LONDON, United Kingdom — On my first trip to Moscow years ago, I was struck by the number of women going to work in the morning in cocktail dresses, jewellery and full maquillage. Out all night? Not at all, Aliona Doletskaya assured me. With Russia loosening up, they felt liberated to indulge themselves, so they were going to jam a lifetime’s lost dressing-up into every waking minute.
“Inappropriate dressing” — it’s at the heart of Michael Halpern’s design ethos, and for much the same reason as those glittering Muscovites: as a reaction, as a rejection, as an escape. After his show on Saturday, he talked about the women his mother admired, New York socialites like Nan Kempner, always haute to the eyeballs, or his high school friends who make no distinction between dressing for day or night. “I’m moving the line between costume and fantasy,” he added. But there was also a point to that. Halpern left New York five years ago, and his work is infused with a sense of how much more difficult things have got for his family and friends. Sequins as a political statement! Make a stand with hedonism! Activism through indulgence! That loans his work an obvious tension. Here, Halpern realized it in the “two-toneness” of the collection, half-and-half colour, pattern, asymmetrical silhouettes…a literal split personality.
If Halpern’s aesthetic is a one-note samba, that is also its power. Here, disco mutated into something operatic, so unabashed in its excess that resistance is futile. (Michel Gaubert’s soundtrack played right along.) But when he complemented his sequins with a touchy-feely fil coupé effect, you could almost see another way forward. Michael, thank you for Cher-ing.