Aesthetic overload – it’s fast emerging as a leitmotif of the Spring/Summer 2018 London shows. Nowhere more so than at Michael Halpern, an American designer still shy of his 30th birthday, whose unapologetic clothing revels in delirious excess. His signature is the sequin, and a distinct lack of restraint. He ladles on millions of them, saturating the surfaces of dresses and kick-hem jumpsuits, trains skulking like glittering shadows in their wake. Suffice to say, it’s a lot of a look, whichever way you look.
Having cut his design teeth alongside Donatella Versace (where else?) after periods studying at Central Saint Martins (of course), and Parsons (slightly less usual – although he is a native New Yorker), Halpern is obsessed with surface – this season (only his second showing in London), he added gloriously vulgar micro-plissé lamé and python into the mix. That snakeskin kicked his clothes back to 70s glam, but the first wound up reminiscent of Roberto Capucci, a Roman couturier whose operatic gowns of multiple colours and miles of pleats are fêted as architectural triumphs of engineering, even if, oftentimes, they ended up impossible to actually move in. If Halpern is his modern counterpart, ‘modern’ is the operative term. He isn’t a ballgown boy – despite the decoration, these dresses were rampant, energetic. Nothing restricted, just like the decoration.
Halpern’s aesthetic sits somewhere between the slithery glamour of Tom Ford’s 90s Gucci and the glitzy, ritzy showgirl costumes of the Sonny and Cher Show circa 1974. Vamp meets camp. His silhouettes are narrow, body-clinging, this season punctuated with panels of nude-illusion tulle ripe for flashing a side-boob or visible panty-line, framed with those rising ruffles of metallic cloth, like velociraptors ready to strike in Jurassic Park. This brand of glamour is slightly sleazy, dirty and decadent – decadent in the true meaning of the word, with a kind of dissolution and corruption built in. Halpern’s sequins are tarnished, a little screwed-up, crushed and crumpled – the dregs of the party, the morning after the night before.
Yet, as a statement for dressing it is defiantly decorative and definitely after-dark, attracting attention for precisely those reasons. It acts as an antidote to all-day everyday drabness offered on other catwalks, those ones that refuse to acknowledge evening exists, much less that women may want to dress for it. Halpern, by contrast, chose to present this collection not only as night fell, but in the lush confines of the London Palladium, a Grade II-listed theatre plump with velvet and gilding. His razzle-dazzle models glided across the red carpet in front of the stage, draped silver curtains glistening in back. Liza Minelli and Josephine Baker have both performed there: if they were doing so today, they’d probably love to wear this stuff. Granted, Baker’s long dead – but it wouldn’t surprise me if Liza came a-knocking.
For our S/S18 fashion week coverage, anothermag.com is collaborating with Gasoline, a photography collective working with visual artists around the world. Here, photographer Ellen Fedors presents a look behind the scenes at Halpern.