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Halston: The Rise & Decline of the Iconic American Designer – transformed into a Netflix Show
Halston: The Rise & Decline of the Iconic American Designer – transformed into a Netflix Show
Halston: The Rise & Decline of the Iconic American Designer – transformed into a Netflix Show

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Fashion Designer Story

Halston: The Rise & Fall of the Iconic American Designer – transformed into a Netflix Show

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We’re not talking about Netflix’s latest launch. Actually, this show has been available for more than one year now. But, before writing anything about Halston, I knew I had to watch it once again. And, so I did. 

With a lot of drama, drugs, alcohol and beautiful creation, the Netflix show is divided into 5 parts. It tells the story of the American designer who dedicated his life to creating his namesake brand. Halston is an example of a fashion designer who has done everything to keep his brand growing, from joining the iconic Battle of Versailles to designing different collections and products. 

Some parts of the show were made up, while others are trustworthy. Let’s dive into the artist’s world, story and work. Shall we?

Halston: What’s true in the show?

If you’ve searched a little bit about Halston, you know that the show is based on a real story. However, “being based” doesn’t mean everything is 100% true. So, let’s unfold it!

Roy Halston, or just Halston, as he preferred to be called, was one of the most influential names in American fashion in the 70s. Nevertheless, his story did not have a happy ending. Before dying from AIDS complications, Halston lost the rights to his trademark and was practically erased from history.

The show’s authors, being one of them the well-known Ryan Murphy, based the story on the biography Simply Halston, released in 1991 by Steven Gaines. However, there is no lack of dramatic elements in his true trajectory. It went from a meteoric rise, rocked by sex and drugs, to a dramatic debacle. For exposing the complicated side of the designer’s life, Halston’s family accused Netflix of sensationalism, but in clarifying what was exaggerated there.

That is, if those involved in the facts do not say what actually happened, it is impossible to say what is true and what is fiction in the show. However, based on some news from the time and interviews given by the stylist himself, we selected here some highlights.

A Creative & Special Gift to a Crying Mother

Halston’s childhood is briefly covered in flashbacks. In the very first episode, little Roy makes a hat for his mother after seeing his father attack her. During the show we understand that the boy always made plays to cheer up his mother who suffered at home at the hands of her husband.

According to People magazine’s Obituary made at the time of the designer’s death, his first hat was actually made for his mother when he was 7 years old. And in the bibliography, it is really portrayed that Halston’s relationship with his father was troubled, but there are no more details beyond these.

Liza Minnelli: Halston Muse 

Halston and Lizza
Halston & Liza Minnelli, 1982

You don’t even have to finish typing the designer’s name into Google and the actress’ name appears in search suggestions.

As the series shows, the two were great friends and confidants, as well as clubbing partners at the famed Studio 54, but it wasn’t an energetic performance of the song Liza With a Z that brought them together.

In fact, the two of them met through Kay Thompson, one of the designer’s clients. The two were shopping when the grandmother decided to take her granddaughter to Halston’s studio. “We hit it off instantly and he became my fashion partner,” Liza said in 2001, in an interview for Harper’s Bazaar. 

Halston designed the costumes for her live performances, practically her entire wardrobe and, as the series shows, the yellow suit set she wore at one of her weddings. However, there is no evidence that he ever changed Liza’s wardrobe in Cabaret.

Halston & Elsa Peretti: A love-hate relationship

Elsa Peretti, played by Rebecca Dayan, was one of Halston’s biggest friends. However, their relationship was super complicated and controversial – just like on the show. 

Elsa started her career as a model and soon became the face of the brand. Her real interest, however, was in designing jewelry, and many of her pieces appear in the series. She was also the one who created the brand’s iconic perfume packaging, as the series says.

The contract with Tiffany & Co that she briefly mentioned in one of the episodes also existed. In fact, Elsa was one of the most important designers in the brand’s history.

Halston and Elsa’s relationship worked between slaps and kisses: the two inspired each other, but also competed with each other, as the production shows. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Peretti said she even threw one of Halston’s coats into the fire because he wanted to talk about clothes in the middle of the night. “I told him that friendship meant more than a coat and threw him into the fire.”

In a VOGUE interview, Rebecca Dayan, who plays the designer, reinforced the relationship: “they say that if he were straight, she would be his great love.”

The 70s Fashion Revolution

The series portrays that the stylist would have revolutionized American fashion in the 70s and that, in fact, happened. After the Battle of Versailles, a charity event that became a clash between American and French designers, the world began to pay more attention to US haute couture. And at the time, Halston was one of the biggest names.

The Ultrasuede fabric was a great success. As shown at the show, it was one of those responsible for massifying fashion, as everyone wanted a copy. Designers such as Isaac Mizrahi and Diane Von Furstenberg have already pointed to the artist as an influence.

The deal he closed with JC Penney, one of the reasons for his downfall, was a milestone in how fashion was produced and consumed: in the years that followed, designers like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein associated with department stores with more accessible collections for the “day-to-day.”

The higher the flight, the higher the fall

Halston was a landmark for American fashion. However, some setbacks along the way and his early death made the stylist practically forgotten.

Daniel Minahan, director of the series, even described the artist as “the most famous person you’ve never heard of.” In 1973, the same year as the Battle of Versailles, he sold the brand for $16 million to Norton Simon. But, there’s an important point worth remembering. There is no evidence that this decision was made in the car during a crisis – as shown in the show.

Dramatization aside, the series shows how Halston made his company take off and, shortly after, crash.

Years after the first contract was signed, Halston closed another billion-dollar sale, but this time for JC Penney. However, while on the show he is dubious about this decision. In real life, he announced the contract on national television. According to him, his vision was to “dress every woman in America” and this contract would facilitate that dream.

The movement was not well received by haute couture, but things got worse when Norton Simon was bought by Carl Epstein who, as the production shows, banned the designer from the brand itself. According to Frédéric Tcheng, director of the documentary, Epstein destroyed photo files and sold the designer’s legendary models — he was never able to recover his name and was barred from using it in his creations until his death in 1990 in San Francisco.

The Show’s Takeaways

Halston at office
Halston played by Ewan McGregor at his office in the show. Photo: Reproduction / Netflix

The show doesn’t just tell Halston’s story; if you watch it carefully, it gives you an overview of how the industry works. Everyone involved in this industry knows that it’s not just art, fashion shows and beautiful sketches that it moves. In fact, quite the opposite.

Inserted in a capitalist world and with an approximate value of US$ 3 trillion dollars. In the end, it ends up being – for the most part – about money, money and… money!

In the series, we can see how many products, in addition to clothes, a designer chooses to make to keep their brand relevant in the market. Halston made everything from perfumes to bags, glasses and jewelry. And how many designers do you know who have also done this? After all, the biggest profit percentage of luxury brands is exactly in the accessories, not in the clothes. No wonder he even made the punch line: “Halston for you today, Halston for you every day. Halston for your world.”

Halston would’ve been 90 this year. We can’t help but think about what would’ve turned out if he was still alive. Would he get his trademark back? Would he still be creating? The truth is, it’s impossible to know, but at the same time, it’s impossible not to be curious about what he could be up to these days.

If fashion history is what you love, we have another piece for you. Check out Coco Chanel’s trajectory!

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Credits:

Júlia Vilaça

Head of Content & Social Media

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Author:

Júlia Vilaça

Head of Content & Social Media

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