This morning I woke up with one of my favorite designers on my mind. Roy Halston Frowick, known to the world as Halston was an American designer from the 1970’s who pioneered “Easy Glamour” and the use of “Ultrasuede”, a faux suede type of fabric. He made clothes that were glamorous and comfortable for the everyday woman as well as celebrities. He made clothes for Liza Minnelli (one of his best friends), Elsa Piretti (fashion model turned jewelry designer), Lauren Hutton, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, and Anjelica Huston. His name is synonymous with the 1970’s and he is one of the first designers to spark my interest as a child to be a fashion designer (The other is Bob Mackie).
Halston was born on April 23, 1932 in Des Moines, Iowa. He developed an interest in sewing from his mother (my interest came from my godmother). He created hats and altered clothes for his mother and sister. Once he graduated from high school, he moved to Chicago, took a night course at the School Of Art Institute of Chicago and worked by day as a window dresser (we call it visual merchandising now, which is what I also did).
He entered the fashion world as a milliner, opening his first shop in Chicago called “The Boulevard Salon” in 1957. In late 1957 he moved to New York with his lover at the time, working for milliner, Lily Dache’. Within a year, he became a co-designer and then left to work in Bergdorf Goodman for their millinery shop.
His first taste of fame came from his design of the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to the presidential inauguration in 1961. Soon after he started designing womenswear. His next taste came from the wedding gown he designed for advertising legend, Mary Wells Lawrence made of dark jade velvet, for her marriage to the CEO of Braniff International Airways, which led to him designing their uniforms and incorporating ultrasuede onto the planes. At this point, he became the most successful designer from building a brand and licensing deals.
At this point you were seeing women everywhere, wearing Halston to the office, to the supermarket, to dinner parties, and to the discos, mainly Studio 54. He always had a mainstay of models, who added their own touch of glamour to things and were always used in the ads. They all became famous in their own right as “The Halstonettes”, a precursor to the supermodels that came in the 90’s. They were Pat Cleveland, Elsa Piretti (who became a jewelry designer), Marisa Berenson, Shelly Hack (who became an actress, most famous for being on “Charlie’s Angels”), Anjelica Huston (also an amazing legendary actress), and Karen Bjornsen. He also dressed celebrities, like Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, and Bianca Jagger.
A little chink in the armor came when he licensed to create lines for JC Penney, which at the time was more of a lower brand than the high fashion that he was putting out, which soured Bergdorf Goodman and a few other high end retailers, but the demand for these items became an issue, for JC Penney wanted 8 collections a year with accessories and he was a perfectionist, who refused to have his name on something he didn’t design. Also the hostile takeovers in business that were going on at that time, he was locked out of the Olympic Towers in New York, which housed his business for so long and barely was able to design under his own name anymore.
Drinking, drugs and sex filled some of the void, but it ultimately killed him. Halston died in San Francisco on March 26, 1990 at the age of 57. He succumbed to Kaposi Sarcoma, an AIDS related cancer after an 18 month struggle with the disease.
Halston, you were the one to start me on this journey to be a designer and I always find myself asking “What would Halston do” whenever I come to a tricky design situation or a sewing problem. I see your world in my dreams and I know that I would have been honored to know you. To me, you will always be “America’s Greatest Designer”!!!!
Stay fashionable and sexy!!!!!