The Genteel
October 22, 2017
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Shelter Serra's Fake Roley bracelet. Source: elle.com.

Online art-meets-design retailer, Grey Area, describes itself as "the undefined space between art and design where art is made functional and the functional is made art." Offering edgy, unexpected pieces designed by artists ranging from home décor to artwork to jewellery at accessible price points, much of what's on offer at Grey Area is one-of-a-kind or limited edition.

Art aficionado and Grey Area's creative director, Kyle DeWoody, thrives on the opportunity to work with artists who "explore limits and blur boundaries"; he explains that a part of Grey Area's raison d'etre "is to create unique and accessible ways of experiencing and owning art." The retailer's fashion boutique-cum-art gallery collaboration with Helmut Lang, then, makes a great deal of sense. Helmut Lang has been synonymous with edgy, minimalist and deconstructivist design, and in De Woody's view, "Helmut Lang and its creative directors have a similar vision with their design [as Grey Area]." 

Their duality and unique ability to recognise the ubiquitous elements of our urban vernacular and transform them into functional clothing, while maintaining the legacy of Helmut Lang, is inspiring and very refreshing. It was like working with two good friends.

Since 2006, Helmut Lang's husband and wife design team of Michael and Nicole Colovos, have been creating collections that maintain the vision of their Austrian predecessor. "They [Helmut Lang] were incredibly enthusiastic and committed to the project," offers DeWoody, "to creating something unique and exciting but also something in line with their identity."

Grey Area's pre-established portfolio presented ample inspiration from which to curate the Helmut Lang Goods collection (which officially launched on November 1); in some cases, pieces already existed, however signature versions were created for the collaboration. For the venture, Grey Area provided the craftsmanship of its artists, who designed the collection, while Helmut Lang offered up its retail space; both in-store and online. "We collaborated with Helmut Lang to find artists whose work visually and conceptually connected with the brand," as DeWoody further explains, "With their [Helmut Lang's] sharp lines and sumptuous materials, their dark edginess mixed with an organic softness."

The result is an eight-piece collection of unique gift items, including stationary by James DeWoody, band-aid rings by Michelle Lopez and The Whole Story photo albums by Debra Folz. But perhaps the season's top sellers will be those that offer a direct connection to the fashion brand; a HELMUT tee, featuring photography from Cat Stevens, and Helmut Lang leather pouches, with print by artist Andrea Longacre-White.

Along with this exclusive holiday gift collection, each of Helmut Lang's participating boutiques will feature a prominent, in-store art exhibition that will run throughout the holiday season (until January 17, 2013). Created by artist Shelter Serra, the nephew of American sculptor Richard Serra, the art installation entitled Engine Blocks features the car engines that have defined the American car culture of the late '60s and '70s. Known for using a sculptural practice that involves taking casts of everyday objects and transforming them into silicon sculptures, Serra created 17 custom sculptures for Helmut Lang stores in New York, Los Angeles and London.

"Working with Michael and Nicole on this project has been amazing. Their duality and unique ability to recognise the ubiquitous elements of our urban vernacular and transform them into functional clothing, while maintaining the legacy of Helmut Lang, is inspiring and very refreshing. It was like working with two good friends," says Serra. Apart from Serra's Engine Block (available for sale through Grey Area for US$4,000 to US$6,000), Helmut Lang stores will also carry a fake Roley bracelet by Serra, which, with a price point of US$40, may be more attainable.

Michelle Lopez Band-Aid Rings.
Source: elle.com.

While Grey Area promotes the work of well-known and emerging artists, it also looks for opportunities to collaborate with other organisations that are encouraging the work of such artists. As DeWoody explains, "Brand collaborations, like this, offer an opportunity to introduce art to a broader audience." As for Helmut Lang, the opportunity to promote emerging artists who turn functional items into art, seems like a natural extension for the design duo that "loves [the] utilitarian functionality" that is wholly evident in their collections.

On a business level, this intersection of art and fashion is one that both brands will undoubtedly benefit from by attracting different buyers to each other. During what continues to be a difficult time for luxury brands, finding innovative ways to retail will allow retailers to profit, even beyond this holiday season. "These kind of projects are an important part of Grey Area's future," offers DeWoody; and one would likely agree that it's just as important for Helmut Lang.

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