Meet London-based brand Halpern, masterminded by you know it, Michael Halpern. And this guy deals in glamour.
He rose to fame thanks to gorgeous sequin fanciful numbers back in 2016. These party-loving dresses, made from rich metallic fabrics with unapologetic glittering embellishments were an ode to his mother; a woman with style and stories from the New York ’70s scene. Jealous.
And it’s New York where this designer started out, at the Parsons School of Design to be precise. Upon graduating he was hired in a heartbeat by J.Mendel, after which he began working on the design team at Oscar de la Renta.
From there, London was calling and he enrolled on a Masters program at Central Saint Martins. Of course his MA collection received attention, and caught the eye of Versace and Michael was hired to consult on their couture collection, Atelier Versace.
At this point you’d think he’d be busy enough but oh no no, he also established his namesake line, debuting to critical acclaim during Autumn/Winter 2017 shows at London Fashion Week. Universally admired, here his collection was picked up by the likes of Bergdorf Goodman, Matches, Browns, Maxfield and the Webster. Not too bad for his first solo collection.
This amalgamation of style, fashion expertise and know-how within the couture realm has served Halpern well, as not only has his pieces been donned by the gals we love (cue Marion Cotillard, Amal Clooney, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o) he’s also been awarded a prestigious British Fashion Award, and rightly so.
Felicity Carter: What was your first fashionable memory?
Michael Halpern: My mother had a closet with all of the pieces she kept from when she was younger; chiffon caftans, embroidered gowns, matching print sets of trousers and tunics—it was a real treasure chest for me. She specifically had this one flowing sea-foam green chiffon ruffled dress I especially loved—it was real escapism for me. Spending part of my childhood in New York City was really influential from a fashion perspective as well. Seeing people on the street, to wandering through Bergdorf’s, to riding the subway was really shaping for me.
FC: How, when, why did you get into the industry?
MH: Originally when I was looking at colleges, I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to be a fashion designer. I knew for sure that I wanted to go to art school; just not specifically what major I was going to land in. I ended up going to Parsons in New York City (I really wanted to go to school on the west coast because I loved San Francisco, but I made a deal with my mother that if I got into Parsons, I would stay on the East Coast). At Parsons I thought I wanted to do something along the lines of Sculpture, but that pathway ended up being too abstract for me – I needed something a bit more tangible to hold on to at the end of the creative process. I realised I wanted to become a fashion designer because from a very young age I was surrounded by women who loved fashion, and I saw the incredibly transformative qualities fashion had on these women I loved so much. They would talk fashion, and I could see how their confidence, posture, and excitement grew when they were donning something that made them feel incredible- that sold me completely. I wanted to make things that would in turn be a part of what made someone feel extraordinary.
FC: How would you sum up the aesthetic?
MH: I am a bit of a magpie, so colour, texture, shine, iridescence, and striking silhouettes are a few things that really excite me. My mother was, and still very much is super glamorous and is a constant reference for my work. It’s not that she necessarily only wore designer clothes, but it was her attitude and her gumption that made her visual aesthetic so exciting. Glamour and fantasy are two words that I always have in my mind when going through the design process. It doesn’t mean that everything must be doused in shine, but more so have an effervescent quality.
FC: What is luxury to you?
MH: I don’t believe that to be luxurious it needs to always be “serious.” Of course, we make serious clothing in the way of construction, fine fabrics and embroideries, and tailoring; but there is always a lightheartedness to the collections. Luxury for me is to be able to look inside and out of the clothing, and there is real intention for each stitch, each panel, and every tulle bound seam. Sometimes the weight of a garment can have the perceived value that it is in turn more expensive, but I try and look at the opposite fo that. People today are not going from car to lobby to soirée with three people to help them get there along the way; they need to be able to put on a piece of clothing and it feel sumptuous and refined without feeling cumbersome.
FC: Who is your customer?
MH: This question is really an interesting one for me, now that we have been selling the Halpern collections for a couple of years. I used to think I had this answer, but after travelling and meeting the people who buy our collection that answer has been completely tossed out the window. From what I can see it is not just one type of customer; but I do feel there is a common thread that brings them to Halpern. The longer I am a designer, the more I understand that nowadays people want something special to invest in, which is great news for us. We don’t do the most basic and ‘merchandised’ collections; although continuity is really important for me because people want to buy into the story for the season. For me, the collections are small families of ideas with really strong and interweaving stories or principals work together in a wider setting. With so much information thrown at people in the modern day I think it is refreshing to see something with a really strong and specific identity that feels different from a lot of clothing; and I am so grateful that people come to us for that. I believe the only way to continued success in the fashion business is authenticity and staying true to your design beliefs; when a customer becomes invested in that idea with you is how we get to dress them season on season.
FC: Which was the first-ever piece that you designed and how did it come about?
MH: Oh gosh I have no idea! I spent one summer at the Rhode Island School of Design and remember making a 1950s-inspired cocktail dress.
FC: What is on your current mood board?
MH: The Spring Summer ’20 collection was heavily based on the incredible Barbara Streisand and her hugely impactful role as Fanny Bryce in the film Funny Girl. I used to watch this film a lot growing up (and to all of my friends dismay I still do often), and it always really spoke to me. There was something about Barbara’s character in the film that had so much power, determination, and glamour that captivates me every time I see her act, sing, or perform. We contrasted her character in the film with Barbara’s incredible personal style in the 1970s. Bright swathes of georgette mixed with intricate pleating and voluminous opera coats turned gowns were some of the ways we interpreted the shapes of those times into a collection for 2020- almost 100 years after the fact.
FC: Tell us about the process…
MH: There are three major parts of the process for me.
1 – Development of the colors and fabrications including embroideries which stem from extensive visual research.
2 – Silhouette development; mainly on the mannequin as draping is how I map out the collection for myself.
3 – The fitting and toiling process of which we do many times over and over for each piece. I like to jump around a lot in and out of different development stages of the collections, and then somehow a few days before the show when our stylist gets to London for the final time there is a living and breathing collection ready to be cast with models and prepared for the runway.
FC: What are your immediate and long-term goals for your company?
MH: For the past couple of years we have mainly focused on what our customer does post-6:00 p.m., which has been super exciting. Now we are expanding to what they would wear before that time of day, especially in the gorgeous summer weather. We realised we weren’t serving that part of our customers life; and it was something being asked of us by our partners in stores and our private clients alike. It has been so exciting to apply our sentiment and aesthetic to a genre of clothing we haven’t focused on previously whilst keeping in consideration of travel and climate. So for now, us being able to design for a broader spectrum in our customers lives is where we are headed; and it is such an exciting prospect. For a longer term goal; we want to be the company that the customer comes to for glamour and refined extravagance.