Halston: Fashionista with Un-Common Touch

DATELINE: Clothes Make the Woman

 Halston, Taylor, Minelli at Studio 54!

Fashion designer extraordinaire, Halston was part of a generation that self-immolated by 1990. Most of them were gone: trend-setting, pop culture icons:  notably Halston (he only needed one name, like Liberace). A fascinating documentary aptly named Halstontells the tale.

The 1950s gave young talents like Halston and Warhol a youthful connection to fame, but it was by the 1960s they took charge of their lives. Halston was a gypsy of America, living in no true fixed abode. So, he was likely to be self-made.

He was ambitious and flamboyant, ready to take his energy and ideas into all kinds of creative realms. He was the pioneer who made Europe take note of American fashion, though he was later given rivals like Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein.

Halston tried to stay ahead of the curve, branching out into aesthetics like perfume with bottles as arty as popular. He melded movies and fashion together, finding that his association with people like Liza Minelli and Elizabeth Taylor were ways to grow socially and artfully.

It started to go wrong when he splurged into Studio 54 with Warhol, Capote, and the raft of disco dollies. It was, some said, the beginning of a dissolution.

The documentary never says much about his aging, but it’s there: clearly losing youth to something harder. He became as hard as his looks, or perhaps his looks took on his personality: moody, bossy, self-centered.  It wasn’t pretty, when he started to be less pretty.

Others thought his greed was the deciding factor that led to his destruction: he sold out to J.C. Penney, going from class to mass appeal. It alienated his well-to-do friends and undermined his name. He actually sold his own name, and lost control of it.

The end featured more intrigue that Ancient Rome, as he was pushed out (literally locked out) of his own empire by locksmiths and Playtex bra people who bought his name. A few thought it was drugs that did him in, if not promiscuity.

It was the 1980s and the deadly virus that swept through art circles in theatre, fashion, music, especially in New York, took him too. Andy Warhol once said that he’d want Halston and Elizabeth Taylor as his chums because they were so nice.

This celebrity name-dropping documentary may stir memories in a generation grown old. Halston was loved by many people who felt he epitomized tragedy by the end.