LONDON, United Kingdom — "My clothing is more important than it was six months ago, because I find more than ever that people need something to be happy about and feel free and included," says New York-born womenswear designer Michael Halpern, whose glamorous and idiosyncratic clothing line — currently going into its second season — has already attracted fans from Beyoncé to fashion editor Giovanna Engelbert, and racked up stockists including Bergdorf Goodman, Matches Fashion and Maxfield.
Halpern graduated from Parsons School of Design and went to work as a womenswear designer at J. Mendel. After a year in the role, he moved to the fur department at Oscar de la Renta before deciding to go it alone. "I loved both of the brands I worked for but I felt I needed to grow more as my own designer and needed to discover my own language," he says.
The designer moved to London and enrolled at Central Saint Martin's prestigious MA Fashion course. "What attracted me to the programme is that in London they're not as focused on the business from so early on and the press and schools support that, you're allowed to make very massive mistakes, whereas in New York it's very formulaic in a way."
For his graduate collection, shown in February 2016, Halpern was inspired by the carefree attitude of Studio 54 and the mindset of his mother and her friends during that time. "My mother was a Studio 54 girl and back then it wasn't about dressing disco. For them it was about expressing themselves and I love that openness and inclusiveness. That's more interesting to me than just Studio 54," he says.
People put buys in like we were an established brand. We could have gone much wider but it's really important for me to deliver on time.
The collection's signature pieces included sequinned bodysuits and draped satin bustiers in bright hues and were met with praise from press, including fashion critic Sarah Mower. "The day of the show, Sarah wrote about me in her American Vogue preview about new talent. She later asked me if I had gotten any job offers, which I had, and then introduced me to Versace," says Halpern, who put his own line on hold to work full-time at Atelier Versace.
The designer remains a consultant for the Italian house today, though growing his own brand has become his main focus and he has expanded his product range to include jumpsuits for £1,200 (about $1,500), bustiers for £1,600 ($2,000), polo-necks for £800 (about $1,000) and minidresses for £1,300 ($1,625) — many of which are sourced and produced in the UK.
Earlier this month, during an Autumn/Winter 2017 showroom preview for buyers in Paris, Halpern won over 10 stockists from the US, UK and beyond. The buys from Bergdorf Goodman, Matches Fashion and Browns were surprisingly big, reports Halpern. "We had to cut our orders down significantly, because people put buys in like we were an established brand. We could have gone much wider but it's really important for me to deliver on time, have the right factories and grow in an organic way and not from 0 to 100," he says.
Today, the label employs one full-time staff member, along with an external PR team in London, a production team and brand consultant in Paris and a sales team in Amsterdam. As demand increases, Halpern says he plans to hire a production manager straight after his Autumn/Winter 2017 presentation, for which he has called in the help of stylist Patti Wilson, hairdresser Sam McKnight and choreographer Stephen Galloway.
For this month's Spotlight, Halpern has designed a custom BoF logo that reflects the sequins and bright color palette of his new collection. "Sequins are a key part of our ethos and brand DNA and we feel like this colourway is our signature one," he explains.
Looking forward to next season, Halpern hopes to expand his roster of stockists to 17, while growing his business with his current partners. "It's a matter of time, manpower and choosing things in a smart and strategic way."