New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Halston

This film shows Halston as a visionary and genius designer. Halston was so ahead of his time, he created fashions for celebrity royalty in the 1960’s and 70’s that would fly out of boutiques today. The openly gay Halston lived a lavish celebrity lifestyle, but his lack of business acumen did him in. 

This film examines his rise from small town Iowa to designing fashionable hats for the rich at Bergdorf Goodman, to his own label and studio in the clouds of a Manhattan skyscraper. It is fascinating to see footage collected by Director Frédéric Tcheng (Dior and I) showing Halston’s incredible ability to look at a piece of cloth and, with just scissors, cut it into an elegant piece of perfect couture. Scissors to him were like clay to a sculptor. 

His designs were timeless. Example: Lauren Hutton wore Halston’s design (pictured here) in 1975. The model to her right is Elsa Hosk who wore almost the identical design by Etro at Cannes 2019. Halston was also the first to design a tear-drop-shaped perfume bottle that didn’t even have his name on the bottle. 

Tcheng has footage of Halston being his charming self talking his way into Truman Capote’s very posh, private Black and White Ball. Halston designed hundreds of masks for those invited, although not invited himself, there is footage of his making many entrances with a parade of guests. It’s amusing. He had chutzpah. Tcheng shows that if Halston wanted to do something, he figured out a way to do it. 

This is shown throughout the film. He could be charming, but we could also see a selfish side and a vapidness that was stand offish.This film does not make Halston very likable, even though it includes interviews with friends and family who were close. But it barely gets behind the mask. We did not see much emotion from him along the way. He sounds too calm, bored and disengaged he’s interviewed. He was a genius, artistically, but not always a great communicator or decision maker.

Halston was the designer who put Jackie Kennedy in a cloth coat and pill box hat she wore to JFK’s inauguration while the other women wore fur. He designed hot pants which became all the rage. He was Liza Minelli’s designer on and off stage and they were close. She called him her best friend. He was also close to model/socialite Marisa Berenson and Bianca Jagger. There is ample footage of him having fun with celebrities, including Liza and Liz, and with his posse of models at Studio 54. He seemed happy spending a lot of money and having fun taking advantage of that era of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

Tcheng digs up examples of his popularity being asked to design uniforms for Avis, for the United States Olympic team competing in Rome in 1976, and even for Girl Scout leaders.

You also get to see Halston surrounded by his hand-picked stable of gorgeous skinny models he named the Halstonettes. There are clips of several presentations of his creative collections, but Tcheng shows how many tapes of his shows were tragically lost because Halston’s business partners had them erased.

Halston gets very full of himself saying he wants to “dress all of America” and makes a deal with J.C. Penney, which changed the perception of his brand from couture and off-the-rack. He eventually lost control over his brand and his work. It was downhill from there. Tcheng has actress and writer Tavi Gevinson show Halston’s overspending on luxury items found in his records. And he basically signed away his business without realizing it until it was too late.  

The director has collected all but the emotion behind this genius. Halston died of HIV, ironically, the night of the 1990 Academy Awards, considered the Super Bowl of fashion. The clips of Halston are not always good quality, but Tcheng does well with the material he was able to obtain. Halston was, and still is, an intriguing artistic genius. 

The Orchard                   1 hours 45 minutes              Documentary

Check your local listings.  Now playing at The Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

from Movies and Shakers

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