The outrageous and unadulterated glamour of fashion upstart Halpern

By
Photography Liam Hart

Published March 13, 2018

What do you need to know about Michael Halpern, the New Yorker making a name for himself in London, with Donatella Versace as a fan? His brand is about glamour—“serious glamour,” he corrects me—and that glamour isn’t just a pair of coruscating short-shorts against a Studio 54 backdrop.

The 29-year-old designer cut his teeth under the tutelage of J. Mendel, Oscar de la Renta and Atelier Versace, after graduating from Parsons in 2010 and leaving London’s Central Saint Martins with an MA in womenswear in 2014. Although it’s been a steady climb for the young designer, Halpern has seemingly exploded onto the scene in a shower of sequins, shepherded in as the brand to open your wallet for by Marion Cotillard and Katy Perry. Here are the essentials.

NAME: Michael Halpern

AGE: 30

BORN AND RAISED:

Niskayuna, Upstate New York, United States of America. But I feel like a New Yorker, because my mom worked in the city, so I spent my time between upstate and there. I had the best of both.

STUDIED:

Undergrad womenswear at Parsons School of Design, New York. Masters womenswear at Central Saint Martins, London.

I FEEL MORE AT HOME…

In London. I’ve become an adult here. My friends are here, my company is here; I feel like my life is in London.

I CAME TO LONDON BECAUSE…

The brands are so supported here, and the press really look at young brands as an influencing force. “Emerging” brands here are seen as tastemakers, not the underdogs.

I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE…

A sculptor when I was younger. But it wasn’t for me. So I got into design because I could sculpt, but then it would be handed off to someone else to live in.

THE MOMENT I REALISED I WANTED TO START MY OWN BRAND:

I didn’t? I knew I wanted to do my own thing, but I didn’t think it would actually happen this quickly. I didn’t intend to sell my MA collection or open my own studio. It just sort of happened.

BEFORE HALPERN…

I was at Atelier Versace. Which is serious couture. They let me off the leash, and I could do whatever I wanted with experimentation and ideas. It was so emotional, and so glamorous, and the craftsmen and women there, they would eat together, they would sing together. It was like family. And I am going to make sure I bring that to my own brand.

WHY SEQUINS?

There’s nothing that screams luxury and escapism like something that shines—whether it’s sequins or lamé, or anything that has that magpie affect. That’s what feels right and modern right now.

IF I HAD TO DESCRIBE MY WORK IN FIVE WORDS:

Optimistic. Escapist. Shiny. Hopeful. Buoyant.

THE DESIGNERS THAT INSPIRED ME:

Christian Lacroix. Bob Mackie. Roberto Capucci.

THE FIRST WOMAN I THINK OF WHEN I THINK “STYLE”:

Nan Kempner.

THE WOMEN I WANT TO SEE WEARING HALPERN:

I would die for Mariah Carey.

WHO IS THE MICHAEL HALPERN WOMAN?

I might look at Anjelica Huston, or Cher, or Tina Turner, but the real Michael Halpern woman is everything you wouldn’t expect; the Michael Halpern woman is surprising. Natalie Kingham (@nataliekingham) is amazing though…

IN THE STUDIO, I LISTEN TO:

Anything, because anything goes, apart from country. We’ve been playing Lauryn Hill’s album all day. That will never get old.

GLAMOUR IS:

Not just what you wear, it’s how you speak, sit, and treat people. I like to have older women in my show for that reason. I feel like real femininity comes from the experience of those women who know themselves.

STRUGGLES OF BEING A YOUNG DESIGNER WORKING IN THE INDUSTRY TODAY:

People thinking you have 20 million Euros after two seasons just because we get a lot of press! That is so not the reality.

THE REALITY IS:

So many finance meetings and so many emails. And the challenge of distribution. I’ve only ever been a designer, and it was a real steep learning curve trying to understand the politics of buying and retail exclusives. It’s like brainfood though. It keeps you sharp.

THE BEST THING ABOUT WORKING ON MY OWN LABEL:

Being able to work with the people you and only you want to work with. The freedom to make mistakes and trust in the pace of things.

 

THE NEXT THING YOU’LL SEE FROM ME IS:

Reimagining how we embroider. For Autumn/ Winter 2018, I used tinsel. And we’re thinking about inappropriateness, and texture, and things that shouldn’t be together going together. That’s pushing us.

IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS, YOU BET I’LL…

God, I’ll just be trying to grow a healthy business. it’s hard to run a business, and keep it fresh. It’s like cooking—which I hate. You can be as prolific as you want as a designer, but there’s a retail side, and I’m trying to get the grip of that (but I am enjoying that). But I’d love to work with other brands on a bigger scale.

DONATELLA VERSACE NAME-DROPPED YOU IN A VIDEO WITH OVER TWO MILLION VIEWS. IS SHE A CUSTOMER?

Not yet.