So . . . we’ve been obsessed with the thought of it for so long, that when we spotted a review copy of the DVD, Ultrasuede – In Search of Halston, on a desk at Grazia towers, we immediately pounced on it like a hungry animal! And we were not disappointed!
Just look at this picture, (above) of a classic Halston collection, showing his quintessential Seventies silhouettes –floaty kaftan dresses and an ‘ultrasuede’ shirt-waisters, modelled by the supers of the Seventies. Although it was posed in a studio by fashion photographer Duane Michals, the tableau is one that was mirrored in real life. Everywhere that Halston (full name Roy Halston Frowick) went, so did his glamorous exotic entourage, made up of actresses including Liza Minelli and Angelica Houston and supermodels like Pat Cleveland, inspiring the nickname ‘the Halstonettes’ or, as Andre Leon Talley, US Vogue’s editor at large and star turn in The September Issue – put it; ‘the Ultra-ettes’, ‘because’, he explains, ‘they moved around en masse, in a pack’.
The documentary was made by the amusingly Louis Theroux-like first-time director Whitney Sudler Smith. Smith sets off on a road trip across the States to get to the truth about Halston’s success, and discover ‘the dark side of the Seventies’. He outlines how Halston started making hats in Bergdorf Goodman’s, then made one for Jackie Kennedy, before his range of ready-to-wear revolutionised the New York fashion scene with his clean, minimal designs, fluid silhouettes and flowing chiffon dresses, perfect for disco dancing in, eventually becoming the ultimate American fashion designer.
He hears personal stories from Angelica, Diane von Furstenberg and Liza herself – who described her relationship to the late great designer as ‘my big brother. I loved him, I trusted him, he was my family’, before going on to explain how she organised his memorial service after he died of an AIDS related illness. Hilarious encounters include a meeting with one of Andy Warhol’s factory assistants, who recalled Halston spending thousands of dollars on orchids for his home and office, or Nile ‘Freak Out! Le Freak, so chic!’ Rogers from CHIC playing slap-bass as an accompaniment to his tales of Studio 54.
When we think of Marc Jacobs’ naked perfume adverts, or his ever-evolving personal life and growing collection of tattoos, or Karl Lagerfeld’s eccentric pronouncements to the press – it was Halston who was the first celebrity fashion designer, appearing on talk shows, frequenting the notorious disco Studio 54 and being papped on the arms of every star going, from Bianca Jagger to Elizabeth Taylor, who were both friends. The story; narrated by Smith himself, whose bumbling charm and interview technique is hilarious – doesn’t have a happy ending. As he became increasingly successful, he signed more and more licenses to outside companies, eventually forfeiting the rights to his name. His work-hard play-hard ethos took on a darker edge, with tales of drug binges and a destructive relationship with his artist boyfriend, Victor Hugo.
Eventually, he was sacked by the companies that owned his business, and retired to San Francisco where family members nursed him till his death in 1990. Liza stuck by him till the end, although not everyone else did, as the stigma of his illness made the great party boy and socializer into a recluse. Despite subsequent attempts to revive the fashion house, the last of which by SJP and Harvey Weinstein, none have succeeded. Halston’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame declared that “The ‘70’s belonged to Halston”. In the film, the survivors of that decade, suggest that, like models jumping in the air, the House of Halston is moment frozen in time, which ‘you can’t get back’. Perhaps we really can’t.
The movie will be released in the UK on Sep 23 in selected cinemas, followed up by a DVD release in November. We URGE all fashion fans to track it down then! halstonmovie.com
- Naomi Attwood