Documentaries have become the genre of choice for Millennials and Gen Z. People are interested in discovering the backstories of their icons, getting a glimpse into their innermost thoughts and personal battles. We all want to find a way to connect and learn from their mindsets and experiences. There’s the Roadrunner doc, if you’re a fan of food culture’s favorite bad boy, Anthony Bourdain. Then there’s Fyre Fest and WeWork for those who have a cult-gone-wrong fix. But what about the icons of the fashion industry? Netflix finally has it covered with its new top-rated miniseries, Halston.
In only five digestable episodes, Halston explores the rise and fall of the late American celeb designer, Roy Halston Frowick. The binge-worthy miniseries focuses on the late designer’s career as well as his relationships with entertainment star Liza Minnelli, influential jewelry designer Elsa Peretti, and Victor Hugo. The biographical series highlights the beautiful, yet inevitable tragedy inherent in the life of an artist. Creative limitations, intrinsic struggles, artistic autonomy have a heavy standing in the series. But more importantly, it highlights the pressures of an artist ‘selling out,’ and the upward battle to defining one’s name.
Halston’s Doppelganger-Worthy Cast
The film, created by Sharr White and executive producer Ryan Murphy, is an adaptation of the book Simply Halston: The Untold Story by Steven Gaines. The film captures Halston’s pivotal moment in fashion, where he went from being a hatmaker to reinventing American women’s fashion in the ’70s. The actor who plays Halston is none other than Ewan McGregor (Star Wars prequel trilogy, The Ghost Writer).
McGregor’s magnetic performance captures the essence of Halston’s sorrow perfectly. During an interview with Deadline, the Obi-Wan-Kenobi actor admits he didn’t know much about Halston, but he grew to love the person he played. “I was fascinated by the complexities of his life,” McGregor remarked, “dealing with fame, dealing with addiction. There were just lots of elements in his personality that I thought would be extraordinary to play, and I was right. He was a wonderful man to get to know.”
Krysta Rodriguez plays Liza Minnelli, Halston’s longtime friend and dearest woman to his heart. Throughout all adversities that Halston faced, he knew he could count on Liza, their friendship being a warm staple in his life, as portrayed in the show. Rodriguez’s acting brought Liza’s character to life, not only through her scarily similar physical features, but also her charm. Other actors in the series include Rebecca Dayan (Tiffanys jewelry designer, Elsa Peretti), Bill Pullman (the suit, David Mahoney), and David Pittu (the illustrator, Joe Eula).
Building A Brand, Only To Break It
The miniseries heavily focus on the protagonist’s demand for approval. Halston was fixated on making his name known, and for everyone to understand the prestige of the Halston brand. The late designer initially rose to fame after designing the infamous pillbox hat for Jackie Kennedy during her husband, John F. Kennedy‘s inauguration. His comfort zone was with women’s hats, having first taking a liking to them from his childhood. But as the saying goes, fashion comes in seasons, and you can’t just make hats forever. So he ventured out and began building his brand.
After opening his first boutique in Manhattan in the early ’60s, Halston focused exclusively on women’s wear. He launched Halston Limited, his first ready-to-wear line. This was where Halston made his imprint of using soft fabrics such as silk and chiffon (and even doing his initial designs with those same expensive fabrics, too). “I will put her in a line of Halston,” the women’s fashion pioneer remarked.
Designing clothes that were simplistic yet classy, the American designer paved the way for American womens’ fashion. He made cashmere and ultrasuede popular in the ’70s women’s fashion. He told Vogue, “Pants give women the freedom to move around like they never have before. They don’t have to worry about getting into low furniture or low sports cars. Pants will be with us for many years to come–probably forever if you can make a statement in fashion.” But in his rise to fame, Halston may have missed the mark on continuing to make a statement.
Creative Limitations, Intrinsic Struggles, and Artistic Autonomy
After selling his company to Norton Simon, Inc., Halston was promised creative control with a surplus of financial support. On the surface, this deal seemed ideal. However in Halston’s case, it was more like a missed opportunity. As his success grew, so did his arrogance and his stubborn mindset. His focus on the Halston brand deteriorated as found himself more and more engaged with self indulgence. His witty remarks grew colder, his former keen eye for detail faded, and his close relationships strained. To make matters even worse, his looming cocaine addiction was forthcoming (and mental health/addiction was not taken as seriously back then).
Fashion is nothing but timing, and at some point, Halston just kept missing the window. When his at-then manager, Mahoney, advised him to make a blue jean line, Halston initially refused. This wasn’t simply because he didn’t have his priorities in check and he was losing control of his life. It was also because he refused to release a line of jeans under the Halston name. Pride and sophistication rendered him a faux-highbrow. However, once he finally came around to the idea, he was already too late. He missed the train for the blue jean wave, as his competitor, Calvin Klein, rose to fame with the denim line.
Although Halston was dead set on doing everything his own way, his constant thirst for success and desire to stay on top became his downfall. A man who once put American fashion on the map, became an irresponsible, frequent partier and a drug addict in denial. Competing with the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and Versace left him openly wounded. His indulgent party binges and personal matters left him isolated from not only his nearest and dearest, but also himself.
Everyone’s a Critic. And That’s How It Should Be
“Everyone is a critic.” Those words are repeated time and time again by Ewan McGregor, playing Halston. The late designer was forever tormented by the press, and had an intense relationship with critics. His appearance in the media took a toll on his life as he allowed it to be his driving force. The push-and-pull factor weighed especially heavy on the artist, since he was aggressively assertive and would steer clear of having it any other way than his own. Whether his publicity was good or bad, Halston’s stance remained the same: reviews don’t matter. Well, fake it ’till you make it…right?
Halston grew further distant from his name, his brand, and his path. And this is the critique that was most repeated to him. His last assistant, a loyal Halston fan who essentially was hired to salvage his company, stood up to his idol. “How could you be so careless with your own brand? Your own name?”
The ending of the final (fifth) episode shows a short scene where he is getting his AIDS diagnostic read to him. The closing credits announce that he “died in San Francisco in 1990. He never got his fame back.” Although he seemed to die from an AIDS-related disease, that factor took a backseat in the show. Instead, the series emphasized Halston’s early death, through his sense of spirit, his reputation, and his name. Once he lost control of his life, his reputation and his name slipped through his fingers, too.
It’s a tale as old as time: the crippling shame of an artist that has well-exceeded their expiration date. Behind the foggy mirror of luxury, sex, status and fame, there’s a world of pain that is begging to be addressed, although sometimes, it’s just too late.