In honor of what would have been Halston’s 90th birthday, friends, family and fashion types celebrated the designer’s life and lasting influence on Sunday afternoon at the National Arts Club in Manhattan.
Hosted by her niece Lesley Frowick, the “With Love, Halston ❤️” event featured a dozen personal testimonials, a Halston-inspired student fashion show, live auction, birthday cake and champagne toast . Ralph Rucci, Naeem Khan and Yeohlee Teng were some of the designers in attendance, and models Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn, Karen Bjornson and Debbie Dickinson paid tribute to Halston, who died in 1990. Born Roy Halston Frowick, he rose to fame world. with one name. Before the program began, a few attendees criticized Netflix’s portrayal of the creator in its series, which starred Ewan McGregor.
Another designer, Jeffrey Banks, acted as emcee. Photographers Chris Makos, Paul Solberg and Dustin Pittman stopped by, as did Harold Koda; James LaForce; Steven Stipelman; Ken Downing; David Yurman; Sybil Kleinrock; Lisa Silhanek; Frowick’s, Sister Brook Frowick Drummond; Tony Spinelli; Steve Gold; Robert D’Loren; David Croland and, fittingly, Studio 54 deejay Robbie Leslie and his guest list sitter Myra Scheer, as Tuesday marks the 45th anniversary of the opening of the famous nightclub, which is almost synonymous with Halston. While there were a fair amount of memorable moments, the speakers also moved the clock forward to highlight how its design aesthetic can be seen today.
Fashion writer Marylou Luther noted how Halston was the first American designer to have a South Coast Plaza boutique, diversify the runway with black models and a plus-size model, and make comfort a condition of fashion. Referring to the comfort aspect of his designs, “He once said, ‘The most important elements of fashion are comfort and sex,'” Luther said.
She also noted that he was America’s first minimalist (“even minimizing his name”). As the first designer to be sold to a mass merchant, JC Penney, Luther acknowledged, “Although the results were disastrous, they testified to his fearlessness and foresight.”
Among other firsts, he was the first American to show on the Great Wall of China with an entourage of models and celebrities he called his corps de ballet. “Today we would call them influencers,” Luther said. “He was the first designer to go to Paris twice a year as a guest at haute couture shows thanks to his [earlier] hat designer role for Bergdorf Goodman.
From Luther’s perspective, Halston “deserves credit for putting America on the international fashion map. Before Halston, there was Paris, London, Rome, then Milan. After New York and the revolutionary spectacle of Versailles designed by Halston [in 1973 that the Americans dominated] spinning to the beat of the music were some of the great models, who are here [today]“, said Luther.
Koda noted how Halston “manifested an idea about the body” that involved being able to twist patterns “into a very simple silhouette that just stroked the body but gave off a sexual element”. What may have worked against this main contribution as a designer is that Halston created an image of New York in the 1970s that was so sophisticated and glamorous that this lifestyle became what we think from him. “It’s actually those two things because without that I don’t think many of her simple dresses would have given off the aura of privilege and wealth and sophistication the way they did without the context of lifestyle. .”
Cleveland, one of the models who took part in the Versailles showdown between American and European designers, described the event in detail. “It was kind of scary. Lisa [Minnelli] didn’t want to go on stage. She said, ‘I can’t go out.’ I said, “There’s a rainbow – go ahead,” Cleveland said, singing and moving for effect. “We were walking in the Hall of Mirrors. Givenchy was there and the princess [Grace of Monaco]. All the girls were pulling the feathers off the back of Josephine Baker’s dress. She did not know. She said, ‘Oh, you girls are so cute.’ And they took away memories.
Recalling the party afterwards, Cleveland said, “Karen [Bjornson] was like a Cinderella and Alva was so sexy with that feather that came with a breast. It got a lot of attention. We were all alive in Paris and the cherubs were dancing on the ceiling, and the candlelight, the royal family and the jewels were twinkling. Oh, la, la — we had a great time.
Recalling a job interview with Halston, Rucci recounted how his teeth chattered as he walked up to the designer, despite the fact that it was July and he was wearing a black turtleneck (to be consistent with Halston’s style). “He had these fucking mirrored sunglasses on, which intimidated me so much,” Rucci said.
After reviewing her portfolio, Halston asked what the design of a particular dress looked like. Rucci cited Ronald Bladen’s huge X-shaped sculpture. “That’s how I got my job,” Rucci said. “…I think of Halston every day of my life, and Elsa [Peretti].”
Other speakers described the designer’s multidimensional thinking, including how he sometimes created origami-like paper drawings of what he imagined. Fred Rottman, who managed Halston’s workroom and wrote a book about the designer, remembers studying with Charles James before joining Halston. Rottman said: “Charles James used to say, ‘Halston copied this and that’, which was totally untrue. What Halston did was take a few concepts from Charles James and loosen them up in such a brilliant way. This man understood that the world has changed and that women don’t dress for what-the-length-of-the-skirt-this-year, look-of-the-year or dress for their husbands . The women had imposed themselves. They were in the workplace and they wanted to dress differently. He just understood. When you look at today’s fashion, it’s a huge evolution of her work.
Khan described arriving in America at the age of 18 and leaving with his father, who worked in the family embroidery business, to meet Halston at Olympic Towers. Speaking on behalf of his father, Khan said the designer asked what his plans were and then suggested he change them to work for the designer instead of going to school. “My dad said, ‘No, we have child labor in India, but I don’t believe we have any in America,'” Khan said, adding that Halston later handed him a copy of Life magazine with the designer on the cover. and said, “‘You’ll want to work for me.'”
After convincing his mother that the job prospect was good, Khan said he applied for a green card as a professional artist, which was later canceled by Indian government officials due to his young age. When Khan called Halston to explain what had happened, the designer replied, “How dare they? I don’t know who he called, but they came to deliver the card to my house,” Khan said. “He was really like a father to me. He taught me how to live, how to have fun, how to behave with friends, family…he loved to laugh. He was a great man. I loved him and I am who I am because of him.
Audrey Schilt also described how Halston opened doors for her early in her career. He once introduced her to Salvador Dali as a great artist. “I didn’t know what to say,” she said with a laugh, remembering a sweet thank you. “And Jacqueline Kennedy; I drew Jacqueline Kennedy. She was chewing gum and I had to draw her mouth. I was meeting all these big celebrities and Halston was larger than life,” she said. “I was making so much money that I didn’t go to work for him because he wanted me to work five days a week. I only wanted to do three.
Croland concluded the reminiscences by reading a letter he had written about meeting Halston and the crafty usurpation of the creator.
Afterwards, students from the Fashion Institute of Technology staged a Halston-inspired runway show using durable Ultrasuede. The non-profit organization With Love Halston had partnered with FIT to launch the Halston Challenge. Blake Dewitt won first prize and Enoch Kim and Yuri Ikegaya finished second and third respectively.
Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for the With Love Halston scholarship fund, according to Frowick.
In his remarks, Xcel Brands Chairman and CEO D’Loren said Sunday’s event was just the beginning, with more to come. A Halston Challenge is in the works at Marangoni Miami and Drexel University. The next installment seemed fitting, based on the advice Frowick said Halston once gave him: “‘If you ever feel overwhelmed, take on another project. “”