Eight ‘heroines of the frontline’ became models at London Fashion Week on Friday, cast in a jubilant digital presentation for the designer Michael Halpern.
A senior staff nurse at London’s Homerton Hospital and a train operator for the London Underground were among the women chosen to showcase Halpern’s spring / summer 2021 collection, unveiled via an online film in lieu of the designer’s usual, physical catwalk show.
At a time when many designers have been struggling to convey their work with impact online, Halpern’s video and the accompanying portraits feel uplifting. On a paint-splash set designed by Shona Heath, they are a reminder of the power of creativity in conveying a mood – and raising a smile. Choosing key workers as models, for Halpern, is also not a tokenistic PR stunt – he has been working with some of these subjects for several months now.
Halpern, who grew up in New York, has lived in London for almost a decade after moving to Britain to complete a masters in fashion at Central Saint Martins. Since founding his eponymous brand in 2016, his roster of red carpet clients has come to include Amal Clooney, Sandra Bullock and Celine Dion. Yet when the pandemic began, he utilised his skillset to instead volunteer, making surgical gowns for the Royal Brompton Hospital Trust.
Caroline Gration, a volunteer who had rallied London-based dressmakers including Halpern into a seven-day shift system, producing 1,000 PPE gowns a week at the height of the pandemic, is also now one of the stars of Halpern’s glamorous pictures.
The chance to return to some sense of normal business, Halpern said, was a joy. He created two looks for each of his muses inspired by their “individuality, courage and joie de vivre”. The designer’s signature style is always embellishment-rich – his influences typically include disco-era glamour and the glory days of Studio 54. Lashings of sequins and feathers feature on most gowns, an aesthetic he isn’t compromising on even in a pandemic.
Where might one wear a puffball dress in these covid-times, you may be asking yourself? Perhaps not to your next social date for six, but the point is of course to illustrate what the brand is all about – and that’s not a marketing technique exclusive to this new style of fashion week, is it?
‘I didn’t design this collection with cocktail parties or ballrooms in mind,’ Halpern explained. ‘But purely from the desire to capture in dressmaking the individuality embodied by savoir-fair, and the joy it brings to those who wear it. This collection was created in celebration of the women on the frontline, and for anyone it may inspire and uplift.’
Here’s hoping, at least, that some of these showpieces might soon get the night out they deserve. If Amal Clooney is looking for something pouffy to wear to the re-launch of the red carpet world next spring, there’s plenty for her here. If cleaning services worker Sarah, meanwhile, is after something slightly easier to sit down in, but that might still make an impact for her next special occasion – as a wedding guest, perhaps – then this exercise has shown there’s something to suit her, too.
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