Recreating Helmut Lang's AW03 Runway Harness

Helmut Lang AW03 masterfully showcased visually charged renditions of military inspirations and bondage by reframing overt references like aviator suit corset lacing and safety belt style harnesses while maintaining complete cohesiveness with his perfect tailoring, paving the way for contemporary fashion.

One of the most iconic and prevalent motifs of the season is the parachute style harness. Composed of strap webbing with a buckle and sliders, the accessory itself is physically rather unassuming, yet it perfectly encapsulates AW03’s aviator themes and references to BDSM culture with Seditionaries styling. Moreover, its wide use in various looks in the runway established it as an extremely versatile accessory, worn over knits, silk dresses, and under suits.

Vivienne Westwood 1977

X-Series Pressure Suit 1957

Unfortunately the harness was never produced in its original form, initiating my search for this crucial yet elusive piece. After extensive research, appointments to museums, references to the runway specimens, and contacts with former staff, I finally recreated the original runway harness with the same old stock hardware as those used by Helmut Lang with new military aviation webbing and silk ribbon.

The harness as shown in the runway never made it to production due to the extremely limited quantity of the third-party hardware used. Instead, the production version used a narrower cotton strap with a more generic 4-way plastic buckle, losing the rigidity and robustness of the original military inspired look. The runway version also used a cross slider as opposed to a stitched cross back which made the harness fully adjustable.

Tracking down most of the runway versions, I noticed differences in construction across examples, like in the main triangular stitch. Some versions were stitched with a single triangle, some with two, and some with none, all with varying angles. I determined through my own prototypes the most visually pleasing and best draping version was a single equilateral triangle which lets the side straps hug against the body.

Helmut Lang utilized two versions of a proprietary and highly secure buckle; the more prevalent rounded edge buckle and an older model with a more squared off edge. Despite being plastic, the hardware included redundancies which ensured its original critical life-saving purpose.

The buckles and sliders had extensions where stitches could be woven in, ensuring they stay in place even if the stitching began to fail. The buckle also had a little tab preventing the release button from being pressed if the buckle exerted weight or a sudden force.

Through countless hours of research I managed to find the original hardware manufacturer. Though the proprietary hardware was already difficult to acquire in 2003, the buckles were discontinued over a decade ago, making them even more challenging to source now. I even 3D modeled the buckles based on my references before finding the actual hardware. Luckily I’ve managed to find a very small quantity of old-stock buckles exactly identical to the ones used by Helmut Lang.

The hardware also mandated an unusual non-standard strap width, which even the Helmut Lang team had trouble sourcing. One example of the runway versions feature two smaller-width straps sewn together to create the correct width. Fortunately, after extensive research I've managed to source the correct width straps fit for the purpose: genuine military spec aviation seatbelt webbing and the most premium silk ribbon available.

The final product is a meticulous and exact recreation of the most iconic accessory from one of the most iconic seasons of Helmut Lang, of which only ~10 were made, and which is impossible to find anywhere, as most reside in museums. With the very limited finite number of buckles remaining, Huiben is proud to offer a rare chance to complement any Helmut Lang ensemble or piece with an homage even more fitting than the production version harnesses.

Production harness courtesy of Artifact New York and Dominik Halas
Runway garments courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MAK Museum Vienna.
Seditionaries photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
X-Series Pressure Suit photo from Google Arts & Culture
Silk Harness Dress photo from Self Service Magazine