The documentary Halston tells the story of the famous fashion designer who made a huge mark on the industry in the 70’s and 80’s. Halston started out as a hat designer for Bergdorf Goodman, going on to create Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pillbox hat for JFK’s inauguration. Hats soon evolved into an entire women’s line. His style was effortless chic. Simple, but stunning pieces that flattered a women’s body. Soon he branched out into perfume, menswear, bedding, and even flight attendant uniforms. It seemed like everything he touched made a profit. Of course, his precipitous rise led to an even bigger fall. Three things did him in: drugs/partying, selling his company/name to a corporation, and partnering with JC Penny for a more cost-friendly line. The documentary focuses a great deal of time on that last one. Soon Halston found himself shunned by the fashion world and kicked out of his own company. Six years later he was dead at age 57 from AIDS-related complications. An incredibly sad end for such a towering man.
My main issue with the movie is that director Frederic Tcheng could have presented a more well-rounded look at Halston, the man. His personal life gets so little airtime. There are about two sentences devoted to his relationship with illustrator Victor Hugo. Leaving the viewer to wonder exactly how this love affair began and ended. Then there’s the missing chunk of time between losing his company in 1984 and his death in 1990. Did he keep on designing? Were there any hopes of staging a comeback? All a mystery. Similarly, the years after he died, when the Halston line was revisited by other designers in the late 90s and 2000s, is given zero play. Tcheng missed out on an opportunity to go further into the story. I could have also done without the filmmaker’s fictional narrator framing device. The interludes featuring her were fairly corny and unnecessary.
On the plus side, there are several great moments in the film. For starters, seeing Halston’s stunning designs in all their 70s/80s glory. He had such a talent for making simplistic clothing seem very glamorous. He really put his stamp on that era in fashion. All of the archival footage is captivating. The Battle of Versailles, a grand China trip, and his many television appearances. I enjoyed the scenes featuring him and his troupe of beautiful models, the Halstonettes. So campy. The talking head interviews are also well placed. I especially liked hearing from Liza Minelli, model Pat Cleveland, and Halston’s niece Lesley Frowick. You can tell that they all loved him deeply. At one point Liza refuses to speak negatively of her friend or dish any dirt. And that’s the last you see of her.
Even with a few flaws, Halston works as an homage to a brilliant designer. He may have made some missteps, but he will be remembered as someone who shaped the fashion world and the American culture.
And now, just because, here’s Sister Sledge’s “He’s the Greatest Dancer”, which gives Halston a shout out…