Tag Archives: Halston

THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM

I’m not talented. Wee Gee was a real photographer… I’m lightweight stuff… I think of myself as a fashion historian… [Street photographer] Harold Chapman was the biggest influence on me… He taught me to be invisible. “Stop waving that camera around like a fan,” was his expression… 

I’m strictly interested in the way women dress in their own lives. — Bill Cunningham*

Cunningham—New York City’s greatest postwar documentarian of street style—was incredibly self-deprecating, claiming that his New York Times colleagues dismissed his regular columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” as “filling around the edges of the ads.”

Arriving in New York in 1949 at age 19, Cunningham went to work as a milliner at Bonwit Teller and the high-end boutique Chez Ninon, where Jacqueline Kennedy and Babe Paley shopped for line-for-line copies of couture originals. While Ninon’s proprietors valued his contribution, they did their best to push him away from fashion and into “straight” journalism—above all keeping him away from Diana Vreeland, fearing the eccentric editor would irrevocably seduce/corrupt the impressionable young man.

(Of course, Cunningham and Vreeland eventually met, and the photographer went on to document nearly every show the doyenne of fashion staged at the Metropolitan Museum’s Costume Institute.)

In the new documentary THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM—directed by Mark Bozek, and constructed around a long on-camera interview he shot with the photographer in 1994—Cunningham tells his tale: making hats under the name “William J,” sharing a loft at the Carnegie Hall studios with Bobby Short, Marlon Brando, and Norman Mailer, decamping to Paris for the shows during his U.S. Army stint in Rochefort-sur-Mer.

In the early 1960s, Cunningham wrote a column for John Fairchild’s Womens Wear Daily, and in 1967 was given a small Olympus-Pen by David Montgomery, who worked with Antonio Lopez. A Cunningham street photo of Greta Garbo was published in the Times in 1978, and his career at the paper began.

The year of the film’s interview is key. 1994 was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and several times during the second half of the film, Cunningham breaks down in anguish at the loss of loved ones, including Lopez and his partner Juan Ramos.

THE TIMES OF BILL CUNNINGHAM

Now playing.

Royal

11523 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles.

Playhouse 7

673 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena.

Town Center 5

17200 Ventura Boulevard, Encino.

From top: Bill Cunningham in Paris in 1970, photograph by Jean Luce Hure. All other images by Cunningham: street views, New York (3); Grace Coddington, New York; Anna Piaggi; Josephine Baker, surrounded by models including Pat Cleveland and Bethann Hardison, at the “Battle of Versailles” fashion show, 1973; Kay Thompson, who choreographed Halston’s segment of the show; Diana Vreeland, New York, at the Costume Institute in the 1970s; André Leon Talley, Vreeland’s then-assistant, at the Costume Institute; Vreeland and Marisa Berenson; Sonny Bono, Cher, and Ahmet Ertegun (in glasses); Gloria Swanson, New York; Greta Garbo, New York; street scene, New York; Gay Pride Parade, New York, 1970s; Juan Ramos (left) and Antonio Lopez; James Kaliardos (second from left), Stephen Gan (second from right), and Cecelia Dean (right) in 1991, displaying issue #1 of Visionaire. Below, Cunningham in Paris. Images courtesy and © the estate of Bill Cunningham and Greenwich Entertainment.

HALSTON

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 (Dior and 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, Marisa Berenson, Iman, Joel Schumacher, Naeem Khan, and his niece Lesley Frowick.

HALSTON

Through Thursday, June 6.

Nuart Theatre

11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles.

The director will participate in post-screening Q & A’s after the 7 pm shows on Friday and Saturday, May 31 and June 1.

On June 7, HALSTON will open at the Monica Film Center in Santa Monica, the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena, and the Town Center 5 in Encino.

See HALSTON, edited by Steven Bluttal, essays by Patricia Mears (New York: Phaidon, 2001).

From top: Halston at work in his Olympic Tower studio; Halston in the 1960s, photograph © Jean Barthet; the designer with Anjelica Huston—a frequent model for the house—and Liza Minnelli, photographs by Berry Berenson (2); U.S. poster; Halston in 1973 at 33 East 68th Street, New York City, photograph © estate of Charles Tracy. Images courtesy CNN Films and 1091 Media.

PAUL RUDOLPH

Two centenary exhibitions celebrate the work of Paul Rudolph.

THE PERSONAL LABORATORY, now in its final week, looks at the houses Rudolph designed for himself and his clients.

THE HONG KONG JOURNEY features the previously unseen drawings, sketches, and renderings of the Bond Center (now Lippo Center) on Hong Kong Island, as well as two unbuilt projects in the administrative region.

PAUL RUDOLPH

THE PERSONAL LABORATORY

Through December 30.

Modulightor Building

246 East 58th Street, New York City.

THE HONG KONG JOURNEY

Through March 9.

Center for Architecture

536 LaGuardia Place, New York City.

From Top:

Exterior of 101 East 63rd Street, New York City, known as the Halston Town House.

Interior of 101 East 63rd Street.

Sterling St. Jacques and Pat Cleveland at Halston party, 101 East 63rd Street.

Exhibition poster.

Current exterior of Lippo Center (formerly Bond Center).

Bond Center architectural drawing (detail).

Image credit: Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation.

ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY AT LACMA

“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.

 

ANDRÉ LEON TALLEY and KATE NOVACK—

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ

Thursday, May 10, at 7:30.

LACMA, Bing Theater

5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles.

* 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 Marlene Dietrich in the show Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design, 1974. Photograph by Bill Cunningham.