Tragedy Behind Netflix’s Halston, Star Designer Whose Coke-Fueled Celebrity Parties Ended Their Career Before Death From AIDS
He was the most famous American designer of his time, with famous buddies such as Liza Minelli and Liz Taylor and a direct line for First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
But Halston’s glittering fashion career ended in tragedy after his extravagant spending and cocaine addiction caused him to lose his business in the years leading up to his death from AIDS in 1990.
The rise and fall of the flamboyant creator is now the subject of new Netflix drama, Halston, starring Ewan McGregor in the lead role, which releases Wednesday, May 14.
Son of an alcoholic, Roy Halston Frowick became the darling of American fashion after designing the first lady’s hat that Jackie Kennedy wore at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
A regular at the legendary New York club Studio 54 – where guests had sex on basement mattresses – Halston was also responsible for putting Bianca Jagger on a white horse to ride in the club.
He was known for his extravagance, spending £ 110,000 a year on orchids and handing out cocaine to dinner guests as ‘dessert’.
But he lost the right to design under his own name in 1984 and only had two loyal clients when he died at the age of 57.
Here we look at the dramatic rise and fall of the man Calvin Klein called the “greatest American fashion designer who ever lived.”
Jackie’s wardrobe malfunction makes a star
Raised in Iowa, the son of an alcoholic obsessed with wealth, he began making hats at the age of seven, on his grandmother’s sewing machine.
After landing a job as a designer at New York’s Bergdorf Goodman department store in 1958, he later revealed that the piece that made his name – Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat – began as a dome design.
“It was a pretty windy day and she put her hand on the hat and it ended up being a bump,” Halston told a reporter.
“So during all the ceremonies there was a lump in the hat, so everyone who copied it put a lump in it, which was so funny.
After Jackie appointed him official designer, Halston broke away from Bergdorf and in 1968 launched his first full-fledged collection.
His first client was fashion icon Babe Paley – whom he found sitting outside his studio door the morning it opened, demanding a tailored pantsuit.
Three years later, he was raking in £ 22million in sales – £ 313million today – and was the celeb’s most sought-after designer.
He designed an entire wardrobe to coordinate with Liz Taylor’s legendary gemstone collection and dressed Liza Minelli from head to toe for tours, bragging, “You are as good as the people you dress.
After selling his business to Norton Simon Inc for £ 8.2million in 1973 – the equivalent of £ 100million today – he remained the primary designer, creating high-end clothing alongside uniforms for Braniff Airlines, Police, Girl Scouts and the US Olympic Team.
Sex, drugs and nightclub
Taking advantage of his celebrity status, Halston surrounded himself with a beautiful female entourage he called “the Halstonettes”.
“He draped us in diamonds and dressed us in silk and chiffon,” model Pat Cleveland recalls, adding that he “always put money in boxes and gave it to everyone.”
At night he entertained male prostitutes, served them a steak as foreplay, and according to his biographer Stephen Gaines previously enjoyed a Moroccan sex show featuring bestiality.
His stunning two-story apartment at 101 East 63rd St – with a bamboo-filled greenhouse, double-height ceilings, a rooftop terrace, sunken living room, and walkways – was the setting for his infamous celebrity parties, where cocaine was served as dessert and drunk or stoned guests frequently fell down stairs without uprights.
Surrounded by orchids – scattered around his apartment – the designer lived on baked potatoes with beluga caviar, chilled vodka and cocaine stacked in Elsa Peretti silver ashtrays and consumed in silver straws .
“It was one of the most reckless and reckless moments in history. Being garbage was revered, ”Gaines says. “The more trashy you could be, the more you could fuck, the more drugs you could take.”
Halston met Venezuelan escort Victor Hugo in 1972 – a friend of pop artist Andy Warhol – and embarked on a love affair that spanned over 10 years and led to Hugo being employed as a showcase.
After the Studio 54 nightclub opened in 1977, the culture of excess exploded, with drag-clad club owner Steve Rubell distributing drugs to Quaalude and Halston indulging in his growing habit of cocaine.
Victor – whose standard outfit was a jockstrap – held the keys to the club’s cocaine safe and led gay orgies photographed by Andy Warhol.
Liza Minelli was Halston’s most regular companion and club mainstay Bianca Jagger made history when, at his suggestion, she walked into the club on a white horse at the birthday party the designer had hosted. in his honour.
Halston’s drug habit got him in trouble with royalty on one occasion.
Journalist Taki remembers how Halston threw a dinner party at the Savoy and insisted on keeping Steve Rubell’s supply of cocaine to prevent his friend from abusing it.
When he couldn’t get Halston’s attention, Rubell crawled under the table and bit his leg – which caused the designer to empty his glass of red wine into the lap of his neighboring restaurant, Princess Margaret. .
Coke tantrums cause falling
As Norton Simon Inc grew increasingly frustrated with his temper tantrums and inability to meet deadlines, in 1983 the company suggested he make a deal with mass market chain JC Penney to expand his market.
But the move meant high-end outlets, including Bergdorf, and high-end customers, ditched its collections and switched to new designers.
In 1984 he was fired from his own business and lost the right to design and sell clothing under his own name.
Only her close friends, Liza Minelli and Martha Graham, continued to wear her designs.
In 1988, Halston was diagnosed with AIDS, and he moved to San Francisco to be supported by his family.
Once there, he splashed one last time on a £ 150,000 Rolls-Royce ledge so he could be driven in style through the redwood forests of northern California.
Seeing Ewan McGregor take on the role of designer, author Andre Leon Talley, former assistant to Andy Warhol and regular at Studio 54, was moved to tears.
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“The story tells you about the rise of the American Dream and the ruin of the American Dream,” he told The Telegraph.
“He was like Cary Grant, one of the greatest talents up there with Saint Laurent. He dressed Jackie Kennedy, Lee Radziwill, Lauren Bacall. Then he flew too close to the sun, the myth of Icarus. “
Halston releases on Netflix on May 14