Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Nurture Yourself - Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

Whether you are a lover of fashion, history, art or the 70's, Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston needs to be part of your weekend! (its On Demand now and hits theaters in L.A. and N.Y. February 3). This documentary about the rise and eventual fall of an iconic American designer does an superb job of telling the story of Roy Halston and his fabulous life in the 70's in New York City.  Through interviews with those who knew him best like Liza Minelli (his best friend), designer Ralph Rucci (Halston gave him his first job), Angelica Huston (one of his favorite models), designer Naeem Khan (his former assistant), and Andre Leon Talley, this film chronicles his assent to stardom - from his beginnings as a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman to his multi-million dollar deals.  His minimalistic and chic approach to designing with luxurious materials like hammered silk and 6-ply cashmere created a new American sensibility that had never been seen.  Liza wore Halston when she won her Academy Award for Caberet.  Elizabeth Taylor, Candice Bergen (think 70's way before Murphy Brown), Marisa Berenson, Bianca Jagger and Elsa Peretti were his nearest and dearest muses.

Halston's famous pillbox hat at JFK's inauguration.  
January 20, 1961 - Jackie Kennedy doned a fawn-colored pillbox hat created by a then unknown 29 year-old Halston.  As she continued to wear his hats again and again, his career was launched and in 1966 he presented his first collection at Bergdorfs.

Halston is know for marrying practicality with luxury like no other designer had ever done.  A perfect example is his beige shirt dress  (pictured above on Sarah Jessica Parker), which sold more units than any other dress ever - over 100,000!

Halston at a fitting with Angelica Huston, one of his close friends and favorite models. 
In the film, Ralph Rucci tells a great story about the night he saw Halston take a bolt of purple chiffon fabric and a pair of scissors and then cut out a gorgeous, perfectly draped gown with no seams.  As America's fashion darling in the 1970's, Halston was commissioned to design everything from the U.S. Olympic team outfits to the Girl Scouts of America's uniforms.

Halston, Bianca Jagger, Jack Haley Jr., Liza Minelli, and Michael Jackson at Studio 54. 

Halston spent almost as much time socializing as he did working, and significant moments in the film detail his hard partying ways and his love of hosting his friends at his house on East 63rd Street in New York City. He was a regular at Steve Rubell's Studio 54 and a member of Andy Warhol's inner circle.

As the film explains, it was his decision to sell his company to Norton Simon for millions that changed his sky-high trajectory.  With the rights to his name and his company in the hands of a corporate conglomerate, he no longer was in control and slowly his beloved company slipped from his grasp. A collaboration with JCPenny (which got rave reviews) was the move that broke the camel's back. It was a terrible disappointment and was immediately discontinued.  Not long after that project failed, Bergdorf Goodman, one of his original champions, tossed his line out because they felt he had devalued his brand by associating with a mass-market retailer.  Ironic considering that today most of the major fashion houses jump at a chance to do licensing deals with accessible stores like Target (Missoni) and Kohl's (Vera Wang).

Halston, screenprint by Andy Warhol, 1974. 

Halston died in 1990 of AIDS related complications at the young age of 57, but his legacy that changed the face of American design lives on. Sadly, his label has had little success since his passing. Everyone from Jimmy Choo's Tamara Mellon to Rachel Zoe have been brought in to try and breath life into this once great label, without any luck. Sarah Jessica Parker was brought in (with much fanfare) as the President and Chief Creative Officer of the Halston Heritage diffusion line in the beginning of 2010, but she left quietly in the spring of 2011. No successor has been named and the label didn't show a collection for spring 2012.  Although several rumors have been circling that Nicole Richie may be in talks to be the new face of the brand, my visit to the Halston website spoke volumes about the uncertain future of this storied fashion house - a simple facepage with the Halston logo is all that remains of what was once an iconic brand.  Hopefully, this year will see it reinvigorated with a new designer and new vision, who remembers what it was and recognizes what it can be.


Theresa / InspirationCOOP said...

Wow, thank you for this great history on Halston. I had no idea, and I'd like to think I'm up on these sorts of things. If Mellon and Parker couldn't zap life into this brand, it will be interesting to see if Richie can work her magic.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this documentary and have become so interested in his life. It's such a sad, tragic tale really. To have all that fame and notoriety and then to basically die alone, and have your work be forgotten. Only the true fashion people have revered him and hopefully the line will come back. However, it will be hard to replace what was in the 70s and it's really a good lesson in never selling your name!

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