Halston: America’s Most Iconic & Tragic Fashion Designer

Occasionally I find myself inspired to write about fashion designers who have either an interesting past or who have made contributions to the fashion scene. In the past, I have written about Chanel’s Russian connection, but since I am once again living in America and have previously lived in New York I find it fitting to write about this iconic American designer. Well, Lovelies I hope you will enjoy this lengthy read and my funny poses in a dress from this very designer.

“Iconic, sexy, streamlined; these were the words that often described the work of Halston (Roy Halston Frowick) during the discotheque era of the 1970s. Leading into the latter half of the 1980s those words swiftly changed to “tragedy”, a word that marred the designer’s namesake, even until this day. The ’80s left a bitter taste for Halston, who was losing his fashion house and each day his creative control was taken away, in other words, he was being ousted.

January 20th, 1961 John F Kennedy became the 35th president of the United States of America. By JFK’s side was his wife, Jaqueline Kennedy (Onassis). The American public grew obsessed with Jackie Kennedy’s style. For her husband’s inauguration, she wore a fabric coat, and a delicate pillbox hat that sat on top of her head. The weather was described as windy that day, and she had to adjust her hat leaving behind a small dent; a detail Halston would later say inspired other designers to create pillbox hats with a dent. You see Halston began his career as a milliner and landed a job with Lilly Daché, and eventually took a career as the customer milliner for Bergdorf Goodman. During his time as a milliner, he had made friends with fashion editors. The pillbox hat helped Halston transition away from working as a milliner, to designing women’s wear, when hats fell from popularity. In 1968, Halston was able to open his very own boutique located on Madison Avenue in New York.

I first learned of Halston in 2015 when I was looking for a dress to attend a relative’s wedding. The dress was blue, form-fitting, one shoulder and the bottom was made of mesh that would sway when you walk. If you are curious, yes, I still own and love the dress, I even packed it on my move to Pennsylvania. The label read Halston Heritage, and it was my mom who told me that this was a good and expensive brand. To her, the brand meant something, but for me, I did not have a clue, and as I was more immersed in my fashion blog at the time, I had to investigate Halston for myself.

Halston was arguably one of the few fashion designers that contributed the most to America’s fashion scene and put American fashion on the map globally. His designs and ambitions had an impact, to put it simply he knew what women wanted from their clothing. In 1969 Halston launched his first-ever ready-to-wear collection under ‘Halston Limited’. Halston’s collections were different than what the public was used to seeing, instead of overbearing patterns, he worked around the concept of minimalism. He wanted to make glamourous and comfortable clothing, often opting to work with soft fabrics from silk to chiffon; but he was also well known for the use of jersey, cashmere and Ultrasuede.

Halston believed in showing off women’s bodies and did so by allowing the natural fabric to take on a life of its own, to flow. “The clothing would dance with you” – Liza Minelli (Halston Documentary, 2019). Many of Halston’s former models would say when they would wear Halston’s work, the clothing was meant to be worn without undergarments, and many felt naked and liberated in the clothing.

It is a known fact that it was the dresses that made Halston famous, but he did dabble with other items that many swooned over, one being the Ultrasuede shirtdress. The Ultrasuede shirtdress was inspired by menswear, and Halston would use androgynous, and athletic elements in his work that added a level of function to fashion. Halston was so creative, that he had the ability to re-invent fashion for women while bringing focus to comfort, including bringing back pants. As a designer, he also embraced women of all shapes and sizes, and backgrounds. Another notable concept that contributed to his brand’s success was that Halston wanted clothing to be able to transition from day to night. He knew many in New York would work, and then go to the discotheques afterwards. Especially when he, himself was a part of the studio 54 scene.

If you were to look at photos of Halston you would see him surrounded by celebrities or taking part in the famous stint of putting Bianca Jagger on a white horse in studio 54 for her birthday. As a designer, he recognized that image could impact his brand’s success, and the inclusion of celebrity was never done before. Halston was a pioneer, and he really understood that he could curate the narrative of how others saw his clothing, this would bring attention to the brand. A pioneer was who he was, as he was the first to bring fame to fashion designers. His notable friendships with celebrities from Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minelli to Andy Warhol, really added an allure to him, and all that he created.

As for putting America on the map, he was one of 5 designers alongside Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, and Oscar De La Renta who received an invitation to show their collections in Paris at the Palace of Versailles. Prior to this, American designers were never invited to Paris. Halston’s show, by including Liza Minnelli left Parisienne’s in awe, as he once again utilized celebrity appeal to bring attention and this ‘coolness’ to the clothing. Not only did he have a celebrity, but his show featured 12 black women in his clothing, while other designers would only have 1 or 2 at the most (Halston Documentary,2019). It was Halston who paved the way for American fashion designers to show their collections in Paris.

The downfall of Halston’s success, however, could be blamed on several things from failed business ventures and relationships to the media picking him apart. The irony is that these ventures are now perfectly acceptable from fashion houses nowadays, thanks to Halston. When Halston made a billion-dollar deal with JC Penny to create an affordable line for the middle class (and was a hit!), it angered the elite crowd. The elite wanted to be able to have access to luxury and then felt as if what they were buying was being cheapened. This was complete fashion snobbery and lead to Bergdorf Goodman putting a stop to selling all things related to Halston. In modern times Fashion houses from Alexander Wang to Isabel Marant have collaborated with H&M to create affordable items, and fashion houses produce their own affordable lines of their clothing i.e. Red Valentino or See by Chloé. Today the corporation that owns Halston even sells the line H Halston that is geared towards the middle class, I think if Halston was still around today he would find that comical.

 How is it that someone who rose to prominence, who could give women the style they wanted at the time could fail and lose the rights to their own name? I find it so sad to see that here was this designer who really was a pioneer, and who could do it all, but was taken down by those who bolstered him to the top. When I came back to British Columbia from living in New York, I watched the documentary on Halston that was featured on CNN, and it left an impression on me. I already knew a little bit about the brand (thanks to the blue dress I bought years earlier). I am intrigued by the Halston Brand, and recently purchased another Halston Heritage dress (Halston Heritage is the contemporary line) on sale from Nordstrom Rack. However, I think it will be a future goal of mine to purchase an original Halston dress or design one day. As for the dress I recently purchased, it had a hand in inspiring me to write this mini biography as an ode to one of America’s greatest fashion designers, and to use it for a ‘photoshoot’ for this very post.

 I hope you enjoyed this miniature biography on a designer who made a multitude of contributions to fashion from diversity to consumerism, and if you search on Youtube you can stumble across the documentary in full it is simply called Halston (2019). If you would like to see photos of Halston feel free to check out my Halston Pinterest board. I will do my best to feature more biographies of memorable designers in the future.

Xox Zaychishka

9 thoughts on “Halston: America’s Most Iconic & Tragic Fashion Designer

  1. When my husband and I went on our first real date, I was wearing a Halston “little black dress.” That was when Halston was still alive. A couple of years ago my oldest granddaughter raided my closet and now she is the one who wears it.

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      1. Pojaluista 🙂 You must have an incredible collection of clothing ❤️ I think that is wonderful you have all this lovely vintage clothing to give to your granddaughter ❤️ I only have one wool coat from my Italian great grandmother..it’s beautiful, great quality and so warm…but is the only item I have.

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      2. I used to go to Italy almost every year for the beginnin of the season at La Scala, thus all the formal gowns which my grandkids call “opera gowns.” There are a couple of out-of-tourist-way boutiques where I bought off-the-runway clothes at ridiculously low prices. Most of it now has migrated to my granddaughter.

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      3. You truly live a very interesting life, I can’t imagine finding such deals in Italy nowadays.. but once again lots of memories and cool stories attached to those dresses, and I’m sure your granddaughter must look stunning in all of them. I’m slowly building my closet now that I’m back to living on the east coast.. and there’s a lot of good deals over here ( much better than what we have in Canada / although no italian/ runway finds for me hahah )

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      4. My granddaughter looks stunning even in baggy pants when walking the dog (a grandmother has the right to brag!).
        You are right, those deals could be had before euros, when dollar was king.
        Good luck building a fabulous closet and telling us all about it, darling!

        Liked by 1 person

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