Michael Halpern dazzles London Fashion Week with platforms and sequins

The spotlight falls on the designer with a vision is to provide a moment of escapism in dark times

The question of where fashion sits within the ongoing post-Weinstein cultural awakening feels more pertinent than ever this weekend. Patrick Demarchelier, Princess Diana’s personal fashion photographer, has denied sexual misconduct accusations. A proposed all-black dress code in support of Time’s Up, the campaign against sexual harassment, will dominate the red carpet at the Bafta awards, an international event that falls in the middle of this week’s London shows.

For the New York designer Michael Halpern, 30, the timing is perfect. His London-based label Halpern, a cavalcade of sequins and colour, is currently one of the most popular in womenswear. “This idea of inappropriate glamour, or of questioning what is too much in fashion, or goes too far…” Halpern told the Observer, “What’s going on in with women and politics has pushed me to want to make a statement with what I design.

“If it feels like the world is going down, I try to go in the other direction. All this doom and gloom... people need escapism.”

The day before his show Halpern is in a quietly fretful mood. The issue, he says, is the catwalk, which is “really, really long”, meaning the models haven’t got time to change in between. He pauses, as if trying to do the maths, then laughs. “So right now, I guess relaxed isn’t quite the word I’d use.” In the grand scheme of concerns, it seems negligible. But all eyes are on him: Halpern’s show is one of fashion week’s most anticipated.

Halpern finished his MA from Central Saint Martins art school in London two years ago. With only three collections under his belt, he has already honed the aesthetic of elevated kitsch and pre-Dynasty 1970s glamour that is now synonymous with his label.

Though not quite a household name, Halpern regularly appears in Vogue and his pieces have been worn by Lupita Nyong’o, Amal Clooney and Marion Cotillard.

Beyoncé is a fan, and in December he won the British emerging talent award for womenswear at the Fashion Awards. Also in attendance was Vogue cover girl Adwoa Aboah, who wore a sparkly Halpern jumpsuit to collect her award for model of the year.

Loud glamour was a prevalent theme in yesterday’s show too, which centred on sequin tuxedo jacket dresses, asymmetric necklines and clashing colour schemes worn with impossibly high platforms; Donna Summer’s hits played and the industry was out in force.

Being a “politically minded” American, Halpern’s reaction to the world going down is a global one: Trump. Brexit. Weinstein. He wants to create clothes that are rooted in escaping “the terrifying things that are going wrong”. That means clothes that are fun, maximalist and ritzy – the likes of which have not been seen since disco’s heyday. Think short, cut-out mini-dresses, sequinned flares and polo necks and satin bustiers with long asymmetric trains. His designs look like couture, but aren’t. They almost certainly look like evening-wear, but, again, are not. “The lines between day and evening are really blurred – it’s so modern to be wearing something grand during the day”, he says.

Naturally, with red carpet season upon us, demand for his label is high. “But red carpet isn’t something I set out to do,” he says. “We get a lot of requests, [but] I only want to work with people whose work I respect, not just people with a so-called good body. It just so happens the women who have worn my designs are magnificent.” Halpern cites the late New York socialite Nan Kempner and Anjelica Huston as inspirations, but also his sister, “the girl who doesn’t give a shit”. The mood is very much “girl goes to a party and stops off at the chip shop on the way home”.

Sequins and bold colours make a statement at London Fashion Week.
Sequins and bold colours make a statement at London Fashion Week. Composite: Tabatha Fireman/BFC/Getty

It could only have happened in London, the designer thinks. “If I showed the same collection in, say New York, I wouldn’t be showing my own collection. Setting up my life here has pushed me to have the guts to do this,” Halpern says.

In 2010 he graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York, going on to work for fashion houses J Mendel and Oscar de la Renta. After finishing his MA in 2015, he was hired by Donatella Versace to work for Atelier Versace. She has been a longtime champion of his work, and with rumours of her retirement, naturally his name has come up. “I’m sure he is being bombarded with offers,” says Sarah Mower, the British Fashion Council’s ambassador for emerging talent, who spotted Halpern during his MA degree show. “It was all glitter and flares and sequins and it was just so very, very different to everything else there... I was knocked sideways.”

He runs a tight, local operation. Everything is made in the UK – Halpern mentions a team of seamstresses in Leicester with warmth. Based on London’s Hoxton Street, he employs five people full time, and freelance machinists when needed. Octavia Bradford, womenswear buyer for Browns, one of the few places that stocks Halpern, says: “There’s no one to make tea for him. But that’s part of what makes him successful – he knows not to overstretch himself.” Naturally, this exclusivity has done little to deter the industry. Mower mentions the time Halpern hired an Airbnb property in Paris to do an early presentation, “and there were big, big buyers literally fighting over the stuff”.

In recent years the focus at fashion week has fallen on a generation of young, creative designers (who routinely see their name prefixed by “emerging talent”), such as Molly Goddard, and Matty Bovan, who graduated a year before Halpern.

If the spotlight is on this particular brand of designer whose focus, though hard to distil in a singular way, is an anarchic, gender queer aesthetic, Halpern’s old-school, glamorous womenswear is, he says, “inherently different. What they do is fantastic and authentic but that style is not me as a person”.

His style is about looking forward but also looking back. His mother was a Studio 54 regular and remains another inspiration.

“Michael is different,” says Mower. “His priority is to make his label happen.”

Celebrities Marion Cotillard, left, Lupita Nyong’o and Adwoa Aboah at awards ceremonies in designs by Michael Halpern, second from left.
Celebrities Marion Cotillard, left, Lupita Nyong’o and Adwoa Aboah at awards ceremonies in designs by Michael Halpern, second from left. Composite: Getty Images

Born 1987 in New York. His mother was a bank clerk and his father a chemical engineer




Parsons School of Design, New York, followed by a master’s at Central Saint Martins, London


Cut his teeth working at J Mendel, and on the design team at Oscar de la Renta. After his master’s degree he went to work at Versace, debuting his eponymous collection at London Fashion Week 2017


In December, he won the British emerging talent crown for womenswear at the Fashion Awards


Sequins and unashamed glamour


Morwenna Ferrier

The GuardianTramp

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