic boots, and belts with oversize buckles. The famous t-shirt is the starting point of the Winter collection, but also of the exhibition realized for the occasion and curated by Antwaun Sargent. The latter explores the complexity of the American icon, inviting seven artists to consider the concept of the cowboy with a broader meaning of identity, evaluating different points of view and new cultural awareness. The artists, including Turiya Adkins, American Artist, Awol Erizku, Devi B. Johnson, Justen Leroy, Daniel Obasi and Quay Quinn Wolf, after two decades since the first appearance of the famous upside-down writing, show their ideas and considerations through the use of sound, sculpture, painting and photography.
“I can not think of the world COWBOY and not think of social notions of masculinity, but, I also think of community.”
As Sargent specifies, the purpose of the exhibition is not to represent the idea of the cowboy, but to analyze and explore it within a more conscious and complex context, considering the historical and contemporary value of a real cultural icon. The exhibition, which takes the name of “YOBWOC” cowboy inside out, highlights different themes: material realities and beauty, the broadening of awareness toward the expansion of the West and migration, the imagining of spiritual and narrative forces surrounding the cowboy figure, and the deconstruction of the rhetorics of masculinity, community and desire. Turiya Adkins makes abstract paintings focused on the significance of West American cowboys figures involved in migration, creating patterns that help her imagine what the Great Migration might have looked like. Quay Quinn Wolf, on the other hand, reflecting on the word, thinks about the body and the effort, the sweat and grime imprinted on the saddle: the artist cannot separate the figure of the cowboy from the common image of the masculine man on horseback, but strives to imagine him within a community. With his sculpture, he weaves and sews together strips of black leather to create a minimal quilt, echoing some of the techniques that are prominent in the next season’s collection. Daniel Obasi shows his interpretation through photography, while Justen Leroy uses music to explore his vision in depth. Helmut Lang thank to the exhibition emphasizes how thinking about cowboy everyone comes to think of the same image, not considering the concept in its entirety: contrary to popular belief, there are still many communities that continue to live today in cities like New York or Philadelphia. The exhibition discover all-round new perspectives and contemporary viewpoints that allow the viewer to reflect on the meaning of the word in a broad artistic context. When you read the word ‘cowboy’, what do you think of?