FROM ISSUE 61: TEN PEOPLE TO MEET BY MICHAEL HALPERN
It’s been just over two years since Michael Halpern, a Parsons and Central Saint Martins grad, first showed his standout final-year collection, a sparkly and beautifully executed ode to disco, a new glamour and, of course, the joy of dressing up. Time has flown since then, and with the fashion world looking on in admiration and customers upping their spend, Halpern wanted to take this opportunity to thank those who have helped him, back then and now. Business is great.
“They were like, ‘We just need a jumpsuit in five days,’ and they sent us the measurements, we sewed it, we sent it and they paid immediately. It was amazing.” This is fashion designer Michael Halpern on his dealings with a Mrs Beyoncé of America, the Single
Ladies-singing sexpot and Halpern-wearing woman. She wore the designer’s shiny-sequined jumpsuit to her Soul Train-themed 35th birthday party in September 2016. That was a Halpern sequin rampage to remember.
Much of Halpern’s work is sewn by hand, and much of it is made in his east London atelier and sells exceptionally well at the fashion boutique Matches. He also offers a couture service, for which garments can take weeks to make. The techniques used in some of these couture pieces are mind-blowing. “Beyoncé’s jumpsuit would normally have taken three to four weeks to complete,” says Halpern. “We did it in a few days.” The studio sewed day and night to get the piece ready to ship to New York in time for her party. “I sewed part of it myself, and we did all the binding by hand. We just had to get it done.” Over it went, Beyoncé wore it and the rest, well, the rest is history. Halpern’s name blew up on the internet and the calls from new clients came flooding in. His Studio 54-era-infused clothes now walk red carpets around the world as he reissues disco glamour for a new age. They’re the kind of clothes celebrities need help to get dressed in, with hidden corsetry and super-long gowns with trails.
That’s all the celebrity stuff. But to really understand Halpern’s work you need to get into the patterns and beyond the sequins. His work is teeming with technical nous, honed, in part, during a stint with Donatella Versace at the designer’s Milan studio, something he calls his “fashion finishing school”.
“There’s so much that goes on inside one of my garments,” says Halpern and points to a piece from his MA grad show at Saint Martins that hangs on a running rail alongside intricate gowns and huge, sequin-strewn flares in his atelier. Pulling all these pieces together, sewing different fabrics and sequins (some prints), all of which stretch in different ways, takes hours to get right. One fabric may “contort”, the other pull a different way; that section is covered in “fish-scale sequins”, another not. Each sequin has its own personality, he says, and the whole process is puzzling to hear about. So, the patterns must be incredibly complicated, then? Halpern laughs. “People don’t really get it.”
Halpern’s studio is a hive of worker bees. Private clients can and do come in for fittings, however. Or he goes to them. A recent customer was measured for an outfit for her brother’s wedding and “spent thousands”. These couture gowns take hours to perfect, with numerous fittings, depending on the complexity of the piece. Beyoncé’s jumpsuit would normally have had three, possibly four, fittings, but such is the skill of the studio, that after days and nights of sewing and measuring and calculating on a form, when it arrived in New York, Beyoncé just pulled it on and it fitted like a glove. Now that’s some serious Halpern magic.
Photograph by Hans Neumann
Michael Halpern’s people to meet are Isamaya Ffrench, Patti Smith, Michel Gaubert, Sam McKnight, Sarah Mower, Shona Heath, Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert, Theo Adams, Natalie Kingham. Read all of their stories in Issue 61 of Ten Magazine, on newsstands now.halo