Who was Halston?
“Halston was one of the most influential designers of our time. I say that on a personal level, because when I was young, he was the designer I aspired to be like. He understood luxury, glamour, simplicity, fit and the importance of uniform. To me, he represented all that was modern and pure. What more could a designer hope to be?” —Donna Karan
“Halston changed the face of fashion and the way women dressed with a clean and pure look. Within its purity there was extreme femininity and sexiness. His slink dress as well as his double faced coats both maintained his clean, sensual line with brevity of construction. He is one of my heroes!” — Narciso Rodriguez
I was distressed to learn the story of Roy Halston Frowick, fashion designer of the brand Halston.
I had never heard of Halston before. I was born in 1989, a year shy of his death, so I didn’t know his legacy.
How I stumbled upon his story?
In trying to catch up on what I missed from the Met Gala, which was on Sunday, an interview of André Leon Talley brought the name Halston to my attention.
Talley was talking about how Halston was “the” designer of the 1970’s, “the” first really respected American designer of luxury fashion; before Ralph Lauren. American fashion was appparently seen as second best to European forever. It was Halston who finally gave the American market an edge and captured the respect of Europe and the globe. This was the man who designed the famous dome-shaped pillbox hat that Jackie O. wore to the inauguration of her husband President John F. Kennedy. His perfume, Halston, became the second best-selling perfume of all time when it debuted (in 1975). That is a hard record to beat in the global fragrance market. Halston accomplished a lot for a designer, it’s really remarkable that his name is generally unknown to most people under 50. He clothed some of the most well known women and men in the world.
What’s so distressing about his story?
Of course his death due to AIDS was distressing to learn, that can’t be argued. What really took me aback was learning of how his fashion house fell a part.
The one mistake that could’ve saved Halston was the selling of the rights to his trademark. The second mistake? Signing a contract with JCPenny.
Having control over your brand is important, because of Halston’s fatal mistake (maybe due to not reading the contract carefully or on account of bad advice) he is seen as a sort of Gatsby figure, who was stabbed in the back and fired from his own fashion house in 1984. Halston wasn’t the last fashion designer to lose the rights to his name, but the tragedy of his story is none the less hard to hear given how educated and brilliant he was. He is talked about by the fashion elite as an almost Jesus like figure, with the utmost respect and with a sadness that his like may never be seen again.
Several attempts at resurrecting the Halston brand have yet to be successful for numerous reasons from bad marketing to poor designs. In 2011 Sarah Jessica Parker left Halston as Chief Creative Officer in 2011 after reportedly facing sexism in the company.
A documentary on Halston was released in 2011, and in 1992 there was a Tribute to Halston at the Lincoln Center hosted by good friend Liza Minelli.
Vintage Halston pieces pop up on celebrities at redcarpet events on rare occassions, but it seems that the name Halston died with the man.
I sincerely hope the Halston fashion brand can be resurrected in the way Tom Ford resurrected Gucci and YSL. Fashion has always been a part of my life and many people’s lives. It is always good to see comebacks, those are narratives that very much represent the American dream and what defines the American spirit. As a legacy, Halston should not be forgotten. His is a story that is both inspiration and cautionary for which those in the arts and business would benefit to learn.
Never sign your name away.
The Man Who Sold His Name (Vanity Fair, September 1991)
Profile of Halston
Halston | Rebirth of an Icon
People Magazine Cover Story 1990 (April 09, 1990, Vol. 33, No. 14)
Anything Went (March, 1996, Vanity Fair)
Liza Minnelli, Halston, and Truman Capote celebrate the designer’s 45th birthday at Studio 54, 1977
Did Halston One-Up Karl Lagerfeld? (Vanity Fair, March 2010)