Roy Halston Frowick was a 28-year-old milliner at Bergdorf Goodman, the New York City department store, when the 31-year-old wife of the president-to-be, Jacqueline Kennedy, asked Bergdorf’s to design her hat for the January 1961 inauguration ceremony. Oleg Cassini was to design all of Jackie’s clothing, but agreed that hats would be outsourced. Inspired by Balenciaga, Jackie’s signature pillbox hat look was born and Halston was launched. That beige felt 1961 hat is displayed at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.
Best designer in America
By the late ’60s, Halston was favored in the wider world of women’s wear by the jet set and Hollywood stars. Among his friends and fans were Liza Minelli, Lauren Bacall, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, and Bianca Jagger. In 1972, Newsweek called him “the best designer in America.” Halston was credited with introducing ladylike sophistication to replace the gypsy, tie-dyed, beatnik, swinging ’60s look.
Going by his middle name with a simple ‘H’ logo, Halston moved into licensing, launching his best-selling Halston perfume, designing corporate uniforms for Braniff airline, Avis car rental, the 1976 Pan American Olympic team, Girl Scout uniforms, and even the New York City police department. Halston’s name was internationally acclaimed. The look was glamorous and streamlined in such covetable fabrics as cashmere and ultra suede. Jackie sported his sunglasses, models channeled his halter dresses on the floors of the flashiest discothéques, fashionable women bought his pieces and Halston became a celebrity in his own right.
Studio 54 days
Charming, tall, strikingly handsome, Halston partied hard through the crazy disco days and nights of Steve Rubell’s Studio 54 in the 70s. The likes of Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, and Andy Warhol were regulars until the club was busted for for tax evasion and drugs by the FBI in 1978. Pioneering the licensing agreements which are common today, Halston made big mistakes regarding exclusivity. He sold his name to do a mass market line with J.C. Penney in 1983. Bergdorf Goodman and other luxury retailers yanked his merchandise off their shelves. This was the moment the fashion industry has come to regard as the curse of Halston. Eventually, Halston was fired from his own label in 1984. Sadly, in 1990 he passed away from AIDS-related illness at the age of 57 in San Francisco.
The label was bought and sold a number of times following Halston’s passing. Revived in 2008 by investors including Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo and Harvey Weinstein, film producer. An elaborate invitation-only Fashion Week show took place at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009, recreating the interior look of Halston’s townhouse on East 63rd Street as well as Studio 54 itself. Sarah Jane Parker, actress, became head of the brand in 2010, launching Halston Heritage. However, within a year, all three of these high profile individuals discontinued their involvement with the label. It is too soon to say what will become of the curse on Halston.