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Illustration Joseph Larkowsky
In his new monthly column with Re-SEE, Behind the Seams, Alexander Fury deconstructs some of the most poignant shows, moments, collections in fashion with his wit, passion and extravagance.
This week, the lasting Legacy of Halston. Welcome to the world of Fury.
I don’t buy new clothes that often - new meaning anything made within the last decade or so, old clothes, I buy plenty. But I have bought something new recently - a t-shirt from the young Spanish brand Alled-Martinez. It’s bright blue, slightly worn-looking cotton jersey and emblazoned across the front, like a football team’s sweater or a rock band’s logo, is the name “Roy Halston”..
And that’s why I bought it, of course. Because Halston is a figure who has fascinated me ever since I was a kid. He first came into my orbit when Tom Ford credited Halston as inspiration for his Fall/Winter 1996 Gucci collection - particularly the closing slinky series of white jersey dresses with strategic cut-outs and ergonomic globs of metal, approximations of the jewellery of Elsa Peretti, originally devised to coordinate with Halston’s fashions. Those looks were avatars of unobtainable glamour to me - and they remain so, more than twenty-five years after Ford revived them, and fifty years after Halston invented them.
Halston also invented himself - born Roy Halston Frowick (Halston was a family name), he lopped off his first and last to become a mononym and an icon. That was shortly after he created the pillbox hat, popularised by Jackie Kennedy, and then launched his own clothing line. But luckily, not many people need a Halston refresher course thanks to Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series. We even realise that the ’57’ on the back of the Alled-Martinez t-shirt refers to the age Halston was when he died of AIDS in 1957.
Thanks largely to Netflix, Halston is far better-known today than he was five years ago. Back then, curators and vintage aficionados knew his work, as did fashion designers. Halston remains a designer’s designer - not just for Ford, on whose work his imprint is arguably most discernible (Ford even owns Halston’s former Upper East Side house, purchased for $18 million in 2019) but for talents as diverse as Raf Simons and Rick Owens. Owens, indeed, could be Halston’s natural successor, with his economy of cut, simple lines and drapery, as well as the fact he cuts and assembles his samples himself. How about the shared obsession of Halston and Owens with the work of the great Anglo-American couturier Charles James, who even collaborated with Halston in 1970 in probably the earliest example of a cross-brand partnership I can think of. In the New York Times, Halston compared James to Leonardo da Vinci, stating “He helped shape the collection, like Balenciaga helped Givenchy.”
But, actually, Halston helped shape American fashion. In fact, he’s kind of responsible for putting it on the map. That’s a grand claim, and there are plenty of other designers who can lay stake to it - James Galanos, Norman Norell, Bill Blass, the great Geoffrey Beene. But Halston was something else. A marketing genius as well as a master of shape and form, he didn’t just invent an aesthetic, but the aesthetic - his ideas of deluxe sportswear, easy shapes in hyper-refined fabrics and glorious colours, are what we still perceive as American style. They draw on the work of James, of course - his fluid pleated and shirred gowns of the 1920s and 1930s, rather than his expansive post-war ballgowns. There was also the influence of Claire McCardell and the great Hollywood costume designers of the interwar period - Halston adored bias cutting. They’re also often as easy as t-shirts. Halston clothes are everything you want American fashion to be, then and now - an antidote to uptightness and complication.
They are also, ironically, timeless. Sure Halston’s clothes were the unofficial uniform of Studio 54, but taken out of context they easily transcend their era, and even fashion. So that’s why I’m wearing a t-shirt with his name written across my chest. Because Halston’s a great, and I’m paying homage. Plus, how else can I wear a Halston? I’d never fit in an Ultrasuede shirt-dress.