Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

This is the title of a documentary about the legendary fashion designer, now available on DVD. I've downloaded it to my i-Pad and couldn't be more excited about it! I really admire his work!


Halston was America's first celebrity designer. Now we perceive the power of celebrities as able to sell and promote whatever they wear rapidly and on a global scale, but he was definitely a pioneer. 

"You are as good as the people you dress." Halston

He started his career as a hat designer and was propelled to the forefront when he created the inimitable pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband's inauguration.

Jacqueline Kennedy wearing Halston's pillbox hat

By the time he launched his clothing line his circle of clients and close friends included the most talked-about women of the world such as Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger and Lauren Bacall.

Halston, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minneli and Michael Jackson at Studio 54

Halston's style matched the mood of the disco era perfectly, sleek by day and glittering by night. He was a star of New York city nightlife and a regular at the iconic Studio 54, surrounding himself with the likes of Andy Warhol and Truman Capote.

He famously hosted Bianca Jagger's 30th birthday party there, when she showed up riding a white horse and wearing one of his dresses.

Bianca Jagger and Halston

Ultrasuede combines archival footage and an array of interviews with various witnesses and survivors of Halston's empire such as Anjelica Huston, Diane Von Furstenberg and American Vogue's André Leon Talley, among many others.

Anjelica Huston and Halston

The title refers to his one-of-a-kind signature fabric - ultrasuede - and to his ability to establish himself as a brand, securing a series of licensing deals. At the height of his fame in the 70s, his name was on everything from sunglasses to shoes and fragrances.

Halston and Diane Von Furstenberg

Halston had the most amazing apartment, contemporary and sophisticated just as his clothes, hosting decadent dinner parties with different celebrities and eccentric people.

His sunglasses became his trademark and he always looked like a movie star, travelling with an entourage of around 20 models - the so-called Halstonettes - showing up late for events but arriving in grand style, sometimes on a yacht.

Halston and his entourage, 1983

He was a larger than life character, with a tremendous presence and energy. He died in 1990, when he was just 57 years old, victim of AIDS, a few years after loosing the rights to his own brand. Undoubtedly, a tragic end to a fashion legend.

It was also the end of an era but Halston will always represent the glamour, style and insane hedonistic excess of the 70s.

His clothes could be easily worn today and still look contemporary, including his heavily embellished cocktail dresses in rich metallic tones, currently on the editorials of the major fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. 

DVD cover

You would expect the filmmaker, Whitney Sudler-Smith, to be a bit more stylish and fashion knowledgeable. Don't expect too much but his admiration for Halston gives you a great insight into the designer's world and times. 

There were several attempts to revive the Halston brand but to this day, no one was able to fill his unique shoes. Tom Ford could  probably do it but he's clever enough to establish his own brand instead.