At a time when subdued colourways, understated embroideries, and minimal embellishments are leitmotifs of the global fashionscape, London-based designer Michael Halpern is conjuring a maximalist rebellion. Think multicolour sequin polo necks, shiny gold dresses with slits, and sequinned floral-flared trousers, all signatures of his trademark high octane designs. Even though his version of glamour traces its roots to the Studio 54 days (his mother was a regular visitor at the iconic New York club), Halpern has reimagined the term to fit in the ever-evolving market of today. His pieces have a sense of effortlessness coupled with the right balance of colour, clash of prints, patterns, and sharp cuts.
With a moodboard that is replete with references from designers like Charles James, Christian Lacroix, and classic Hollywood icons, Michael Halpern delivers for the red carpet of today. In 2017, Marion Cottilard opted for his silver sequinned gown at Cannes Film Festival, catapulting the designer into global consciousness. Just a few days before that he had formally launched his label, showcasing his debut collection at London Fashion Week FW ’17. What followed was not just fame but also advance bookings from luxury retailers such as Browns, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Matchesfashion, and Net-a-porter.
Originally from New York, Michael Halpern’s work exudes boldness and so do the women who slip into his pieces. There was the dual-toned Halpern dress from the 2017 British Fashion Awards that made model Adwoa Aboah the talk of the town, and numerous other red-carpet pieces created for the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Amal Clooney, Diane Kruger, and more. Hollywood plays a pivotal role in whatever Halpern creates, and for his recent Spring 2020 show, he took inspiration from Barbara Streisand’s 1968 classic, ‘The Funny Girl’, and showed dresses featuring exaggerated shoulders, dramatic capes, and draped gowns.
“Michael Halpern is at the heart of a movement towards modern glamorous dressing,” says Cecilia Morelli, co-founder Le Mill, Mumbai, where Halpern dresses are now being stocked. “A little retro, but also very street. His work has this beautiful ability to skirt both lines and feel very fresh,”
Lifestyle Asia India spoke to Michael Halpern on his love for India, finding a medium in sequins, and redefining glamour.
On his love for India
I have always been fascinated with India. What makes this country unique is colour; it is also crucial for me as a designer. I see it as a part of everyday life through embroideries, shapes, spices, mixing of fabrics. There is such an overwhelming sense of living. Le Mill was a perfect fit for my label. I think Cecilia and Julie are in-tune with what people want; more so, they know about the transformative power of fashion.
On his understanding of modern glamour and his muses
It is really about the woman. Of course, clothes are there to support that ideal glamour and to give her confidence, shape, and context but I think the most glamorous thing is when you speak to someone who has grace, empathy, and control. My muses keep changing – right now its Barbara Streisand, Angelica Huston, and my mother. Among the younger stars, I admire how Rihanna makes the most authentic fashion statements through her sensibility. The meaning of glamour today has evolved, it should not feel pushy or referential. I have taken the openness of the ’70s, ’80s, and hints from the Studio 54 era and have interpreted them in a way that makes a woman feel glamourous and authentic.
On his design aesthetic
Every season we try to bring new themes to life. It always about rethinking the essence of our brand. That extremity, glamour, colour, texture, being able to play with so many different silhouettes while keeping everybody excited is what drives and nourishes my design aesthetic.
On his love affair with sequins
I started working with sequins while doing my MA (Fashion) at Central Saint Martins. I wanted to think of a medium that could be colourful, enticing, and textural. Something that I could develop consistently. Sequins can be transformed into so many variables; matte, shiny, you can create using any pattern or shape, make them out of chiffon, organza, or metal. I wanted to treat my material as a catalyst for innumerable permutations and combinations.
On choosing London over New York
London’s diversity and energy are unmatched. I came to the city to pursue my masters and then worked at Versace. We sell in Milan and Paris, so it made more sense for me to stay. London’s fashion scene gives breathing space to young designers. They are supported via both, design, and sales perspective. If you are doing something unique you will have space to say what you want to say. There is no other country in the world which sells young designers as London does.
On the most important advice ever received
Donatella Versace told me “Be authentically yourself and if you are not, you won’t work.”
Changes the fashion industry needs to incorporate
“The selling schedule is too crazy – stores wanting newness all the time is not good. Things should slow down. Fashion magazines should give younger brands a chance to be featured. Sustainability needs to be incorporated in all the aspects of the business we follow. People need to consume thoughtfully and invest in quality that you can wear repeatedly. The market needs to realise that wastage won’t benefit in any form, reusing is the only key.”
You can now buy Michael Halpern at Le Mill, Mumbai