Halston was one of the most influential American designers of all time. While many people tend to associate him with dazzling on the dance floor and all night Studio 54 decadence- his contributions to the fashion world are his true his legacy.
Roy Halston Frowick was born in 1932 in Des Moines, Iowa and from a very young age showed an interest in sewing and designing. He became a milliner after graduating from art school in Chicago and then eventually moved to New York city to work for Lilly Dache´, one of the most well known hat designers in the industry. Once he became established in the “Big Apple”, he went to Bergdorf Goodman where he made glorious head pieces in their custom salon. It was there that he first became a household name after making the famous pillbox hat worn by Jackie Kennedy to the President’s inauguration in 1961.
Eventually, Halston moved into women’s wear and opened his own townhouse studio and by the 70’s, his simple but elegant and disco-tastic silhouettes defined the look of the era. Asymmetrical shoulders, halter top gowns and bias cut flowing caftans, capes and sleeves- many of them sparkling madly with sequins– were all creations of his genius. Ironically, his designs were often referred to as minimalist, but there was nothing minimal about Halston. He used only the best fabrics like cashmere, hammered satin and yards and yards of silk chiffon, and his dresses were known for their amazingly flattering fits. To this day his shirt dress made from Ultrasuede is still one of the highest selling in history. He was immortalized in Sister Sledge’s “He’s The Greatest Dancer” because he dressed (and hung out with) the most famous and the most fabulous. Liza Minelli, Bianca Jagger, Lauren Hutton, Liz Taylor and Marisa Berenson all wore “Halstons” as did the crème of high society and the jet set crowd. Special note: it was Halston’s idea to have Bianca’s legendary birthday party at Studio 54 and that’s because he was fabulous himself! He had movie-star looks and was always smartly dressed in his trademark black turtleneck, dark glasses and cigarette in hand. He lived a luxurious lifestyle, partied unapologetically and traveled stylishly with his entourage of models who came to be known as “The Halstonettes”. When they were all photographed as a group, they made the most iconic images in fashion history – not to mention their sparklingly memorable cameo appearance on the Love Boat.
Disco fabulosity aside, Halston was a true pioneer accomplishing many “firsts”. He brought American sensibility to the forefront of the fashion world both garnering respect and stealing the limelight from Europe. He was influential in uniform design which he created for various entities including the American Olympic team, Braniff Airlines and even came close to designing for the NYC Police Dept* (can you imagine New York’s finest patrolling the streets in Halston? Fabulous!). He was also the first high-end designer to enter into major licensing deals as well as to be contracted to design for a chain store, JC Penney. While the latter ventures became overwhelming and caused problems for him in the end, the fact that he took such risks was groundbreaking. You see Soldiers, we’re used to partnerships like “Karl Lagerfeld for H&M” and “Missoni for Target”, but back then it was unheard of.
Halston passed away in 1990, and while the last years of his life and career were mixed with some downfalls, it doesn’t take away from who he was and what he gave us. Like it’s says on his plaque in the Fashion Walk of Fame, “The 70’s belonged to Halston” and he came to symbolize the era. He worked hard, played harder and made a lot of fabulous entrances. He lived the life we aspire to by surrounding himself with extreme beauty, good friends and great parties. However, more than all of that he gave us “The Look of Disco” and for that, he is forever a Sparkle Army Hero.
(* Interview footage form “Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston” & NY Times blog accounts are that he pitched the designs but they were never approved, contrary to many online posts.)