In the ’70s, fashion designer Halston was a force to be reckoned with. Born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa, he began his career making hats, eventually becoming the head milliner at Bergdorf Goodman.
His career took off after designing the pillbox hat worn by Jackie Kennedy at her husband’s inauguration. Soon, Halston was dressing the rich and famous from Liza Minnelli to Bianca Jagger. He even gave supermodel Iman her first runway gig.
Director Frederic Tcheng (“Dior and I”) explores the fashion icon’s life with archival footage, celebrity interviews and eyewitness accounts from the people who witnessed and aided in his downward spiral.
Fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson, 23, narrates the documentary by playing a detective looking for clues about Halston’s life. Tcheng, not content with making a straightforward doc, frames the film with a noir theme as Gevinson plays the gumshoe in segments that feel a bit bizarre. But hey, more power to her. At least she got the chance to wear one of Halston’s designs toward the end of the film.
Halston’s rise to fame is well-documented but his fall from grace not so much. What happened to the man often seen with Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Taylor and best friends Minelli and Jagger? For those not familiar with the fashion designer’s life you may be surprised by the scandalous chain of events that transpired during his reign as king of the fashion world.
Halston built an empire on those high-dollar dresses for the rich and famous, but he wasn’t content with just outfitting the elite. Halston had a vision to dress everyone in America.
He designed uniforms for airlines, the U.S. Olympic Team, the Avis Rent a Car employees, the NYPD, even the Girl Scouts. His vision, however, would be his downfall that began with signing away the rights to his name and a $1 billion deal with J.C. Penney to bring his designs to the working class.
The documentary features priceless interviews with the suave designer who comes off as a fashionista Cary Grant. Behind the scenes, footage demonstrates how Halston could work magic with a pair of scissors. A cut here, a snip there and voila – one piece of fabric was suddenly a beautiful flowing dress. His talent is addressed by those who worked closest to him, including tailors, models and former secretaries.
Everyone who encountered Halston felt loved by the hard-working designer and he generally cared about people, not just celebrities. His humanity is discussed by niece, Lesley Frowick, who went to work for him toward the end of his career. Lesley was there for the downfall of her uncle’s empire, and her account paints an ugly picture.
As with most successful entrepreneurs, Halston was a control freak, so the biggest mistake he made was signing over his “brand” or name to J.C. Penney. He lost control of his empire once Bergdorf and other retail giants began dropping his merchandise, which they felt was cheapened by his affiliation with J.C. Penney. When Esmark Inc. (known for their Playtex products) took over Halston Limited, the company began making budget cuts and eventually pushed Halston out the door. You want villains? There are a couple who appear in the documentary; men who led to the Iowa-born designer’s demise.
Minnelli appears in the doc as does filmmaker Joel Schumacher, good friends who share their fond memories of Halston. Footage from New York’s infamous Studio 54 days are included as are great candid shots of Halston at work and play. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 57 due to complications caused by AIDS.
In those last years, he spent a lot of time with his family. Memories shared by his niece Lesley offer us a glimpse of the down-to-Earth man who went from Roy Halston Frowick to the icon known as Halston, a persona he would transform into as soon as he stepped inside Bergdorf Goodman during the start of his illustrious career.