Halston: An American Original
By Elaine Gross & Fred Rottman
The way to understand our present, is to take a look at our past. And this is as true in fashion as in any other field. One name, one well-spring of inspiration for American fashion, Halston is the antecedent of a Zac Posen or a Proenza Schouler—handsome young designers and their starlet clients—as well as Tom Ford’s edgy glamour for Gucci (never mind Donna Karan or Norma Kamali). Halston was arguably one of America’s most influential designers.
Halston: An American Original is all I’ve been talking about for weeks. Why? Halston’s uniquely sophisticated glamour is so very deceptively simple, so American, so easy. It’s not the least bit retro but absolutely of the moment. No need to go to Belgium for a reaction to the Victorian, the overwrought, the ruffled and the ruched, the answer is right here at home in the legacy of Roy Halston Frowick.
It’s less Halston’s sequined chiffon caftan-esque numbers and more things like an angora/wool knit shirt—buttonless—that simply ties at the waist for closure or a spiral-cut one-shoulder tube dress that have captivated me. Tom Ford acknowledged a debt to Halston in designing for Gucci, and looking back at photos of some of Halston’s criminally sexy evening looks, it’s easy to see why.
The book argues that he was the inventor of a truly American high fashion. Like his contemporary, Calvin Klein, Halston made clean, elegant clothes that didn’t scream, “Look at me!” But while Klein’s work has an often masculine, stripped-down edge, Halston is all about femininity and dressing a woman. For evening, he made terribly glamorous, fluid separates and draped dresses always with the focus on the fabric, on how it could drape and move. Signature looks included pants-suits with longer jackets, knits, chemise dresses, and long, flowing dresses. Halston devised cuttingly chic ultrasuede pant suits and shirt-dresses that defined an era.
The pioneering the celebrity designer, Halston designed for Liz Taylor, Liza Minelli, Marlo Thomas, Bianca Jagger, and had truckloads of clients like Jackie Onassis, Babe Paley and Katherine Graham. He simply knew what women wanted, and rather than make a loud designer statement, he really was interested in making women more beautiful. His clients loved him for it and trusted him completely.
Today celebs wearing a designer’s wares are a run-of-the-mill PR gambit for any label, but who has ads designed by Andy Warhol and Larry Rivers? Who has perfume bottles designed by Elsa Peretti? Who designed costumes for Martha Graham’s dance company?
Perhaps only Dior and Cardin had larger numbers of licenses than Halston, whose name, in its familiar black, sans-serif, all-caps logotype adorned everything from sheets to luggage, sportswear, wigs, hats, and carpets. Halston at one point had dozens of licenses for everything under the sun. But his showpieces were his fragrance, in an Elsa Peretti-designed bottle, and his cosmetics.
There are several reasons to get this book now. First are the amazing drawings of patterns of one-piece spiral-cut caftans, tube dresses, and gowns like the charmeuse pinwheel. They show his incredible inventiveness in cutting a simple shape into a garment that drapes like a dream.
But an almost better reason to read it are brilliant stories here of everything from his junket to China soon after it opened to the West with a cast of dozens whose wardrobes he coordinated so that they were one mass traveling billboard for HALSTON and American fashion to his nights at Studio 54 to a Halston-clad Liza Minnelli leading a knock-’em-dead number in the only joint French-American fashion show ever at Versailles in 1973.
Plus, the pictures of his Halstonettes, from the lovely Pat Cleveland to the icy Karen Bjornson, are absolutely worth the price of admission.