From London’s key workers to the stars of the Royal Opera House’s ballet company, Michael Halpern’s muses are always eclectic. The London-based New Yorker’s latest leading light? Barbie. “I always played with them growing up, but I was more interested in their incredible hair than their clothes,” laughs the designer of the collaborative component to his spring/summer 2023 collection, which brought some ostentatious, optimistic oomph not only to a sombre city, but to Mattel’s Dreamhouse.
The opening look honored the Queen
A couple of years ago, Halpern was lucky enough to speak with Queen Elizabeth II, as part of an audience with London’s most exciting design talent. Halpern divulged his love of ostentation to Her Majesty – an aesthetic evocatively conveyed in the opening commemorative look of his spring/summer 2023 show. The first exit, presented in total silence, featured a breathtaking, floor-trailing cape in cornflower silk taffeta, paired with a mint headscarf. “It was our way of respectfully paying tribute,” Halpern explained.
Home comforts just got glamorous
Halpern is soon to gain his British citizenship and permanent residency in the UK, and he found the process of opening the final box of his belongings shipped to London particularly poignant. Inside, he discovered old photographs of his mother sporting outré house gowns, more suited to chic soirées than slouching on the sofa. A hooded gown in sumptuous leopard print velvet was inspired particularly by a kaftan Halpern’s mother owned, which to his horror, she did not hold on to. “Hosting at home is the most glam thing,” he said. “Growing up I felt completely safe to be creative in my house. There was no restriction.”
Halpern is embracing escapism
The designer has never been one for restriction. “When I see ruffles and texture, it brings me complete joy,” Halpern said with a smile. In idiosyncratic fashion, his spring/summer 2023 collection embraced escapist volumes and unabashed ostentation, from bustiers in pastel “jellyfish” flounces to gowns exploding with cloud-like sleeves, disco flares in hand-painted flocked tulle and minidresses in kaleidoscopic chevron sequins. A series of looks, imagined in blue velvet and embroidered with a sparkling nighttime sky, recalled the neon stars Halpern stuck to his bedroom walls as a child. “They’re about building these worlds, checking out and going to another planet,” he explained. “Fashion being harnessed to create fantasy.”
Accessories went XL
The collection featured super-sized accessories, like huge hoop earrings and “tacky gold” headbands dangling with Hellenic metal leaves. Like other embellishments in the collection – including huge bows swathed in crystals – they were dramatically scaled up. “Doll proportion is a thing!” Halpern laughed.
Barbie took to the catwalk
The Barbie Dreamhouse celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and its doll residents were keen to celebrate. Barbie has partnered with a host of fashion labels, including Comme des Garçons, Versace and Moschino, and as part of Halpern’s collaboration, a section of his show was inspired by the doll’s decade-spanning archival looks. Think ’80s power gowns and Barbie’s first swimsuit, which debuted in black and white stripes in 1959. Halpern first worked with Mattel in 2019, when he dressed a Barbie Role Model doll made in the likeness of Adwoa Aboah in a sequined minidress and turban. A cascading asymmetric gown in glittering orange polka dots will also be scaled down for the Dreamhouse’s most extravagant occupants.
Originally published in Vogue.co.uk