Born: Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa, 23 April 1932. Education: Studied at Indiana University, Bloomington, and at the Art Institute of Chicago to 1953. Career: Freelance milliner, Chicago, 1952-53; window dresser, Carson Pirie Scott, Chicago, 1954-57; designer and hats division manager, Lilly Daché, New York, 1958-59; millinery and clothing designer, Bergdorf Goodman, New York, 1959-68; founder/designer, Halston Ltd. couture, New York, 1962-73; with Henry Pollack Inc., established Halston International, ready-to-wear, 1970; established Halston Originals with Ben Shaw, 1972; Halston Ltd. renamed Halston Enterprises, 1973, and company, design services and trademark sold to Norton Simon; menswear and signature fragrance introduced 1975; launched Halston I-12 and Halston Z-14 (for men), 1976; company sold to Esmark, Inc., and Halston III collection initiated for J.C. Penney Company, 1983; company sold to Revlon, 1986; introduced Halston Couture (for women), 1988; acquired by Saudis and renamed Halston Borghese Inc., from 1991; Catalyst, fragrance (for women) launched, 1993; Catalyst for Men, 1994; fragrances sold to French Fragrances Inc., 1996; womenswear licenses bought by Tropic Tex and Randolph Duke signed as designer/creative director, 1996-98; launched bed and bath lines for fall 1997; firm sold to Catterton Group and Kevan Hall named designer, 1998; licensed Halston Signature, 1999; firm sold to Neema Clothing Ltd., 1999; Craig Natiello hired as design director, 1999; fragrances acquired by Elizabeth Arden; new fragrance, Halson Unbound, 2001. Exhibitions: Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, 1991 (retrospective). Awards: Coty American Fashion Critics award, 1962, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1974; placed on Fashion Walk of Fame, New York, 2000. Died: 26 March 1990, in San Francisco. Company Address: Halston International, 530 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10018, U.S.A.
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Braunstein, Peter, "Obsessed with Halston," in WWD, 12 October 2001.* * *
The life of Roy Halston Frowick was marked by deeply American directness. He was known internationally, and in a nonchalant elegance that stripped away all that was superfluous in his life and art, Halston was the creation of his own obsessive, workaholic achievements. In the 1970s and early 1980s Halston was not only the supreme American fashion designer, but the quintessential one.
Again and again, Halston would say to the press, as he told Eugenia Sheppard in the New York Post (7 February 1973), "Women make fashion. Designers suggest, but it's what women do with the clothes that does the trick." While this modest disavowal was in part canny public relations, granting to the client or potential client the creativity of dress, Halston believed his statement. He recognized and accounted for the women who would wear the clothing as much as for his own creation and acknowledged a partnership between designer and wearer. One aspect of the partnership was Halston's continuous synergy with important clients, beginning with his millinery work which, after all, started from the top to reconcile personal attitude and physiognomy with apparel.
Later in his career, as he strove to be the "total designer," Halston's personal affection for and connections to clients in show business, design, dance, and public life gave him an intimate and abiding affiliation with the wearer. And when he sought to dress every woman, there was a grounded, natural aspect to Halston that readily reminded the wearer this cryptically simple designer was born in Des Moines, Iowa and raised in Evansville, Indiana.
If Halston ascribed the social function to the wearer, he himself was the consummate creator of the garment in formal terms and his work corresponded to the minimalism in American arts. His geometry of design, employing bias as the three-dimensional element causing the geometry to drape splendidly on the body, was as conceptual as that of Vionnet. Some design problems were played out in paper origami, as he created twisted forms in white paper on a black lacquer tray. Discovering such form, Halston projected it onto the body with absolute integrity, cutting as little as possible, and allowing the simplicity of the two-dimensional design to be felt, even as it assumed form on the body.
Likewise Halston's colors were as selective as Mondrian's, preferring ivory, black, and red, but knowing that fuchsia, electric blue, or deep burgundy could provide accent and emphasis. Of textiles, he worked with cashmere, silk and rayon jerseys, double-faced wools, and Ultrasuede. His machine-washable Ultrasuede shirtwaist, which sold 60,000 copies, was one of the most popular dresses in America in the 1970s—in its utmost simplicity, the same dress could be worn in a multitude of ways to allow each woman to wear it in her own personal style. His rich double-faced wool coats were the luxury of color fields, an art brought to apparel; his athletic looks in bodysuits and sports-inspired dressing were as much an ancipation of the late 1980s American fashion as they were renewals of 1940s and 1950s Claire McCardell. He could dress a Martha Graham dancer as readily as he could create a mass-market dress.
Halston's eveningwear was acclaimed for its glittery, gossamer shimmer, but often unacknowledged for the same principles of simplicity. Working on the bias, Halston caressed the body with spiralling scarfs of form. His one-piece, held-at-the-shoulder "orange-peel" dress was the product of a deft hand, like that of the fruit peeler. His evening jackets were often nothing more than rings of material twisted into cocoon fantasies. As Liza Minnelli has said of Halston, he made one feel comfortable and feel beautiful.
Merging the special chic of a custom business and a vast ambition to dress everyone in the world was Halston's high goal, briefly achieved in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But business changes ignited the American Icarus' wings and he plummeted to earth, having lost most his empire and the ability to do what was most precious to him—designing. His company was bought and sold numerous times before his death in 1990, and in 1992 was acquired by Saudi businessmen who combined it with the Borghese fragrances to become Halston Borghese Inc.
New fragrances bearing the Halston name were introduced in 1994 and 1995, but the name and its legacy languished until the company was dismantled in 1996. French Fragrances Inc. bought the Halston scents; Tropic Tex Apparel bought the remainder of the Halston's products. "We wanted to bring Halston to the next millennium," Carmine Porcelli, Halson's new director of licensing, told WWD (30 August 1996). To support the reintroduction of the Halston brand and image, Tropic Tex launched a major advertising campaign and brought Randolph Duke on board as creative director.
Over the next few years, the Halston name was licensed for beds and linens, scarves, belts, handbags, hosiery, sunglasses, jewelry, timepieces, leather apparel, sleepwear, and foundations. In the capable hands of Duke, Halston Signature womenswear regained much of its cachet—trunk shows at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue sold over $200,000-worth of couture in a few days in 1997. A menswear launch, however, was not as successful and the overexposure in licensing caught up with Tropic Tex. After experiencing financial difficulties, Tropic Tex agreed to sell Halston International to the Connecticut-based Catterton Group in April 1998.
Halston's new owners fired Duke and hired Kevan Hall, who had worked there briefly earlier in the year and abruptly left. Yet by 1999 Catterton had sold Halston's assets to Neema Clothing Ltd., which then hired Craig Natiello as design director. A new Halston Signature menswear line debuted in 2001 after a series of delays, and Natiello had settled in with his womenswear designs. Women's Wear Daily (24 September 2001) commented, "After some rough going, designer Craig Natiello seems to be refining his vision at Halston. While still sexy and amply embellished, his spring collection has a newly controlled feeling, expressed in short, delicately beaded layered dresses, printed chiffon gowns and long skirts."
While the Halston brand spun out of control during the designer's lifetime, it was nothing compared to after his death. In the 21st century, however, the name Halston was again conjured up images of elegance and luxury in womenswear was emerging in menswear as well.
The designer Roy Halston Frowick (1932–1990) was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and began his career as a milliner. He subsequently rose to become one of the most important American designers of the 1970s, whose influence was still being felt into the twenty-first century.
While studying fashion illustration at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1952, Halston began designing hats in his spare time. Eventually, he started to sell his designs at André Basil's hair salon at the Ambassador Hotel. Halston moved to New York City in 1958 to design hats for the legendary milliner Lilly Daché and then began working in the custom millinery salon of the prestigious retailer Bergdorf Goodman in 1959. While there, he designed the famous pillbox hat worn by the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy for the 1961 presidential inauguration of her husband, John F. Kennedy.
Moving beyond hats, Halston went on to design his first clothing collection for Bergdorf Goodman in June 1966. Two years later he left the retailer to form his own company, Halston Ltd. In December of 1968 Halston showed his first namesake collection in his new Angelo Donghia–designed showroom at 33 East Sixty-Eighth Street in New York City. As his business grew, Halston took over the entire building, creating a retail boutique in 1972 that took up three floors of the building, with each floor selling a different collection (and at a different price point). Later that year a ready-to-wear company, Halston Originals, was formed with two partners and headquartered on New York's Seventh Avenue.
In a first-of-its-kind deal for a fashion designer, Halston and his partners sold both the Halston businesses and the Halston trademark to Norton Simon Industries (NSI), a large multibrand corporation, in 1973. Halston's success soared during the mid-1970s, and so did his fame. An article in Esquire magazine asked the question: "Will Halston take over the world?" (p. 69).
As the success continued, NSI started signing a multitude of licensees—thirty existed at one point. In 1978 the company moved its design studio to a spacious venue on the twenty-first floor of the Olympic Tower at Fifty-first Street and Fifth Avenue. With the bigger space once again came an increased workload. Eventually, Halston was designing four ready-to-wear, four sportswear, and two made-to-order collections per year. All this was in addition to furs, shoes, swimwear, robes, intimate apparel, men's wear, luggage, and uniforms for both Avis Rent A Car System and Braniff Airline employees. Halston also continued to design costumes for his celebrity friends, including the performer Liza Minnelli, and for Martha Graham's dance company.
By the early 1980s, however, Halston's influence was waning, and his social life began to garner more attention than his fashions. The beginning of the end, according to many, came when, in 1982, Halston signed a multimillion dollar deal with the J. C. Penney discount chain to create products under the Halston label. Many prestigious retailers voiced concern about the deal, and Bergdorf Goodman dropped the designer's ready-to-wear line from their store.
Before signing the deal with Penney's, things had started to unravel for the designer. Many cite the pressure of his workload and his inability to delegate responsibility as major faults. Others noted that as he spent more time socializing, allegedly using drugs, and as his increasingly difficult temperament became apparent, his business started to fail. In 1984, with tension mounting between the designer and NSI, Halston took a two-week vacation and never returned to Halston Enterprises. Until 1988 he kept trying to buy back a part of the company that bore his name from the various owners of the trademark, but he was unsuccessful. While negotiating one such buyback with Revlon, the owners of the trademark, in 1988, Halston tested positive for HIV. He died of complications from AIDS on 26 March 1990.
Halston's most famous saying was "You're only as good as the people you dress." If that is true, he was better than good. He was good enough, in fact, to win five coveted Coty Fashion Critics Awards, the Oscars of the fashion industry. Halston's clientele list reads like a who's who of celebrities and socialites: Lauren Bacall, Marisa Berenson, Candice Bergen, Princess Grace of Monaco, Katherine Graham, Margaux Hemingway, Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Elsa Peretti, Barbara Cushing "Babe" Paley, Lee Radziwill, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbara Walters.
Halston was known for his minimalistic approach to fashion, and his signature looks were spare, fluid, and often deceptively simple. He married the ease and comfort of sportswear with ready-to-wear and then raised the bar with luxurious fabrics and his distinct eye for cut and proportion. Halston has been credited with creating a unique new look, an original American way of dressing. His clothes were a representation of his own pared-down lifestyle. Many say that his life and his work were one and the same. In simplifying fashion for modern lifestyles without sacrificing glamour and luxury, he influenced many other designers. "Halston was one of the most influential designers of our time," said Donna Karan, quoted in Gross and Rottman (p. 225). "I say that on a personal level, because when I was young, he was the designer I aspired to be like. He understood luxury, glamour, simplicity, fit and the importance of uniform. To me, he represented all that was modern and pure. What more could a designer hope to be?" Narciso Rodriguez, also a fan, said, "Halston changed the face of fashion and the way women dressed with a clean and pure look. Within its purity there was extreme femininity and sexiness. His slink dress as well as his double faced coats both maintained his clean, sensual line with brevity of construction. He is one of my heroes!" (Gross and Rottman, p. 225.)
In her book The Fashion Makers, Bernadine Morris wrote, "A nod from Halston and a fashion is flashed around the world" (p. 90). After Halston fell in love with Ultrasuede in 1971, he went on to use the fabric in everything from suits and coats to his famous shirtdress. As a result, Ultrasuede became as famous as Halston himself.
When he tied a sweater around his models' shoulders, the look was adopted by fashionable women everywhere. Other designs also became Halston trademarks: the strapless dress, dresses made of draped rayon matte jersey, cashmere knits, caftans, one-shoulder and halter dresses, and asymmetrical necklines. He was well known for his love of the bias cut and his single-seamed spiral and wrapped dresses. In 1976 the designer created his first perfume, the enormously successful Halston. The Elsa Peretti–designed tear-shaped bottle was so recognizable that Halston insisted that it not be stamped with his name. The only branding was a small paper band with the name "Halston" that was wrapped around the neck. It broke off when the bottle was opened.
Berkin, Lisa. "The Prisoner of 7th Avenue." New York Times Magazine, 15 March 1987.
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Gross, Elaine, and Fred Rottman. Halston: An American Original. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1999.
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Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. Couture: The Great Designers. New York: Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 1985.
Morris, Bernadine. The Fashion Makers. New York: Random House, 1978.
In terms of fashion, the 1970s was the decade of the American designer Halston (1932–1990). His designs were simple but elegant, and he favored flawlessly tailored classic cuts. His clothes could be worn year-round, during the day and evening. His dress designs eventually became so minimal that they even came without zippers and buttons. Halston's greatest fame came from his reputation as the designer of choice for celebrities. His clients included Elizabeth Taylor (1932–), Liza Minnelli (1946–), Andy Warhol (c. 1928–1987), Anjelica Huston (1951–), Bianca Jagger (1950–), Martha Graham (1894–1991), Barbara Walters (1931–), and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929–1994). He once observed, "You're only as good as the people you dress," according to his biographers Elaine Gross and Fred Rottman.
Born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa, he enjoyed sewing and making hats as a child. After briefly attending Indiana University and the Chicago Art Institute, he worked as a window dresser while designing hats on the side. He also decided to take his middle name as his professional name. His hat designs soon proved popular, and in 1957 he opened his own store in Chicago, Illinois. Two years later he settled in New York and was employed as a hat designer at Bergdorf Goodman, a fashionable department store. He soon became nationally famous by designing the bone wool pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy, the incoming first lady, wore at the 1961 inauguration of her husband, John F. Kennedy (1917–1963). At the time the hats worn by women on formal occasions were intricately designed and featured an assortment of added-on items like fur, feathers, and even jewelry. Halston's pillbox was just the opposite; it was a straightforward, unadorned, minimal design. Its popularity helped to usher in shorter, simpler hairstyles for women.
In 1966 Halston created Bergdorf's first ready-to-wear collection. (Ready-to-wear refers to clothes can be worn right off the rack versus custom-made designs.) Two years later he launched his own fashion salon. His career peaked during the following decade and the Halston name was licensed to a range of products, including sheets, shoes, and an especially lucrative series of fragrances. He marketed a synthetic, or man-made, fabric that he called Ultrasuede: a supersoft, superfine material that had the look and feel of real suede but was far more durable. Ultrasuede was his fabric of choice for another of his innovations: the shirtdress, a dress designed to look like a shirt, complete with collar and buttons.
Before Halston, fashion shows were trade events that primarily catered to buyers from retail store chains. Halston had the idea to transform them into glittery extravaganzas, complete with flashing lights and popular music. Thanks to Halston's influence, the fashion show became a performance, similar to a rock concert or a big budget stage show.
Halston's celebrity clients also became his close friends. He was a regular at the most stylish New York parties and nightspots, usually dressed in a black cashmere turtleneck. However, Halston's power in the fashion industry began to wane in the late 1970s. He was unable to keep up with the constant demand for new designs, and he made a critical mistake by allowing his Halston label clothes to be sold at the middle-class retail chain J. C. Penney. This business decision drove away the celebrity consumers who once liked his exclusive clothes. Halston died of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in 1990.
(b. 23 April 1932 in Des Moines, Iowa; d. 26 March 1990 in San Francisco, California), millinery and fashion designer who became internationally famous for designing hats for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as well as introducing a revolutionary minimalism into women's fashions in the late 1960s.
Born Roy Halston Frowick, Halston grew up attending local public schools in Des Moines until his father, James Edward Frowick, a bookkeeper, moved the family to Carbondale, Illinois, in 1940. His mother, Hallie May (Holmes) Frowick, was a homemaker and mother of four children, of whom Halston was the second son. He showed an early interest in sewing, keeping his mother company when she retreated from his father's temper tantrums to busy herself with crocheting afghans. An interest in making hats was apparent when Halston made a braided wreath of flowers for his mother's hair and a hat decorated with chicken feathers for his sister when she was two years old. In December 1943 the family moved to Evansville, Indiana. For Easter 1945 Halston created a red cloche hat for his mother with a pom-pom made from a scouring pad. She wore it proudly.
Halston attended Indiana University in Bloomington for two years before moving to Chicago, where he attended fashion illustration classes at the School of the Art Institute. He worked as a window dresser and made hats in his spare time. Then, in 1957 the hairdresser Andre Basil and Halston opened the Boulevard Salon on Michigan Avenue. There Halston's hats drew the attention of Women's Wear Daily. In 1958 Halston was lured to New York City to work for the famous milliner Lilly Daché. He was fired because he allowed models to "borrow" hats to wear on dates. Halston then went to work in the custom millinery salon of the exclusive Bergdorf Goodman department store in midtown Manhattan. The store's young, tall, handsome, and affable milliner became known for the custom designs that he quickly and expertly executed for the individual needs of wealthy customers. His first hat, a brown organdy sunbonnet, appeared on the cover of Harper's Bazaar in 1960.
Jacqueline Kennedy, the nation's fashion-plate First Lady, supported American designers and selected Oleg Cassini to design her dresses and Halston to design her hats. The beige pillbox hat that she wore to her husband's presidential inauguration in 1961 was one of the most widely copied of Halston's designs. In 1962 Halston won his first of many Coty Fashion Critics awards, for millinery. By 1966 Halston sensed that newly liberated women were beginning to eschew wearing hats, so he began designing clothing. In June of that year Halston held his first fashion show of women's ready-to-wear clothing for Bergdorf Goodman. The success of the fashion collection led to the opening of the Halston boutique at Bergdorf's.
On 12 January 1968 Halston resigned from Bergdorf Goodman, and in April of that year he set up his own incorporated business, Halston, Ltd. With financial backing from Estelle Marsh Watlington, Halston, Ltd., launched made-to-order and ready-to-wear divisions by September 1968. Halston showed his first solo clothing collection in his new showroom at 33 East Sixty-eighth Street on 2 December 1968. In March 1969 he opened a boutique on the third floor of Bloomingdale's department store. His garments for women were a stark departure from the hippie-inspired romantic and exotic looks that prevailed in the fashions of the late 1960s. Paring away excess collars, cuffs, and even zippers, Halston introduced a new sleek and modern way of dressing for women who, although wealthy enough to afford his clothes, led active lives of work and travel. For day, classic sportswear looks were presented in luxurious cashmere knits that packed well. For evening, figure-flattering caftans were interpreted in glittery sequins and beads, or fluid dresses of silk satin or chiffon were draped and tied on the body. A special Coty Award for the total look of his first solo collection was given to Halston on 13 October 1969.
In 1969 Halston staged a benefit retrospective fashion show of the designs of the famed couturier Charles James, whom Halston admired so much that he employed him as a consultant the next year. "Ease and Elegance Designed by Halston" was the headline of a Newsweek cover story (21 August 1972). Norton-Simon, Inc., bought Halston Originals and Halston, Ltd., the Halston trademark and design services, in November 1973. Halston Enterprises now owned the Halston name. "I want to design for all of America," Halston stated. Internationally known, Halston held a phenomenally popular fashion show in Paris at the Palais de Versailles in 1973. American designs were showcased alongside those of such renowned French couturiers as Yves St. Laurent. In June 1974 Halston was inducted into the Fashion Hall of Fame.
One of the most popular fragrances ever, "Halston" was launched in 1975. This perfume won the Fragrance of the Year award from the Fragrance Foundation in 1976. In 1977 Halston received a Tony Award nomination for costume designs for the musical The Act. During the 1970s and 1980s he designed costumes for the modern dancer Martha Graham and her dance troupe, for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and for stage shows. His talents extended to designing the uniforms for Braniff Airlines' flight attendants and the Girl Scouts of America.
As a gay man, Halston never married and never had children. In the late 1980s he began to experience the symptoms of AIDS. He succumbed to the disease in a San Francisco hospital at the age of fifty-seven. Funeral services were held at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, and Halston's body was cremated. In June 1990 the actress Liza Minnelli held a memorial show in honor of Halston in Lincoln Center in New York City.
Halston is remembered not only as a designer of hats in the 1960s but also as a giant figure in American fashion whose legacy of minimal fuss in practical yet elegant wearable clothing for working women has been carried on by many famous American designers since the late 1960s. His story also remains a cautionary tale against selling one's name and losing control of one's own creative product in the process.
The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City houses thousands of Halston sketches and patterns in the Halston Archives and Study Room. Elaine Gross and Fred Rottman, Halston: An American Original (1999), is a well-illustrated and comprehensive chronicle of Halston's career. Steven Bluttal, ed., Halston (2001), is "a visual anthology of Halston's life and legacy." The seamier side of Halston's glamorous life is explored in Steven Gaines, Simply Halston: The Untold Story (1991). Obituaries are in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times (both 28 Mar. 1990).
Therese Duzinkiewicz Baker
Halston's (Roy Halston Frowick, 1932-1990) first fame was the simple and much-imitated pill-box hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore at the 1961 Presidential Inauguration. His success continued in the 1970s. Within the maelstrom of Paris fashions, youthquake, minis, and maxis, Halston reasserted the unadorned cut and practicality of American sportswear: easy, simple, and eternal. In 1972, his plain Ultrasuede shirtwaist sold 60,000 copies. Halston's flowing movement and versatile layers allowed women of all sizes and shapes to find him their perfect designer and Halston came to claim that he would design for every woman in America, to say nothing of custom-order clients Liza Minnelli, Martha Graham, and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1983, he initiated Halston III for J. C. Penney and was dropped from stores who would not permit him to design for their elite clientele and for everyone. Brilliant and charismatic, Halston could make and market anything, except genuine democracy in American fashion.
Gaines, Steven. Simply Halston: The Untold Story. New York, Putnam, 1991.
Minnelli, Liza, and Polly Mellen, "Halston, 1932-1990." Vogue. July 1990.