Thursday, 14 October 2010

The House of Halston

"You're only as good as the people you dress"


I'm a huge fan of Halston.  I only have one of his dresses but I've always loved the fabrics and style of his designs.  They've inspired a lot of my wardrobe choices as have the fabulous women he's dressed.  This post started because I found a picture of him in his house in New York and it just grew as I found more and more pictures.  I'm hoping to have a couple of Halston inspired dresses made by Mrs Jones studio.  I will blog them when I do.

I wish I'd been old enough to go to Studio 54.  I know it would be right up my street!  Mind you, I think I've spent quite enough of my life in clubs already... It still would have been amazing though!

Photography by Irving Penn
Pat Cleveland in Halston

Roy Halston Frowick was born in Iowa in 1932.  Known only by his middle name Halston he became the world's first billion dollar designer and an international fashion superstar.  Sadly, his decadent life finally caught up with him.

Halston began as a milliner and after leaving Indiana University after just one term he moved to New York and started working for Lilly Daché.  Within a year of arriving in New York he'd made friends with several influential fashion editors and publishers and was given the job of head milliner at luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman.  He designed Jackie Kennedy's pill box hat which she wore with a suit by Oleg Cassini to her husband's presidential inauguration in 1961.

Halston, 1964

Halston in his New York apartment, 1968

A hugely talented designer, Halston wanted to make the move into ready-to-wear.  He started his eponymous womenswear label in 1968.  The label was noted for it's luxurious, elegant and minimalist designs in cashmere, satin, featherweight silk and slinky jersey.  A master of detail, cut and finishing, his devotion to simplicity was so pure that he zealously avoided the use of zips and buttons.  Mostly using a colour palette of black, ivory and red he also understood the principle of accents, for which he used fuschia, electric blue and deep burgundy.  The first fabric that became his trademark was called Ultrasuede.  Halston designed a simple shirt dress which was one of the most popular dresses in America in the Seventies and conveniently it was also machine washable.

Halston and models, early Seventies

The spectacular rise of his label went hand in hand with the glamorous and hedonistic party culture of the Seventies and his clothes defined an era known for it's luxuries and excesses.  The label was well known for it's glittering A-list clientele including Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Hutton, Liza Minelli, Candice Bergen, Anjelica Huston, Martha Graham, Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Marlborough, Betty Ford, Cornelia Guest, Babe Paley and Diane Von Furstenberg.

Elizabeth Taylor's Birthday party

Anjelica Huston and Halston

Halston's plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame says "The Seventies belonged to Halston."  He put American fashion on the map and was the first "celebrity" designer they had.  His 1973 show at Versailles, the first year American designers were invited to present their work alongside top French fashion houses, was a huge hit.  Few who grew up after the Studio 54 era would know about his reign as the country's first "celebrity" designer, paving the way for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan.

An international legend and the king of New York nightlife, Halston was famous for his hard partying lifestyle and drank and took drugs to excess.  He was one of the most famous regulars of legendary nightclub Studio 54.  What Halston understood best was stardom - how to fabricate it and how to exploit it.  He threw huge parties and famously hosted Bianca Jagger's 30th Birthday party at Studio 54 where she rode in on a white horse dressed in a red Halston dress.  Adored by rich socialites and famous celebrities, Halston was in his element.

Photography by Andy Warhol

"In every corner you'd see somebody you'd read about in the paper.  A friend, beautiful people or mad people. Major, major stars. You had a blend of society that had never happened before. It was like a movie."
Halston on Studio 54

Photography by Ron Galella
Bianca Jagger (wearing Halston in every picture)

Photography by Ron Galella
Bianca Jagger

Photography by Ron Galella
Halston and Bianca

Photography by Ron Galella
Bianca's Birthday

Photography by Ron Galella
Bianca and Halston

Photography by Ron Galella
Halston, Bianca Jagger, Roy Haley Jr, Liza Minnelli and Michael Jackson

Photography by Ron Galella
Halston, Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol with Roy Haley Jr and Liza Minnelli behind

Photography by Ron Galella
Halston and his friend and muse model Pat Cleveland

With Lauren Hutton at Richard Avedon's private view, 1975

Photography by Bob Colacello
André Leon Talley, Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell and Andy Warhol, 1978

Halston, Bianca and Mick Jagger at Bianca's 30th Birthday at Studio 54

Halston's boyfriend was a Columbian window dresser called Victor Hugo who later became Andy Warhol's assistant.  As Halston was one of the most internationally recognised figures it was inevitable that he and Warhol would become friends too.

His constant drug use caused him to start wearing dark glasses at all times, even indoors at night.  He held his cigarettes vertically aloft, Champagne or Scotch in the other hand and an entourage of models travelled with him dressed in matching outfits, known as the Halstonettes.

Halston was the first designer to realise the potential of licensing himself.  He started off with selling the exclusive use of his name to Norton Simon, who put the Halston stamp on a wildly successful perfume Halston, with a bottle by jewellery designer Elsa Perretti and to a less successful degree, on menswear, shoes and sheets.

Halston and his perfume

The licensing deal he signed was enormous.  He was a perfectionist and insisted on doing every single design himself.  As Norton Simon sought to attach his name on more and more products, Halston couldn't keep up.  Today "name" designers usually act as delegators and approvers, letting others do the idea generation and then passing judgment on the best, thereby associating their name to it.  In the late Seventies Norton Simon worked out a deal with J.C. Penney to carry the Halston label as a mass-market commodity which alienated the ritzy crowd that saw him as their icon.  His formerly faithful friends and clients defected to other designers.

Unbeknown to everyone at the time were the consequences of drugs and AIDS.  In the mid-Seventies few jet-setters realised that addiction could happen to them, too, and AIDS wasn't even on the horizon. The pressure, partying and addiction produced an inability to delegate to assistants, temper tantrums, erratic designing, and finally the realisation that his brand name was being sold from one corporate giant to another.

His career shattered and his health failing, Halston retired from the fashion world.

In 1988 he was informed that he had AIDS.  He died two years late of AIDS related lung cancer in San Francisco on 26th March 1990.  His last act was to donate his white Rolls Royce to be sold to fund AIDS research.

In Simply Halston, Steven Gaines says "Halston would live the rest of his life in self-imposed exile, an Elba of his own creation.  The man who was only as good as the people he dressed, ended up not dressing anyone."


Halston's Party House

Photography by Harry Benson
Halston in his living room at 101 with his staff behind, 1975

Halston's Old House - How millionaire photographer Gunther Sachs has remade a site of great architectural and social history
 By Paul Hay for the New York Times, 2005

Though nothing like its neighbours, the house on East 63rd is surprisingly easy to miss from the street -deliberately so.  Architect Paul Rudolph, intent on creating a retreat from city life, made sure his clients would live in what one critic referred to at the time as “a world of their own.”  The brown glass façade intentionally recedes from the eye.  A successful disguise, the design nonetheless gives the house - built for real-estate lawyer Alexander Hirsch and his partner, Lewis Turner, in 1967 - a mysterious, almost uninviting quality.

Photography by Nikolas Koenig
The glass facade of 101 East 63rd

Luckily, countless New Yorkers would be undeterred by this.  After Halston bought the house in 1974, it became a sort of hyperelegant confirmed-bachelor pad, and for fifteen years, the boldfaced walked brazenly in.  They even gave the place a nickname, “101,” its street number.

Photography by Nikolas Koenig
The hallway is lined with photographs from the Studio 54 era

Halston held many parties here.  Normally they came for dinner, which, prepared by Halston’s live-in assistant, Mohammed Soumaya, usually consisted of caviar and a baked potato followed by cocaine.  “Often the potato course was passed over,” notes Halston biographer Steven Gaines.  During a supposedly secret “drag party,” Steve Rubell wore one of Liza Minnelli’s dresses for the entire evening.

Photography by Bob Colacello
Sterling St Jacques and Pat Cleveland on the balcony at 101

When you enter the townhouse today, it immediately introduces you to its starstruck heritage.  In the long foyer, current owner Gunter Sachs, the Swiss millionaire and photographer, has hung forty black-and-white Warhol photos of Halston’s crowd and other celebrities.  Jacqueline Onassis stands alongside Bianca Jagger.  A puffed-up Truman Capote hangs not far from a young Dustin Hoffman on his motorbike.  The final image—set slightly apart, as by now the hallway has opened on a dining area - is a portrait of Minnelli.  In a black dress, she lies on a concrete platform at the bottom of a staircase.  Turning to the left, you see that it’s the same staircase in the living room.  Naturally, Liza was here before you.

Photography by Andy Warhol
Liza Minnelli wearing Halston

Photography by Tony Palmieri
Halston and Liza Minnelli at a party he gave for her at 101 in 1975

The house no longer bears Rudolph’s “haute minimalist” stamp, also embraced by Halston.  After the designer moved in, he lured back the architect to make it more comfortable.  There was only electric heating, and Halston inquired of Rudolph’s office whether anything could be done about his electricity bills, then over $3,000 a month. “Is this normal?” he asked.  The carpeting was ubiquitous, and it was grey.  As was the upholstery.  And not just any grey. “Halston would look at hundreds of samples to make sure we got the shade right,” recalls Donald Luckenbill, who worked as project architect for Rudolph.

Sachs has pared the interior down but also splashed it with colour - like his own lush photographs.  The artist, who in 1966 cemented his credentials as a member of the European jet set by marrying Brigitte Bardot (they divorced in 1969), maintains multiple residences.  In fact, he’s owned twenty seven to date. “I come here two or three times a year,” he says.  “I wish it was more.”  Working with designer Lars Bolander, Sachs replaced the grey carpeting with white oak floors.

But the bones stay the same.  And when he is in residence, Sachs finds himself continually marvelling at “the height of the salon.”  Who wouldn’t be taken in by the three-story-high living room?  It embodies the bold architectural strategy Rudolph was pursuing at the time. A generation younger than modernism’s originators, he was intent on advancing their ideas about opening up interiors to the outside and breaking down barriers of social and private space.

Photography by Nikolas Koenig

A huge skylight (not shown caps the three storey high living room.  Current owner Gunther Sachs has put "Le Cri", his series of photographs of Claudia Schiffer's lips by the staircase.  The door on the right on the mezzanine leads to the front door. The Lucite dining table designed by Rudolph is gone, replaced by one in white oak.

Photography by Nikolas Koenig
Rudolph built a greenhouse where Halston planted Bamboo and a mirror on the back wall.  The catwalk on  the right leads to a guest bedroom.

Photography by Nikolas Koenig
A plexiglass balcony on one of the bathrooms juts out into the greenhouse

Photography by Nikolas Koenig
The master bedroom which faces the street features paintings by Peter Halley

The plans, which were displayed prominently in the New York Times in 1967, show how the house pinwheels around the central atrium - to which each floor has dramatic entry and vantage points: a catwalk to a third-floor guest bedroom, a mezzanine that floats over the dining area.  Compared with the vast salon, the other rooms feel sheltered, some with ceilings as low as seven feet.  But Rudolph’s open design allows light to flow throughout making it feel spacious everywhere.

As was his wont, the architect all but dared his clients to live on the edge of his architecture.  He refused to put a railing on the catwalk, believing it would make the living room a less integral space.  Instead, he called simply for a leather-covered rope.  Lewis Turner suffered from vertigo and ventured across to the guest quarters only ten times in the seven years he and Hirsch lived in the house.  Sachs had glass panels installed on it and the mezzanine, one of his few interventions.

The stairs Liza had her pictures taken on have been left open, an inopportune gesture, perhaps, in a house that in its Halston years was home to so many who couldn’t be bothered to eat their potatoes - but a lovely one all the same.  As Sachs says, “The whole concept” behind 101 was - and remains - “enormously avant-garde.”

Photography by Harry Benson
Halston, 1975


Further reading and viewing

To buy Simply Halston on Amazon CLICK HERE

The Film - Ultrasuede 'In Search of Halston' is out in the UK soon


Halston SS11 Presentation designed by Marios Schwab


Photography by Bob Colacello



Vintage Vixen said...

Hi Christina! I'm just drooling over the pictures as I need to get ready. I'll look forward to reading your post in full later.
Have a lovely day. xxx

MyStyle said...

Hi there-yes, I need to look at this properly later too, its really informative and fabulous pictures, thanks so much for sharing this! xx

Simone said...

Absolutely fascinating, I loved reading this Christina.

What a house too, WOW!

Ian said...

Good post,great photos.

Make Do Style said...

Stephen Gaines's book is fab and I loved seeing these photos many of which I hadn't seen before - the house stuff is wonderful. It just makes me want to put on a long dress and some heels and go out and have fabulous fun. I love the air of decadence which Anjelica Houston managed more than most without succumbing to it!

Can't wait for the film xx

legend in his own lunchtime said...

What an amazing story. That house is just stunning, and those photos. Christina, you are amazing. Thank you for sharing this.

Penny Dreadful said...

The house is amazing, and I love the image of Angelica. Bianca totally owns it though (also, Liza is looking very Mrs Jones ;)

He comes across liek a bit of an Ossie Clarke to me - a total genius, but like many prodigies, he seems like he would have been quite difficult to deal with in real life.

Fashionistable said...

What an amazing post to compliament an amazing man. Loved it. Xxxx

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Great post, Christina. I love the last photo in particular. Halston was such a handsome man.

Love you,


Smashingbird said...

Very interesting, I didn't know much of the Halston story, thanks for filling me in! I love 101, it looks soo amazing.

Wildernesschic said...

I love the simplicity yet glamour of Halston, I am so thrilled that I managed to get the bargain of the year with my Halston shoes, which I adore .. I love all of these images, I would have loved to have visited Studio 54 in its day xx

Dash said...

Christina another fabulous post, love this, especially as I did not know much about Halston. God those pictures of Bianca are stunning, she just oozed style and made it look so effortless.

Alex said...

I can't express how much I enjoy reading these types of posts. Wonderful writing and, as always, the choice of photographs makes it even better.

WendyB said...

What a comprehensive post! Love Halston's work. I'd also love to have a zebra rug.

Daniel-Halifax said...

Halston is a favorite of mine too. Wonderful job on this post...I've always loved the Liza pic in the red hood...i want one! Schwab did a pretty good job I think...

hope all is well!


Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Vix, Sharon, Simone, Ian, Kate, Wally, Margaret, Fashionistable, SB, Ruth, Becka, Dash, Alex, Wendy and Daniel, thank you very much for your wonderful comments. I enjoyed doing it. As usual I got carried away with loads of pictures and what started as a short post grew out of nowhere! I love Halston and that whole era fascinates me xx

Caroline, No. said...

Wow. Wow. WOW! That house! I LOVE that pic of Pat Cleveland dancing on the balcony! I would so love to have a snoop around in there. I love that period and the characters associated with it, I loved reading Warhol's diaries, I need to check out this Halston book. x

Anonymous said...

Halston had a large and very loving family. We are soon publishing the definitive and only authorized biography of his life in an effort to correct what has become misleading Halston lore. He was a genius talent, very generous and gave the world a unique touch of class. Stay tuned for the true story and exhibit.

Visual Therapy said...

Love this post and love Halston! We went to the apartment where he used to live in NYC last week, it was so amazing where the icon lived! Check out our post about it:

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