RISE AND SHINE
Michael Halpern’s disco-decadent pieces channel a new resonance in these dispiriting days. jacquie ang finds out from the shy designer how he redefines emancipation, one sequin at a time
Michael Halpern’s disco-decadent pieces channel a new resonance in these
IT’S TRUE THAT not all heroes wear capes. Some are in stealth-mode black, such as Michael Halpern, whose personal style is in contrast to his trippy, resplendent designs that have become mood-enhancing armour you put on to get through the day.
Halpern’s Pantone-powered glamorous numbers festooned with ritzy sequins have catapulted him to fame since his debut collection in 2017. The Central Saint Martins alum often cites his mother’s stories of 1970s New York as inspiration for his Studio 54-esque creations, of which familiar silhouettes and his unapologetic penchant for paillettes have taken on a new relevancy.
The popularity of his designs is a reaction to what’s going on in the world right now, he surmises. “I think the world is really scary. You turn on the news and it’s quite sad everywhere, in Asia, in Europe, in America where I come from, it’s kind of a dark time. No matter what you’re going through, being able to put something on and have that moment of freedom, and to be a little elated is good for your mental health, for your friends and family you’re with… People want to feel good.”
The self-professed shy designer’s flashy sequin-smothered forms of escapism have won him admirers the likes of celebrities (Marion Cotillard was the first to take Halpern to the Cannes red carpet), retailers (he scored over 15 major stockists around the world following his first collection), and editors (British Vogue singled him out as “the candidate poised to take Bob Mackie’s title as Sultan of Sequins”).
Ask Halpern about his obsession with sequins and his reply is unpretentiously simple. “I love it. I think the biggest thing for me is texture, so when you have something that gives you different textures, you can play with colour and depth in so many ways. It’s been so exciting to rework it so it’s always fresh. But I’m not saying that we’re going to use it forever.”
His Spring/Summer 2019 collection that recently showed continued to bring on the bling by exploring other materials including brilliant gold foil, high-gloss patent leather and striking multicoloured ottoman. The designer calls it “a turning point”.
But his extension into high-shine
sequin alternatives was not meant as an answer to detractors, he clarifies. “You look at designers who use the same fabrics every season, which become a signature. Maybe sequins are a lot louder, so people keep asking what I’ll do next. But I will keep using sequins because I love it, and it sells. Not to say that we won’t incorporate other elements, because we want to grow the business and be free to be creative. But we’ll find ways to make sequins new and relevant.”
One approach is to tap timeless silhouettes. “Now, more than ever, women are buying special pieces.” he observes. Case in point: The dazzling pink and red mini dress that jeweller Lynn Ban donned at its joint trunk show with Club 21 Singapore. “It’s something that women of different ages can wear. It’s youthful and bright, yet it’s not risqué.”
New York-based Singaporean designer Bann created bold hoop earrings in outsized geometric shapes and electric hues for Halpern’s Autumn/Winter 2018 collection. The pair connected through renowned fashion stylist Patti Wilson. Their camaraderie is evident — Ban has been playing tour guide here. “I love Chinese food. It’s my favourite cuisine,” Halpern shares. “I can have roast pork every day.”
Unlike the Instagram-prolific Ban, Halpern doesn’t have a personal social media account. “I don’t really text; I call everyone. I don’t want to lose touch with my family and friends, but I don’t want to have a texting relationship.” In fact, conversation is the starting point of his creative process, as he likes to listen to people, reveals the American, who snagged a British Emerging Talent award for womenswear at the British Fashion Awards 2017 and is building buzz for his brand in London.
We can look forward to more Halpern accessories next year when his Spring/ Summer 2019 collection arrives. “We often get asked for a bag to go with the clothes,” Halpern reveals, “so we’ll probably start looking at that soon”.
BELOW: MICHAEL HALPERN WITHLYNN BAN AT CLUB 21, WEARING WHAT HE CALLS HIS “BRIGHTEST OUTFIT”
FROM TOP: HALPERN’S AUTUMN/WINTER 2018 COLLECTION IS INSPIRED BY NAN KEMPNER’S LOVE OF CLASHING STYLES; LYNN BAN’S JEWELLERY FOR HALPERN