What happened to Halston? The rise and fall of a fashion icon


Stroll into any division retailer, and you’ll get a sense of the highly effective manufacturers constructed by high-end American designers: Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan. They created veritable fashion empires by leveraging their names to create lower-priced strains and signal worthwhile licensing agreements.

However earlier than all of them, there was Roy Halston Frowick—higher recognized by the singular appellation Halston.

The topic of an eponymous Netflix miniseries starring Ewan McGregor, Halston turned one of the earliest American designers to lengthen his model to a number of value factors. In doing so, he made designs that had been usually out of attain for on a regular basis Individuals accessible to the plenty.

However as fashion historians, we’ll typically inform Halston’s story as a cautionary one. Although he made type appear easy, his relationship with the fashion business was something however uncomplicated.


Attuned to the temper

A born-and-bred Midwesterner, Halston discovered early success in hat design working as a customized milliner for Bergdorf Goodman. Halston quickly turned generally known as a trendsetter, and, in a notable triumph for the younger designer, first woman Jacqueline Kennedy wore one of Halston’s signature pillbox hats at her husband’s inauguration.

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First woman Jacqueline Kennedy donned one of Halston’s iconic pillbox hats on Inauguration Day in 1961. [Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images]

Later within the Sixties, Halston made the foray into gown design. His success was equal elements expertise and serendipity, and he as soon as described his strategy as “editing the mood of what’s happening.”

Though overt simplicity could appear incongruous with grandeur, Halston clothes had been each understated and luxurious.

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[Photo: Eileen Costa/Museum at FIT/Flickr]

Halston’s body-skimming silk chiffon caftans, jersey wraparound dresses, and long cashmere sweaters had been typically constructed utilizing only one piece of material. They coated the physique absolutely, however by means of cautious manipulation of the material—wrapping, draping, and twisting—Halston’s items had been sensuous and flattering.

Halston was even able to turn Ultrasuede—a mushy, artificial, machine-washable fake suede—into a standing image, molding it into elegant shirtdresses and coats. These turned in style regardless of—or possibly as a result of of—their utter plainness. His clothes had been becoming for the Nineteen Seventies, when a shaky economy made flagrant shows of wealth unseemly.


But the designer’s social life was the other of understated. The truth is, the picture of fashion design as a glamorous and thrilling career owes a lot to Halston. Throughout his heyday, he was at “the highest of the fashion show-biz heap,” as Ladies’s Put on Every day writer John Fairchild once wrote.

On the legendary Studio 54, he mingled with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol. The world-famous disco membership turned each a showroom for Halston’s designs and a stage for the person himself, and Halston was typically accompanied by an entourage of lovely ladies generally known as “the Halstonettes.”

Halston the businessman

As his stature grew, Halston all the time regarded for methods to increase his fashion empire.

Early in his profession, he experimented with what’s generally known as “brand diffusion“—which is firms’ use of the identical model title on objects at various value factors.

His high-end line was Halston Ltd., a made-to-order, ready-to-wear enterprise. Situated on New York Metropolis’s Madison Avenue, it catered to an unique record of personal clientele that included movie and tv stars reminiscent of Lauren Bacall, Greta Garbo, Liza Minelli, and Elizabeth Taylor.

In the meantime, the Halston Originals boutique offered attire to department shops throughout the nation, with prices ranging from $150 to over $1,000. And with Halston Worldwide, the designer created “element” knit items—not outfits, however singular clothes, turtlenecks, sweater units, shirts, and coats—that customers may combine and match to their delight.

After the enterprise conglomerate Norton Simon Inc. acquired the Halston companies in 1973, Halston remained lead designer of his many collections. He labored at a frenetic tempo, creating all of the uniforms for the winter and summer time 1976 U.S. Olympic athletes and making costumes for Martha Graham’s ballet manufacturing Lucifer. Merchandise bearing his title included perfumes, baggage, residence linens, coats, rainwear, and even wigs. By 1983, Halston Enterprises was producing an estimated $150 million in annual sales.

Maybe emboldened by his success or motivated by his heartland roots, Halston signed with JCPenney in 1983 for the creation of an unique line that was, as he put it, “for the American people.”

With objects priced from $24 to $200, the “III line” marked a new period in fashion and retailing.

Whereas high-end fashion designer Pierre Cardin pioneered this way of licensing in Europe, the venture of pairing a high-fashion designer with a mass merchandiser greatest recognized for promoting Levi’s, {hardware}, and family items was uncommon in the US. Whereas Halston contended it was immensely successful, claiming it generated $1 billion in gross sales, JCPenney’s executives had been much less enthusiastic. By the mid-Nineteen Eighties, business insiders had been suggesting that the garments were not selling as well as expected.

The JCPenney’s deal in the end proved to be damaging for Halston. Cautious high-end retailers, together with his early employer, Bergdorf Goodman, had been fearful that the status of the Halston title was sullied by its presence on the racks of a mass-market merchandiser. Bergdorf Goodman ultimately dropped his line altogether.


In the meantime, Halston’s rising popularity of extreme spending and erratic conduct more and more left his model to the selections of businessmen and inventive management to different events. Halston was relegated to the sidelines, and his corporate deals effectively cost him the right to his own name.

In 1988, Halston was recognized with AIDS. He lived out of the general public eye till his dying in 1990.

Others observe Halston’s lead

Regardless of its eventual failure, Halston’s pairing with JCPenney was actually forward of its time.

Citing the significance of creating sensible, easy-care leisurewear for working ladies and younger moms, Halston tried to provide a trendy wardrobe at affordable costs that just about everybody may afford.

Contemporaries reminiscent of Anne Klein, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Kenzo Takada would instantly check out comparable diffusion strains. All pulled it off with out struggling the extraordinary skilled value that Halston endured.

These designers’ company and inventive selections had been arguably extra tightly managed than Halston’s devil-may-care diffusion. Acquisitions of these firms by bigger conglomerates occurred a lot later than Halston’s, typically a long time into the model’s existence. Maybe this gave further time for these manufacturers to arrive at a extra singular imaginative and prescient.

Sustaining a constant path over such a numerous array of strains proved unfeasible for Halston, and one thing was misplaced alongside the best way: the cachet and the attract that made a Halston a Halston.

Halston’s successes and final downfall have offered a cautious inspiration. Isaac Mizrahi’s 2003 collaboration with Target—20 years after Halston’s pairing with JCPenney—turned a boon for each events.

It was not, nonetheless, with out trepidation. In 2019, Mizrahi reminisced that the partnership “was a very scary factor. Halston was my idol . . . and he had failed.”

Relationships between designers and retailers are actually commonplace in a local weather the place probably the most trendy and seen of ladies freely combine and match mass-market and luxurious objects, and designers deftly jump between discount retail and the runway.

Halston’s model lives on, however resuscitating it has been a lengthy course of. Fashion heavyweights Kevan Corridor and Marios Schwab, in addition to type figures Rachel Zoe and Sarah Jessica Parker, have lent their creativity and enterprise acumen to the model, with restricted success.

With the discharge of Netflix’s Halston, a new revival is at hand: not of the road, however of the character that for a comparatively transient—however glittering—second, dominated the fashion world with devastating simplicity.

Jennifer Gordon is a lecturer of attire, occasions, and hospitality administration at Iowa State University, and Sara Marcketti is a professor of attire, occasions, and hospitality administration at Iowa State University. This text is republished from The Conversation beneath a Inventive Commons license. Learn the original article.