Fashion / Style

Who is Halston? Everything you need to know about the visionary American designer

who is halston

Halston is renowned for defining 1970s style with slinky, yet elegant dresses that became the staple silhouette of the disco era. With a brood of models following him, affectionately known as the Halsonettes, his designs are intrinsically tied to the decade and the enigma that was Studio 54.

Liza Minnelli on his arm one day, Elsa Peretti the next, nights spent dancing with Mick and Bianca Jagger and at artistic soirées with Andy Warhol, the man embodied 1970s America in all of its glory. Here, we break down who Halston is, his brand and what became of the designer.

Who is Halston?

Born April 1932 in Iowa, Roy Halston Frowick – known mononymously as Halston – is regarded as one of the most influential American designers of the 20th century. Having studied at Indiana University and the Chicago Institute of Art, Halston’s career began as a successful milliner, opening his own salon at Chicago’s Ambassador Hotel in 1953.

Halston moved to New York in 1958, working as a milliner at Lilly Daché for a year prior to moving to Bergdorf Goodman’s, where is popularity and notoriety as a hat designer began to flourish. One of his most notable millinery clientele was First Lady Jackie Kennedy, who wore a beige pillbox Halston headpiece to her husband’s presidential inauguration. It is this moment that is regarded as putting the Halston brand on the map, catapulting him into a household name across the United States.

What is he known for?

Perhaps the most iconic creation formulated by Halston is the halter neck, billowing silhouette dresses coming in an array of colours and printed motifs. Draped on the likes of Anjelica Houston and his muse Peretti, the shape became his signature, swooned over by women across America.

At his spring 1977 ready-to-wear collection, Halston debuted what was dubbed “the swinger,” a godet-skirted halter dress in pale peach. Coming in a georgette fabric, the designer described it was the “prettiest movement” of any dress he had made, its flowing nature making it easy to walk – and run – in.

Over years of refining, dresses were offered in new fabrics and styles, with the aforementioned graphic printed style adapted into slip and wrap dresses. Popular materials included georgette and cashmere. In 1977, the designer launched what he dubbed the High Rise dress style in a wool jersey and chiffon. Featuring a tied waist, it was designed with the intention of elongating any figure.

Halston is known for popularising ultrasuede, used in shirt dresses, jackets and more. Alongside the typical disco-inspire clothing, the Halston brand carried a range of skirt suits and RTW pieces, with a touch of the Halston flare, like an asymmetric collar. One of the first designers to create a unisex line, he developed a collection of neutral items including fur coats, argyle sweaters and leather jackets for any gender.

What was the Battle of Versailles and how is the designer involved?

 The Battle of Versailles was a showcase of American fashion at its finest where designers including Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein and Bill Blass showed their designs against five French designers. These included Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Marc Bohan and Hubert de Givenchy. The event was in aid of raising funds for the restoration of the palace of Versailles, in the most stylish means possible.

Halston showcased sportswear designs on several Halsonettes including Beverly Johnson and Pat Cleveland, however, the event almost didn’t go ahead because of a reported disagreement between the designer and the choreographer of the show, Kay Thompson. The Battle of Versailles is now known as a pivotal moment in American fashion and in the illustrious career of Halston.

What happened to the Halston brand?

As Halston’s career continued, he signed a deal in 1983 with J.C. Penney to create a line of moderately priced garments, in a first-of-its-kind line expected to generate $1USD billion in the first five years. However, through his association with the mid-tier retailer, his association with higher end brands – including Bergdorf Goodman – was impacted and the retailer dropped his main line from its stores.

Halston’s personal life also became a factor in the trajectory of his brand and career’s success. Resulting from his excessive partying and drug use habits, he was fired from how own brand in 1984 and lost the rights to design under his own name. This then became a pursuit for the remainder of his life, trying unsuccessfully to regain control of his brand and his name. He continued to design clothing, making costumes for dear friend Minnelli and Martha Graham, a dancer.

In 1990, Halston died after battling with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, an AIDS-related cancer.

Does the Halston brand still exist and can you buy his clothes?

In a nutshell, yes, the Halston brand still exists and you can purchase Halston clothes. But, it’s not quite as straightforward as how the Saint Laurent brand has continued to exist without Yves, or Givenchy without Hubert.

In 2007, a collective attempted to resurrect the Halston brand, including Rachel Zoe, Tamara Mellon and disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein. $25USD million was invested in the venture, with Giambattista Valli and Marco Zanini considered for helming the brand. While off to an unsteady start, Zanini took the role after a period working under Donatella Versace.  His debut collection was in the fall 2008 season and was shoppable through Net-a-Porter, however it failed to make significant impact and the designer left after one year.

Marios Schwab then came on as designer at Halston and the company launched Halston Heritage, a secondary line of moderately-priced clothing based on archival design. Sarah Jessica-Parker – pictured below in a Halston dress – came on as the brand’s CEO and President in 2010, however left after one year, a common theme in the resurrection of the Halston brand, alongside Schwab who also left in 2011 after a lacklustre collection.

Xcel Brand acquired the Halston trademarks in their entirety by 2019 and as of 2020, Robert Rodriquez is the new creative director tasked with steering the brand in a more elevated fashion, still honouring the genius of its late founder. The brand can be shopped on Net-a-Porter.

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