Long before her international fame as editor-in-chief of Vogue in the sixties and the “Empress of Fashion” at the Met’s Costume Institute in the seventies and eighties, Diana Vreeland was a legend in Manhattan creative circles. As Harper’s Bazaar‘s fashion editor, she was the inspiration for Allison Du Bois in the KurtWeill-Ira Gershwin-Moss Hart musical Lady in the Dark (1941). And Kay Thompson played Maggie Prescott, a version of Vreeland, in the dazzling Paramount musical FUNNY FACE (1957, directed by Stanley Donen).
Upon discovering Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), a lovely, philosophical clerk in a Greenwich Village bookstore, Prescott and photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire, in a role based on Richard Avedon) sweep Jo uptown for a test shoot. Maggie orders her office minions to chop off Jo’s hair and paint her with a “marvelous mouth.” Jo resists, but gives in once she realizes her new modeling gig comes with a paid trip to Paris, home of Jean-Paul Sartre.
This weekend, as part of its series Runaway Hollywood—Global Production in a PostwarWorld, the UCLA Film and Television Archive will screen FUNNY FACE, followed by the black-and-white Paul Newman-Sidney Poitier vehicle PARIS BLUES (1961, directed by Martin Ritt). The story of two American jazz musicians in Paris, the tourists they fall for (Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll), and the Latin Quarter dives at the center of their expat scene, PARIS BLUES features a score composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
From top: Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face; Kay Thompson performing the “Think Pink” number; Thompson, Fred Astaire, and Hepburn after wrapping up “Bonjour, Paris!”; Verve album cover; Diahann Carroll and Sidney Poitier in Paris Blues; Joanne Woodward and PaulNewman; Louis Armstrong (left), Poitier, and Newman on set.
Nearly thirty years after his death, Halston—the master of American minimalism and fashion’s greatest cautionary tale—has finally received a documentary worthy of his contributions. Unlike the designs of its subject, the film is somewhat padded with yards of unnecessary material. But this should not deter its intended audience from enjoying the ensemble.
Directed by Frédéric Tcheng—the filmmaker behind documentaries about Raf Simons (Diorand I) and Diana Vreeland (The Eye Has to Travel)—HALSTON hits an early peak when, one after another, his core house models—dismissively labeled “Halstonettes” by Loulou de la Falaise—testify to the talent of the man who could throw a bolt of fabric onto the showroom floor and, within minutes, create the basis of a couture gown:
“[Wearing a Halston dress imparted] elegance and ease. A sense of owning power without being masculine. And honoring the body you have.” — Alva Chinn
“You were free inside his clothes.” — Karen Bjornson
“He took away the cage. You didn’t really need the structure as much as you needed the woman. He really based most of his collections on us girls.” — Pat Cleveland
So where did it all go wrong? Cocaine and Studio 54 may have started the slide—and in the film, jewelry designer and Halston confidante Else Peretti gives a hilarious digression on mind-altering substances and their use:
“We worked all night… we didn’t get high… yes, we smoked, but no hard drugs… well, maybe a little coke…”
Because when you’re working all night…
But the man who introduced Halston to Studio 54, illustrator Joe Eula, traces the designer’s fall to the delusions of grandeur that set in after the move to the Olympic Tower studio, with its lofty, across-the-street view of St. Patrick’s spires.
The irascible, amphetamine-dependent fashion genius Charles James, who briefly worked with Halston Limited, was—typically—incendiary:
“Halston is a middle-of-the-road man who’d be better as a buyer in a store, or a stylist. He knows how to select good things to copy. But his passion is to put his name on it, for which action the word ‘plagiarism’ is correct.”
In the film, Fred Rottman, a workroom supervisor at Halston, is quick to deflect:
“Halston didn’t copy. He took concepts of Charles James’ and relaxed them.”
Halston’s era—the 1970s and early ’80s—was a time of out-of-control franchising. A designer sold his name to and sometimes designed for an array of manufacturers, slapping the cachet of his or her moniker on, yes, perfume and handbags, but also bedsheets, luggage, rugs, car interiors, and—in Halston’s case—uniforms for Braniff Airlines and the Girl Scouts of America.
This obsession to design everything for everyone, trading “class” for “mass,” led to the sale of his company to a conglomerate—a subject the film spends far too much time on. Suffice to say, Halston lost his judgment: How could he imagine that Bergdorf Goodman would want to carry a brand that was also hanging on the racks at J.C. Penney?
The film includes interviews with the designer’s friends Liza Minnelli, Bob Colacello, MarisaBerenson, Iman, Joel Schumacher, Naeem Khan, and his niece Lesley Frowick.
“This book is an oral biography of Paris fashion between the glittering years when Loulou was the light between all the characters.” — André Leon Talley
Christopher Petkanis’ LOULOU & YVES: THE UNTOLD STORY OF LOULOU DE LA FALAISEAND THE HOUSE OF SAINT LAURENT is a massive oral history centered around the life and times of YSL muse and employee Loulou de la Falaise.
Among the voices heard from in the book are those of Cecil Beaton, Diana Vreeland, Thadée Klossowski, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, Hubert de Givenchy, Manolo Blahnik, Maxime de la Falaise, Diane von Furstenberg, Marianne Faithfull, Nicky Haslam, Elsa Peretti, BettyCatroux, John Richardson, Kenneth Jay Lane, Alber Elbaz, Christian Louboutin, Grace Coddington, Ben Brantley, Jane Ormsby Gore, BruceChatwin, Amy Fine Collins, Patrick Bauchau, Lady Annabel Goldsmith, Pierre Bergé, Talley, and Loulou herself.
“The late seventies, when André Leon Talley came into his own, is the period when designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Halston produced the clothes that Talley covered at the beginning of his career at WWD, clothes often described as glamorous. It is the period referred to in the clothes being produced now by designers like Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui. ‘It was a time when I could take Diana Vreeland and Lee Radziwill to a LaBelle concert at the Beacon and it wouldn’t look like I was about to mug them,” Talley says.
“Daniela Morera, a correspondent for Italian Vogue, has a different recollection. ‘André was privileged because he was a close friend of Mrs. Vreeland’s,’ she says. ‘Black people were as segregated in the industry as they are now… André enjoyed a lot of attention from whites because he was ambitious and amusing. He says it wasn’t bad because he didn’t know how bad it was for other blacks in the business. He was successful because he wasn’t a threat. He’ll never be an editor-in-chief… No matter that André’s been the greatest crossover act in the industry for quite some time. Like forever.’ ” — Hilton Als, 1994*
Talley—Anna Wintour’s legendary right hand man—has been captured on film in Kate Novack’s new documentary THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ, presented this week by Film Independent at LACMA. The director and her subject will be on hand for a conversation after the screening.
* Hilton Als, “The Only One,” The New Yorker, November 7, 1994, 110. (Reprinted in Als’ White Girls, 2013.)
Top: André Leon Talley and Yves Saint Laurent. Image credit: Getty.
Middle: Talley and Diana Ross dancing at Studio 54, circa 1979. Photograph by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images.
Below: Diana Vreeland and André Leon Talley working at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The model is MarleneDietrich in the show Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design, 1974. Photograph by Bill Cunningham.