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Clayton Halunen headed up a major makeover of the Halunen Law offices, on the 16th floor of the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, aimed at creating a more inviting and personal environment for clients and employees alike. (Staff photos: Bill Klotz)
Clayton Halunen headed up a major makeover of the Halunen Law offices, on the 16th floor of the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, aimed at creating a more inviting and personal environment for clients and employees alike. (Staff photos: Bill Klotz)

Every day is a red carpet day for Clayton Halunen

How does a Minnesota Iron Range-born and raised, Hamline Law School-educated Minneapolis attorney achieve a reputation for sartorial splendor within the Minnesota legal community? If you’re Clayton Halunen, you do it by keeping a close eye on the zeitgeist — and following the beat of your own inner design stylist.

When he’s not putting in the hours – and they do add up — heading up his thriving Minneapolis law firm, Halunen Law — Halunen will often be found haunting some of the finer clothing stores in the Twin Cities. Or New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milan…. The style-conscious Midwesterner protests that he’s not the male fashion icon of the Minnesota legal community. It’s not a convincing argument however. And he gives himself away when he says in the next breath, “The truth is, I don’t think I have that great a fashion sense, but….”

The giveaway comes next:

“I really get my inspiration from observing the world around me.  For some reason I have leaned more towards the Brits for fashion over the U.S. or other European countries,” he says.

Oh, those Brits. They always seem to be a cheeky fashion step or two ahead of the American milieu, yet Halunen is only influenced by them – not entranced. What he wears for work is of the utmost importance to him, as it must be in an industry so image-conscious as that of law today. So he chooses carefully but is careful not to overdo it.

“I like to mix and match the unexpected,” he confides. “That might mean wearing a plaid cashmere sport jacket and checked, bottom-down cotton dress shirt with jeans and wingtips.”

Shoes, he says, are not to be overlooked. “One tip I would give,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to spend money on good quality shoes. They will last a lifetime if taken care of.  Also, shoes are often considered merely for functionality rather than fashion.  Wrong!  One of the first things people notice are the shoes you wear.  Make sure they make a statement.”

The importance of timing

Watch what you put on your wrist, too, he says. “Although I’m not one for much jewelry, I do believe every guy should have two fine watches- one for dress and one more casual,” he advises.

It sounds like good advice. Halunen may not consider himself a fashionista, but he shops around in all the right places. Some of his favorites on the local scene include Martin Patrick, an emerging brand based in the Minneapolis warehouse district; Black & Blue, a St. Paul men’s fashion boutique emphasizing made-in-the-USA wear; and Heimie’s Haberdashery, keepers of the flame of hand-tailored men’s apparel for more than 75 years, also in St. Paul – and with the peripatetic J. Hilburn couturiers,

The point of fashion is to make a statement, to stand out, to defy the dour forces of drabness. Halunen fights the fight against the bland abyss every day, and across multiple fronts too. He headed up a major makeover of the Halunen Law offices, on the 16th floor of the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis, aimed at creating a more inviting and personal environment for clients and employees alike. From his corner window office, Halunen talks about the need to integrate art into the office environment. “The arts are important to the community and I hope to encourage our employees to engage in that community,” he says. Paintings, all original and hand-selected from Halunen’s growing personal collection, occupy wall space throughout the common areas of the office.

Halunen reveres art and artists, has since he was a kid growing up on the Minnesota Iron Range. Artistic talent runs in the family, he says, although it played a fickle trick on him. Had the artistic gene lodged within his own psyche, Halunen would likely be making his mark as an architect today.

“I went to college to be an architect,” he relates. But two years into his undergraduate studies at North Dakota State University, he realized that his designs were not destined to move beyond the drafting table.

“I have no artistic inclinations,” he summarizes. He coached himself to face the facts and move on to another career choice. Law intrigued him, especially since he’d spent the summer in Chicago being mentored by his attorney brother-in-law.

After graduating from NDSU, he moved to the Twin Cities to earn a law degree in 1985 from the Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul. Then it was on to Chicago, for an internship at Skadden & Arps (now named Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP).

He returned to the Range in 1991, taking a job as in-house counsel at the U.S. Steel Mountain Iron plant. Unfortunately, that job plunged him into the often-time acrimonious world of management-labor negotiations. The populist side of him sided with labor, which didn’t sit well with management. He remembers well the day he was summarily dismissed: “They practically escorted me out of the building,” he recalls.

Looking to get more into the personal side of the business, he moved to Duluth, where he practiced for the next five years. Then it was time to say goodbye to the 218-area code life and head to the big 612, to test the legal waters of the Twin Cities.

By the bootstraps at first, in Minneapolis.

More bad luck, though. The economy stunk – this was 1998 – and so did the job market for lawyers. Daunted but undeterred, Halunen hung out his own shingle in Minneapolis and went to work hustling up business. Proud and, if not exactly penurious, then budget-constrained, Halunen still cut a stylish figure in those days, says longtime friend and occasional co-counsel Mic Puklich, of the Neaton & Puklich law firm in Minneapolis. “He didn’t have a penny back then, and he still managed to look good,” he marvels.

When it comes to personal style, there’s nobody else quite like him, Puklich continues. “He’s very sensitive to the way he puts himself together. Whether consciously or not, he’s one of the best-dressed guys I’ve ever known.”

He’s also one of the best-housed lawyers in Minnesota too. In fact, he may have the best of all worlds these days. In addition to owning a vintage turn-of-the-century mansion in the St. Paul Summit Hill district, Halunen and his husband, Dave, recently finished building a 6,500 square-foot lake cabin on the shores of Lake Vermilion. The lake home, palatial by any Minnesota measure, is unique. Built an abundance of solid, earthy materials – steel, glass, stone – the cabin calls to mind the famed Fallingwater rural residence that Frank Lloyd Wright designed in the 1930s at the behest of a Pittsburgh department store magnate. And that’s the idea, according to Halunen, who cites Wright as his favorite architect and source of inspiration for the Vermilion outpost.

It’s no Plain-Jane copy of the original, either. “It takes Fallingwater up a notch or two,” says Puklich, who’s passed a few pleasant hours at the rustic haven as a guest.

Continuing to look Range-ward

And the northern Minnesota location is no happy accident, either. Much as he’s woven himself into the fabric of Twin Cities life – on many levels, politics, arts, fundraising as well as the legal community – Halunen remains very much a child of the Minnesota Range country. His parents still live in the area, and Halunen visits them and his old haunts in the Virginia area as often as possible. “When I go back there, I feel like it’s where I belong. That gives me peace,” he says.

He also wants to share the good tidings that have come his way over the years – now he’s the head of a thriving and expanding law practice, squarely encamped in the mid-section of Minneapolis’s most iconic office towers – with his fellow Rangers. To that end, he and his family are leading the charge to create the Lake Vermilion Cultural Center in Tower, an old mining town just an iron nugget’s throw away from Lake Vermilion. If all goes as planned, the center will set up shop in a 19th century-built church in Tower. Artists-in-residence will be flown in from around the world to expose Rangers to the blooming art world. “I had advantages growing up, such as the ability to travel and learn about art, that just aren’t available to a lot of people on the Range today,” he says. “Especially since the mining industry has taken such a hit. People don’t have the resources to travel and gain exposure to the outside world. The arts center will bring the world to them.”

His Range-bound largesse won’t stop in Tower either. If the stars align properly, he plans to purchase acreage adjacent to the Vermilion house and build it out for the use of artists and their audiences too.

“The long-term goal is to create an artists community in northern Minnesota,” he says. “It’s a long-term project, probably over the next 10 years.”

If the plans work out, Halunen will undoubtedly roll out a richly designed red carpet for a grand opening such as the Minnesota Range has never seen before. And he’ll be in his element, fashionable accoutered no doubt, at home on his beloved Range.

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