Halston. The name is synonymous with iconic fashions of the Seventies. Think Halston and what do you see: Studio 54, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli – the fashion excesses of the rich and famous of the time period.
Flamboyant dress dictator Roy Halston Frowick was indeed larger than life, and his dirt poor farm boy rise to fashion mogul of the stars story is definitely a fantastic and messy one. But Documentarian Frederic Tcheng‘s film takes on an odd tone with making a mixed bag of riveting stories, grainy VHS tapestry and a narration done by a ‘fictional character’ i.e., somebody working in the archives, giving the feel of an ‘America’s Most Wanted’ type storytelling. It seems to be a stretch in an attempt to make a more artistic film, but honestly, any attempts to add interest to Halston’s story were unnecessary as Halston didn’t need it.
So what do we know about Halston exactly that we didn’t – well I for one, didn’t know anything about his early days. Jackie O’s pillbox hat? Halston. The “hot pants” revolution in the 60’s? you got it..Halston. He started his career at Bergdorf Goodman, the iconic luxury department store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. And from there he received financial backing for his own House of Fashion and viola’, the Halston private studio was born and plans to take over the fashion world began. He literally put American fashion on the map – thanks in large part to his splash at the Versailles Fashion Show, something which an American fashion designer had never been invited to, let alone taken the show by storm.
Following all this, we get the interviews – ranging from movie director Joel Schumacher, whom partied hard with Halston since the beginning showing us how they were not accepted by some in their fun, freedom living lifestyles in 19060’s gay Fire Island; to model and actress Marisa Berenson, who was one of the first to walk his runway in his clothes and became a movie star; to Elsa Peretti, who created Halston fragrances and worked with him for years. There is also Liza Minelli who has worn Halston exclusively for decades. And lest we forget, Elizabeth Taylor and Bianca Jagger to name a few, who take us all in for a glimpse at some of the Studio 54 parties, the Andy Warhol years, and Halston’s lavish lifestyle.
Much of the later years center around the impact of business dealings. The 1973 deal where Norton-Simon acquired Halston and his brand, which is what drove his expansion into fragrances, shoes, furniture and more. We see his historic 1980 trip to China, and learn about his record-breaking $1 billion deal with JC Penney, a transaction outsiders described as he “moved from class to mass.” and made Bergdorf-Goldman pull everything of his out of their stores with many high-end’s following suit with theirs as well. We hear stories of his controlling nature and almost sadly watch as Esmark (Playtex) purchases the brand and discovers that once they owned the Halston name, Halston the man, could be and was, booted from the company with John David Ridge taking over as the ‘designer’ of all things Halston in 1984.
Halston is the true story of this man who designed for the world’s most fashion-conscious people, and for such diverse causes as The Olympics, the Girl Scouts, and Avis company uniforms. Having Esmark erase the Halston history was a downright tragedy. Having the designer die of AIDS in 1989 at age 57, was an even bigger one. By that time at least, he had disappeared from public life as his purpose and name were no longer his.
Halston wanted to take over the entire world with his fashion. He almost succeeded. Now if they could only erase that ridiculous narration – this would be an award winning documentary.
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Media Review Screening: Tuesday, September 17, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Deadline Documentary