CNN’s ‘Halston’ recalls a giant among fashion icons

‘Halston’ – He did it first

Halston was one of the true icons of the fashion industry, an innovator who built an empire out of bringing haute couture to the middle class before it all unraveled.

His story is told in the eponymous documentary “Halston,” premiering Sunday, Aug. 18, on CNN. Director Frédéric Tcheng (“Dior and I”) looks at the life and career of the Iowa-born Roy Frowick Halston, who went from being the in-demand milliner behind first lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s classic pillbox hat to the creator of an empire that included couture, ready-to-wear fashion, fragrances, uniforms, accessories and even housewares.

He dressed A-listers for the Academy Awards and was one himself, as a regular on talk shows and at New York’s Studio 54 during its heyday in the 1970s. But it was his 1983 deal to create the Halston III line for JCPenney that shocked the industry and got him vilified in the fashion world.

“He got so much backlash for something that everyone accepts and takes for granted now,” Tcheng says, “that you can actually have a high-fashion line and you can also design for Uniqlo or H&M or Target and it’s not a problem. But he was the first to try that … and that’s kind of a familiar story with Halston. He tried a lot of things first in business but also in design and everything, and he doesn’t get the recognition for it. I think he really paved the way for a lot of what is happening now in fashion.”

Of course, Halston III was poorly received and eventually dropped and his company, Halston Limited, was acquired by Esmark Inc. in 1983. He soon lost control of the firm and was banned from creating designs for it. His career continued to decline until his death from an AIDS-related illness in 1990.

“His story is very tragic and it’s a cautionary tale,” Tcheng says. “But for me, it’s an incredible inspirational story, it’s a truly American story. … It’s really a story of self-invention and positivity and believing that everything’s possible. You know, he played all of his cards. He didn’t really fear the future and he was all about tomorrow and all about the positive consequences of tomorrow. He didn’t even think about the risk in terms of negative consequences and I think that’s his strength.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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