Halston, a true American Designer

2 Feb

halston design

The name Halston evokes a highly decadent moment in our cultural history: the nightlife-as-performance days of Studio 54, electrified by seventies disco, drugs, and celebrity. But Halston was also synonymous with characteristically American kind of sporty, easy fashion that, as Vogue put it in 1980, was (and remains) “unpretentious, unexcessive, with an instant attractiveness that answers the needs of all women who demand fashion that works.” Whatever he designed—a halter jumpsuit, a fitted jersey dress, a fluid blouse to be worn with an A-line skirt—was executed with a chic simplicity that kept it very wearable.

Roy Halston

Roy Halston Frowick was born in Des Moines, Iowa, April 23, 1932. After his school education, Halston becomes a hatmaker in Chicago. (during his childhood he had been referred to as Halston to distinguish between himself and his uncle Roy). At 26 he moves to New York to work for prominent milliner Lilly Daché and meets designer Charles James, whom Balenciaga had called “the greatest couturier in the world,” and who becomes his friend and mentor.

By 1960, Halston is working at Bergdorf Goodman as a hatmaker and becomes the chief milliner to future First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, now on the campaign trail. Reportedly, she has a large head—the same size as Halston’s. An assistant to the designer later will say that before hats were sent to Mrs. Kennedy, “Halston would put them on his head and sit there and look at them with two mirrors, one behind him and one in front, turning his head at different angles to make sure they looked right. When the First Lady wears a Halston pillbox hat to her husband’s presidential inauguration. Halston is famous.



halston hat
Halston hat

 At a tea dance in the Pines on Fire Island, meets Edward J. Austin, Jr., an assistant buyer of menswear at Alexander’s department store and the two will be lovers for at least five. Two years later, when Halston branches into designing women’s wear, Newsweek dubbed him “the premier fashion designer of all America.”His designs were worn by Bianca Jagger, Lauren Hutton, Liza Minnelli, Anjelica Huston, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, Babe Paley, and Elizabeth Taylor, setting a style that would be closely associated with the international jet set of the era. He opens the first Halston Boutique, within Bergdorf’s; he will create several collections for the store over the next couple of years.

When he opens an independent salon on Madison Avenue, Edward becomes Halston’s boutique manager. After showing his first collection of 25 pieces, receives a visit—the next morning at 9:30—from socialite Babe Paley, who wants an argyle pantsuit. “It wasn’t my intention to go into a made-to-order business,” Halston later says. “I didn’t have that kind of staff, you know, but of course Mrs. Paley is probably the number-one client you could possibly want as a designer. So I started.” Calls from other society belles follow. Halston often closes the store to lunch with clients like Barbara Walters or Lauren Bacall, with a very civilized routine of wine in Baccarat glasses, salad, a main course, and freshly brewed espresso. The salon is the setting for exclusive parties at night.

Irving PennPat Cleveland in Halston by Irving Penn 

Still loyal to his friend and mentor Charles James, in 1969, Halston sponsors a retrospective of the older designer’s work at the Electric Circus, a trendy nightclub in the East Village. Soon after, he hires James to work for him in his showroom. In 1970, the two designers show a collection of their commingled efforts; it is roundly panned by critics. The pair have a bitter falling out, both personally and professionally, shortly thereafter—from which James never recovers. Halston, on the other hand, becomes even more successful. “Halston became Halston after the Charles James show, because he realized he was as good as Charles James.” (?)

Halston once told Vogue that his role in fashion was to clean it up: “just getting rid of all of the extra details that didn’t work—bows that didn’t tie, buttons that didn’t button, zippers that didn’t zip, wrap dresses that didn’t wrap. I’ve always hated things that don’t work.”

Halston was ‘addicted’ to the nightlife and partying in Studio 54, where he meets Victor Hugo, a 24-year-old Venezuelan male prostitute, who he asks to dress his boutique windows. Soon he fires Ed Austin, his ex-lover and boutique manager, whose responsibilities have been encroached upon by Hugo.

In 1974, Halston sells his business, and his design services, to Norton Simon, Inc., for about $12 million in stock. The company goes on to license Halston womenswear, menswear, bedding, accessories, luggage, fragrances, and more.  

Halston & Bianca JaggerHalston & Bianca Jagger.

In 1977, Halston hosts a white-themed party for Bianca Jagger at Studio 54. Liza Minnelli attends in a white-sequined sweatsuit, and she and Jagger release white doves in the club.

Halston is very influential in the design of uniforms. In 1977 he is contracted by the airline Braniff International Airways to create a new look for their flight attendants. Halston created interchangeable separates in shades of bone, tan and taupe. An elaborate party was thrown at Braniff’s Acapulco Executive House in January, 1977, dubbed Three Nights In Acapulco, to introduce the new Halston fashions along with the new and elegant Braniff International Airways. The party and the Halston creations were a hit not only with the fashion press but also with Braniff employees who thought they were the easiest and most comfortable uniforms they had ever worn.


Halston moves from his small boutique to a skyscraper called Olympic Tower, a location that receives spectacular reviews. The collections that follow are huge hits. His first at the new location includes a showstopping live performance of “New York, New York” by Minnelli, and a cameo appearance by Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor.

After years of huge success, the designer launches a lower-priced line of clothing and accessories for JC Penney, telling Vogue, “I always wanted to reach a wider America. When you’re able to produce a dress—that a woman can wear to work, wear out, that’s machine-washable—for $75, that’s magic.” Bergdorf Goodman drops Halston’s line…

Halston with "Halston"Halston photographed with “Halston”, the perfume

As “the first designer to realize the potential of licensing himself,” his influence went beyond style to reshape the business of fashion. Through his licensing agreement with J.C. Penney, his designs were accessible to women at a variety of income levels. Although this practice is not uncommon today, it was a controversial move at the time. Halston, his perfume, was sold in a bottle designed by Elsa Peretti and it was the second best selling perfume at the time.

Despite his achievements, the increased pressures from numerous licensing deals, in particular that of J.C. Penney which demanded eight collections per year plus accessories, in addition to his Made to Order, Ready to Wear, and Haute Couture lines, all took their toll. Halston was a perfectionist and he would not allow junior designers to design licensed products bearing his name. In October 1984, Beatrice Foods subsidiary the Playtex Corporation managers asked Halston to leave the Olympic Tower, headquarters of Halston Enterprises, due to several conflicts. 


His fans were called the Halstonettes

Halston is no longer able to design or sell clothes under his own name. Nevertheless, he continued to design clothing for his family and friends, including costumes for his friends Liza Minnelli and Martha Graham and her Martha Graham Dance Company.

Roy Halston died on March 26, 1990, of, an AIDS-related cancer.


Halston by Andy Warhol

Video Biography

Halston hats

Also watch the great video biography on Halston.com, by clicking on the link underneath








Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

The documentary got bad reviews, mostly because it’s more a gossip story of the rise and fall of the person, Roy Halston instead of an overview of Halston’s importance in fashion for America.

Halston docu.




halston20circa1977Halston  circa 1977


One Response to “Halston, a true American Designer”


  1. A curta história dos óculos de sol | Sunny Days - 1 May 2015

    […]                                                      Flickr; G. Nauta Couture […]

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