Halston is one of the most enduring names in American high fashion. It rolls off the tongue. He had the smile of an Italian game–show host, spoke like a royal with a mouthful of hot tea, the presence of a five–star hotel gigolo, an all–American jawline, a neat butt, tidy eyebrows and an address book that read like the A–list it was, from Liz to Liza ( " Taylor and Minnelli to you" ). His life is the stuff of so many films. On the old photos you can see him covered in confetti with Yves Saint Laurent and Nan Kempner, or squiring a seemingly impervious Bianca Jagger. You wonder how many put– downs he could engineer per minute in the wee small hours at Studio 54.
But the name of Halston has been in limbo since he died, and the empty shell of one of the chicest US fashion houses has changed hands more than five times since Halston’s demise. A dozen designers and stylists have tried to breathe new life into the label, so far without any real success. Born in 1923, his first Big Thing was to design the pillbox hat worn by Jackie Kennedy for JFK’s investiture. Andy Warhol said Halston’s catwalk shows were “the art form of the 1970s”. His clothes have scarcely aged and remain undeniably fashionable. He nipped the hippie aesthetic in the bud and returned to more classic, more sexually–defined lines, in crepe and chiffon inspired by his master, Cristóbal Balenciaga, but with an American twist. His fashion heritage continues to be powerfully evoked each season by admiring successors like Tom Ford, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors.
In the 1980s, licences for bed linens and fragrances and handbags aplenty made Halston a household name, but inevitably diluted his aura. Halston was immensely wealthy, and seemed to float in a sea of champagne. A workaholic, he would stay in his studio until midnight every night and then head off for his second office, Studio 54. The filmic reconstitution of his “after hours” in his apartment on 63rd Street would no doubt need a special rating from the board of censors.
Halston died of an Aids–related illness in 1990, leaving behind a glittering imagery that has now been brought together by his niece and confidante in a beautifully produced monograph.
“HALSTON: INVENTING AMERICAN FASHION” by Lesley Frowick, with a preface by Liza Minnelli,
Rizzoli, $ 75 (!out 11th November!) .