A film about legendary disco designer Halston will soon be coming to a screen near you. At Sundance, production company The Orchard premiered Halston, a documentary by Dior and I director Frédéric Tcheng.
Tcheng explores Roy Halston Frowick with deft nuance, not over-sensationalizing the designer’s known penchant for tantrums and cocaine, but also not ignoring his flaws. Though the director said in an interview that he is “pro-Halston,” he also examines what led to the designer’s downfall, namely going from “class to mass” with his $1 billion JCPenney deal.
In light of the upcoming documentary, here’s a primer on things you may not know about the man who bought polyurethane to American fashion.
He designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s famous pink pillbox hat. When John F. Kennedy was sworn into office, Jackie Kennedy was by his side wearing a beige coat with glamorously exaggerated buttons, elbow-length gloves, and a Halston-designed pillbox hat. It helped catapult the designer into international stardom.
He had “famous” lunches. In a 1991 story for Vanity Fair, writer Steven Gaines described literally the most fab lunch you could dream of. Reminiscent of the European fashion houses, Halston would close his salon from 12:30 to 2 p.m. each day and invite people like Lauren Bacall or Barbara Walters over for lunch.
“With the air pungent with a mixture of Rigaud candles and freshly brewed espresso, the sound of Aretha Franklin or cool jazz on the stereo, Halston would recline on a zebra-striped banquette and stroke his Pekingese dog as he charmed his lunch guests and traded harmless bits of society and show-business gossip,” Gaines wrote of the events.
He once gave Elizabeth Taylor Burger King-inspired love advice. A former lover of Halston’s described being in bed with him when Taylor rang asking for love life advice. “There was a Burger King commercial on TV, and Halston’s advice to Elizabeth Taylor was ‘Have it your way,'” he said.
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At Halston’s opening party, Liza Minelli closed a Halston show singing “New York, New York”. Minnelli was also very much the designer’s companion in debauchery, with Andy Warhol once noting in his diary that she once came in and asked for “every drug [Halston] had.”
He was the first lifestyle brand. Even though it ended up ruining his company, when Halston signed away his name to JCPenney, he became the first designer to license himself as a brand. Halston was perhaps too ahead of his time—even though plenty of high-end designers now do collaborations with brands like H&M or Topshop, at the time, the accessibility resulted in Bergdorf Goodman pulling his line.
Sarah Jessica Parker once designed for Halston Heritage. Eerily, Harvey Weinstein once invested in Halston, and one of his moves was bringing on Parker as chief creative officer of the label’s diffusion line. She left just a year after signing on, explaining in true Carrie Bradshaw fashion that, like a man with too many red flags, “Sometimes, the fella don’t change.”
He designed uniforms for companies ranging from Braniff Airways to Girl Scouts. Dubbed “Ultra Touch,” Halston designed a very ‘70s line of uniforms in muted browns for the airline. Not only that, but he brought a little Studio 54 to the New York Police Department, the U.S. Olympic Team in 1976, Girl Scouts, and even Avis Rent a Car.