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.
Through Thursday, June 6.
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.