Monday, June 27, 2022

Halpern Buys Into the Dream of the Aristocracy

Halpern Fall-WInter 2020 Collection

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni /

It is peculiar that Michael Halpern, the designer behind the eponymous fashion brand Halpern, chose The Old Bailey (The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales) to show his Fall-Winter 2020 Collection. The role of the State as an apparatus of power in deciding the fate of its subjects who break the law – defying the social contract of society – goes against the fun, optimism, and escapism that characterizes Halpern.  

Lady Justice on top of The Old Bailey in London

The Bacchanal of the Andrians, oil on canvas by Titian, c. 1523–26 Halpern’s brand is about the excess of glamour. In a way, it is the principle of pleasure that matters most in defining his brand. It is a hedonistic philosophy. Hedonism comes from the Greek word for pleasure. As a philosophical construct, it appeals because of its advocacy for doing what elicits pleasure and the avoidance of what causes pain. Justice at The Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, The Old Bailey in London, a courthouse with a bronze statue of Lady Justice on top of the building now sets the stage for Halpern’s fall-winter 2020 collection which is fundamentally about hedonism as a form of ethics and escapism. Refinery 29, in an article on Michael Halpern from February 2019, captured Halpern’s thoughts on how he found his objective for his brand: “I was trying to find my voice and I started talking to my mom about her time in the ’70s – her friends, what they did and wore. I became fascinated with how, in times of strife and confusion and sadness in the world, people constantly gravitate towards glamour as escape.”

A rare pictorial carpet / tapestry “From the Madding Crowd”, designed by Julie Verhoeven

To find his voice in fashion, Halpern escaped to the United Kingdom from America orienting himself with a different attitude. The move brought an opportunity to reflect. At Central Saint Martins in London where Halpern studied for his master’s degree, he acclimated to the rigorous approach of the course which featured industry heavyweights like Fabio Piras, Julie Verhoeven, Jane Shepherd, and Fleet Bigwood. It is this foundation which was, in essence, a rebellion against Parsons School of Design and his prior obsession “with the whole Rick Owens aesthetic, working with black feathers and crepe” that helped him build a brand that celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o can be found dressed up in images distributed worldwide.

Lupita Nyong’o on the red carpet in Halpern at the Star Wars premiere

Photo: Getty Images

“Buy me and I will make your life better”

The source material for Halpern’s collection came from the likes of Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb, and Dame Zandra Rhodes pioneers in the fashion of the 1970s.

Iconic British designer Dame Zandra Rhodes’s work with print, textiles, electric color, and fabric fluidity evidenced in the Halpern fall-winter 2020 collection among fellow designers Ossie Clark and Bill Gibb pioneers in the fashion of the 70s. Rhodes has worked for more than 50 years as an independent fashion designer making clothes for the likes of Princess Diana. She is an establishment within British society fashion. It is good to see continuity in the history of ideas in fashion. The use of precedent in a collection puts forth an argument. Halpern does this quite well with a nod to what has been desirable in fashion: fantasy and escapism.

Halpern Fall-WInter 2020 Collection

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni /

Halpern laid out his ideas with strokes of rhetorical genius in simple design arguments. 1) “Buy me and I will make your life better” 2) Let go and embrace the hedonism. How? Adwoa Aboah began the shows looks in The Old Bailey by modeling an emerald green burnout velvet gown which flowed magnificently – in an ode to 70s glamour – from a 3D flower-embroidered collar.

Electric chromatic spectrum

The shows looks included an unabashed indulgence in electric patterns for the aristocratic lady unafraid of wearing color to a country house ball. There were also bubble gowns constructed with a voluminous extravagance.

Halpern Fall-Winter 2020 Collection

Photo: Andrew Barber

Halpern Fall-Winter 2020 Collection

Photo: Alessandro Lucioni /

Include the caftans that a princess could sashay in amongst Haute hippies crashing with their aristocratic friends in Mustique sometime in the early 70s.

A lavish house on Gelliceaux Bay on the island of Mustique. 

Slim Aarons/Getty Images

Ziggy Stardust as a metaphor for all things glamorous

This is the place and time for living out the fantasy: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll of the Ziggy Stardust variety. The aristocracy and Haute hippies find themselves at the end of the party, thinking of keeping the fun going, their optimism is in their shared desire to occupy “a given position in social space,” as Pierre Bourdieu writes in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. It is the practical knowledge of social value and meaning in social space which ultimately “befit the occupants of that position.” In essence, taste functioning as an organizing principle of classification. Haute hippies and aristocrats on a never-ending holiday island hopping extravaganza.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

This social space of fun, optimism, and glamour rubs against the skin like velvet, the fabric of choice for rock n’ roll indulgence. Waking up in it feels good after a night to remember. Halpern’s brand sells in America and the Middle East. Hedonism appeals intuitively to humans. The argument is fundamental: even as babies, the empirical reality of pleasure and pain can be understood irrespective of cultural differences. When the consumer wants to escape, Halpern is the brand that comes to mind. The argument for hedonism, then, becomes persuasive: “Buy me and I’ll make your life better!” so long as the social contract isn’t broken.