Carl Chiang’s fascination with sex and gender has led to an obsession with early Helmut Lang.
Can you even call yourself a collector if you don’t break a few racks in the process? Not according to Philippine-born Carl Chiang, whose hefty Helmut Lang collection caused the poles in their walk-in wardrobe to collapse. “My partner and I were having dinner when I heard this terrible sound,” shares Chiang. “My first reaction wasn’t ‘How are we going to clean this up?’ or ‘The landlord is going to kill us.’ It was ‘Are any of my pieces damaged?’” After a similarly disastrous run-in with Ikea containers, the founder of fashion events and communications agency Archival Toronto has since learned their lesson: Their 130-piece hoard is now supported on industrial cylinders that can hold over 200 kilograms. “I’ve discovered that only metal pipes can sustain the weight,” they say.
In a case of life imitating art, this intersection between style and practicality would be sure to make Lang proud — the designer is revered for pioneering the anti-luxury aesthetic of the ’90s. After launching his eponymous label in 1986, Lang garnered a cultlike status for his ability to blend military and minimalist designs with androgynous styles and bondage accents. He left his label in 2005, but his affinity for representing the LGBTQ+ community lives on through his work, which is what initially mesmerized Chiang. “When I was growing up, sex wasn’t something that you talked about in a conservative Filipino environment,” they reveal. “Many items in my collection lean into Lang’s BDSM references because to me, there is something superfun and supersexy about such a taboo subject. Fashion can bring these subcultures into the spotlight and challenge the heteronormativity of what sex looks like.”
Thanks to their mother’s love of designer accessories, Carl Chiang fostered a passion for fashion at an early age, culminating in their first Helmut Lang purchase — an army-green jacket from the 1999 Astro collection — in 2014. However, it wasn’t until two years (and a move to Canada) later that their obsession exploded as the more centralized location made it easier to connect with sellers and other Helmut Lang aficionados.
Chiang is a true historian. Their Helmut Lang knowledge is unparalleled; they are able to effortlessly identify the year, season and inspiration behind each item in their closet. They take their role as a curator quite seriously, collecting both menswear and womenswear that play significant roles in Lang’s legacy. “I’ve never collected based on what I can wear,” reveals Chiang. “It’s mostly what I think was important to the designer and fun. So if I see a piece from an iconic runway look, I take it regardless of its size or gender.”
Still, the collector insists that the message behind the creations, not the actual garments, fuels their Helmut Lang love affair. The designer’s balance between being referential and humorous makes his clothing a staple in Chiang’s closet. “What continues to strike me is not the construction of his pieces but his ability to communicate an artistic vision,” they say. “It’s his expressionism through fashion that I love.”
This is article first appeared in FASHION’s Winter 2022 issue.