Michael Halpern is the rising designer drawing comparisons with the likes of Bob Mackie. And with good reason, for his work, at first glance, clearly recounts the sequin-encrusted days of disco, Studio 54 and Antonio Lopez. “I’m aware that things can start to look really showgirl really quickly,” he told AnOther’s Olivia Singer of his designs earlier this year. And this creative self awareness has assured his collections, whilst clearly referential, are never merely a pastiche – and feel entirely fresh. A reincarnation of Mackie for a contemporary era, if you will.
At this relatively early stage of his career, Halpern has accumulated an impressive list of collaborators; namely, legendary hair stylist Sam McKnight, stylist Patti Wilson and set designer Shona Heath. Halpern also works with Stephen Galloway, the creative movement director who gained recognition during his tenure as principle dancer at the Ballet Frankfurt, going on to become the man behind the choreography for the Rolling Stones and some of Inez and Vinoodh’s most famous fashion campaigns. Ahead of Halpern’s A/W17 presentation, Galloway directed a film exploring what it means to fight a daily battle as a young designer in a notoriously tough industry. Here, we exclusively premiere his directorial debut, alongside the two creatives in conversation.
On why they started working together…
Michael Halpern: “Stephen and I met in Paris during couture week. I was already aware of his work with the Frankfurt ballet and all of the amazing things he does with Inez and Vinoodh. It was a total no-brainer that I wanted to work with him, because I knew that my clothing needed movement. I felt that there was no other person who could achieve what I wanted better than Stephen.”
Stephen Galloway: “I had never seen clothing like Michael’s before. Obviously there is a huge disco element to his work, but also something about his designs have a certain quietness about them, too. Whenever I see them it’s almost as if they’re humming. I always see Michael’s clothing as elegant and beautiful armour.”
On Barbra-Lee Grant…
SG: “It was Barbra’s first show. We filmed during the fittings for the A/W17 presentation when we had no idea what to expect at the show the next day. It was just her learning to live in the outfits. She ended up becoming this type of a Joan of Arc character. As my first project as a director, it was really important I captured this. She has no make-up on, her hair’s not done. And that’s the one thing that I must admit I always tell everyone about Michael’s clothing – when you are wearing it you don’t need hair and make-up, or you don’t need jewels, you don’t need anything else.”
MH: “Barbra has this incredible kind of quiet power, especially when she looks at you. She can kind of completely strip you down with those eyes and you can feel her kind of looking in to you, and her opening up. It’s the really strange dichotomy of strength and vulnerability that makes her so spectacular.”
On the metaphors in the film…
SG: “Barbra’s strength was a representation of the battle you have to fight as a young designer in 2017, the battle that Michael faces daily. I wanted to create this kind of boxer mentality. I’m really super happy with that way it turned out.”
MH: “It’s so funny after hearing Michael explain it like this. There are so many similarities to what someone like Barbra and you have done with the video to what it means to be a designer in 2017. It is a challenge – and I’m learning every day.”
SG: “The poem at the end of the film by Richard Bruce Nugent also has significance. I found it whilst I was editing and it seemed to make sense so I just took it.”
MH: “I like that it’s short and sweet.”
SG: “And I also like the idea that it’s called Shadow because looking at those clothes that would be the last thing that you would think about.”
On the relationship between fashion and dance in Galloway's work…
SG: “My grandmother was a seamstress and my mom always made her own clothes so it’s just something that has interested me from an early age. I was always reading Vogue in high school and I just responded to that world from the get go. And when I started working with William Forsythe he saw that in me and said ‘we’re going to be doing this piece with Issey Miyake, why don’t you be the coordinator of it?’ So for almost four years afterwards I was Issey Miyake’s assistant art director; doing all the fashion shows, doing all the castings, helping with all the styling, in addition to dancing in the ballet, I started making costumes for the ballet.”
On being part of a collaborative team…
MH: “It’s been so amazing working with Patti [Wilson], Shona [Heath] and Sam [McKnight]. It’s been such a cumulative thing that I really am shocked everyone is so nice and supportive, as I’m only really just entering the industry.”
SG: “What Michael has to realise is that what he is doing is so special. I think in this day and age where, everything only lasts for the duration of a Snapchat, he makes things that are truly special and have longevity. And I’m huge on that. [To Halpern] I think this is why people gravitate towards you. There’s such honesty in your work that of course everyone is going to be nice to you, because it’s just so good! I think all of those people that you mentioned are also people who have recognised this.”
Styling by Patti Wilson; Set Design by Shona Heath; Model Barbra-LeeGrant at Storm.