Monday, April 23, 2018

Born Today In 1932, Iconic Fashion Designer Halston

Roy Halston Frowick was born today, April 23, in 1932. He is known as Halston, and was a fashion designer who rose to international fame in the 1970s. His minimalist, clean designs, often made of cashmere or ultrasuede, were popular fashion wear in mid-1970s discotheques and redefined American fashion. 

An American designer, Halston was well known for creating a style for "American Women." From his point of view, the "American Woman" was about having a relaxed urban lifestyle. He created a new phenomenon in the 1970s. Halston believed that women can wear the same clothing for the entire day on any occasion.

Halston was born in Des Moines, Iowa. He developed an interest in sewing from his grandmother, and he began creating hats and altering clothes for his mother and sister as a boy. He grew up in Des Moines, and moved to Evansville, Indiana at the age of 10. 


In 1952, Halston moved to Chicago, where he enrolled in a night course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and he worked as a window dresser. In 1953, he opened his own hat business. His first customer was radio actress and comedian Fran Allison. Halston's hats were also bought by Kim Novak, Gloria Swanson, Deborah Kerr and Hedda Hopper.

Halston's first big break came when the Chicago Daily News ran a brief story on his fashionable hats. In 1957, he opened his first shop, the Boulevard Salon, on North Michigan Avenue. It was at this point that he began to use his middle name as his professional moniker. During his childhood he had been referred to as Halston to distinguish between himself and his uncle Roy. 

Halston moved to New York City in late 1957, first working for milliner Lilly Daché. Within a year, he had been named the co-designer at Daché, became acquainted with several fashion editors and publishers, and left Daché's studio to become head milliner for department store Bergdorf Goodman in their customer milliner salon.
Halston achieved great fame after designing the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband's presidential inauguration in 1961, and when he moved to designing women's wear, Newsweek dubbed him "the premier fashion designer of all America." 

When hats fell out of fashion, Halston moved on to designing clothing, made possible by Estelle Marsh, a millionaire from Amarillo, Texas. Mrs. Marsh was his sole financial backer during this critical time of development. He opened his first boutique on Madison Avenue in 1968. The collection that year included a dark jade velvet wedding gown for advertising executive Mary Wells Lawrence. Lawrence was married to the CEO of Braniff International Airways, Harding Lawrence. She would be instrumental in bringing Halston to Braniff in 1976 to design Braniff's hostess, pilot, ticket agent, and ground personnel uniforms.

Halston launched his first ready-to-wear line, Halston Limited, in 1969. Halston's design was usually simple and minimalist but sophisticated, glamorous but also comfortable at the same time. Halston like to use soft, luxurious fabric like silk and chiffon. He later told Vogue that he got rid of "...all of the extra details that didn't work—bows that didn't tie, buttons that didn't button, zippers that didn't zip, wrap dresses that didn't wrap. I've always hated things that don't work." 

Another design characteristics was the use of bias. He believed that clothes cut and sewn from the bias of every fabric can develop a sexy, polished image. In past history, people had the interpretation that shows a woman's body shape was mainly through the curve of the clothing. Halston changed the fitted silhouette and created a new definition of showing the female body shape by allowing the natural flow of the fabric to create its own shape. Halston said "Pants give women the freedom to move around they've never had before. They don't have to worry about getting into low furniture or low sportscars. Pants will be with us for many years to come—probably forever if you can make that statement in fashion." 


In the 1970s, his ultra-suede suit was a big hit. He brought in functionality into fashion. He designed the Ultrasuede shirtdress and re-introduced pants for women. The shirtdress was interpreted as an elongated men's shirt. He also included elements of sportswear and combined it into women's clothing, merging features from both women wear and menswear together.

Halston's boutique drew celebrity clients like Anjelica Huston, Lauren Bacall, Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli (both Jagger and Minnelli would become close friends). From 1968 to 1973, his line earned an estimated $30 million. In 1973, Halston sold his line to Norton Simon, Inc. for $16 million but remained its principal designer. This afforded him creative control with near unlimited financial backing. 

In 1975, Max Factor released Halston's first namesake fragrance for women. By 1977, sales from the perfume had generated $85 million in sales. Throughout the 1970s, Halston had expanded his line to include menswear, luggage, handbags, lingerie and bedding. Vogue later noted that Halston was responsible for popularizing caftans, which he made for Jacqueline Kennedy; matte jersey halter top dresses; and polyurethane in American fashion.

In 1983, Halston signed a 6-year licensing deal, worth a reported $1 billion, with the retail chain J. C. Penney. The line, called Halston III, consisted of affordable clothing, accessories, cosmetics and perfumes ranging from $24 to $200. At the time, the move was considered controversial, as no other high end designer had ever licensed their designs to a mid-priced chain retail store. While Halston was excited about the deal and felt that it would only expand his brand, the deal damaged his image with high-end fashion retailers who felt that his name had been "cheapened." Bergdorf Goodman at the time dropped his Halston Limited line from their store shortly after plans for Halston III were announced. The Halston III line for J. C. Penney was poorly received and was eventually discontinued.

Halston's on again off again lover was Venezuelan-born artist Victor Hugo. The two met while Hugo was working as a make up artist in 1972. The two began a relationship and Hugo lived on and off in Halston's home. Halston soon hired Hugo to work as his window dresser. Their on-and-off relationship lasted a little over 10 years.

In 1988, Halston tested positive for HIV. After his health began to fail, he moved to San Francisco, where he was cared for by his family. On March 26, 1990, he died of Kaposi's sarcoma, an AIDS-defining illness.

From November 2014 to January 2015, a traveling exhibition entitled Halston and Warhol Silver and Suede was sponsored by the Warhol Museum and co-curated by Halston's niece Lesley Frowick. From February to April 2015 an exhibition was held in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to celebrate Halston's 1970s fashions. In March 2017, Halston Style, a retrospective of his career, opened at the Nassau County Museum. Curated by Frowick, it features material derived from his personal archives that he gave to her before his death.

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