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HALSTON gets 7.5/10 Who likes short shorts?


Directed by Frédéric Tcheng

Starring Tavi Gevinson, Liza Minnelli, Joel Schumacher, Pat Cleveland

7.5/10

In the 70s, the American designer Roy Halston Frowick – known simply as Halston – was one of the superstars of American fashion. He was up there with the likes of Diane Von Furstenberg, but unlike Diane, Halston’s contribution has not been publicly recognised, even though it lives on in his many creations (notably hot-pants and the elegant evening halter dress).

Director Frédéric Tcheng is determined to highlight this extraordinary career and life in his simply titled documentary, Halston. This is terrain that Tcheng knows like the back of his hand, having co-helmed Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel before making an acclaimed solo directorial debut with 2014’s Dior and I. Halston is inevitably a bit more gossip-fuelled, given its subject’s flamboyant celebrity status, well-known Studio 54 shenanigans and ignominious professional fall from grace. Still, it’s underpinned by a genuine and intelligent appreciation of Halston’s brilliance as a designer, and the influential way he altered the silhouette of American women’s evening wear with his unique technical facility with fabric. His close friend Liza Minnelli best describes the lithe, swirling movement and surprisingly athletic glamour of his creations with her observation: “Halston’s clothes danced with you.”

Less successful is a mannered, fictional framing device that casts prodigious fashion writer Tavi Gevinson as a prying secretary in the Halston archives, sifting through assorted yellowing files and analog tapes to uncover the “truth” of the designer. This device is grating and unnecessary as it has little bearing on Halston’s own milieu or stylistic legacy.

Tcheng’s almost excessive wealth of video material gives us an atmospheric window into the fevered mood and swinging camaraderie that prevailed in the house of Halston through the 1970s, abetted by copious present-day interviews with the friends, associates and “Halstonettes” (his still-loyal coterie of favoured models) that made up his busy inner circle. But business is mixed with pleasure, as this film also methodically documents the chain of corporate partnerships and acquisitions that initially enabled the brand to soar — expanding into perfume, homeware, airline branding and even Girl Scout uniforms — before sputtering and burning out. The beginning of the end is identified as Halston’s decision in 1983 to literally cheapen his brand via a billion-dollar deal with JCPenney.

This unprecedented merging of high fashion and affordable consumerism prompted a major industry backlash from which the designer never recovered, though Tcheng refrains from pointing out that the present-day ubiquity of haute couture fast-fashion collaborations posthumously ensured Halston the last laugh. The killer blow is the revelation that most of Halston’s samples were sold off by the company’s careless buyers, as part of a seemingly deliberate effort to expunge him, denying us the complete retrospective wardrobe of this singular designer. Tcheng’s Halston is particularly important as it helps restore this artist’s place in history and highlights the influence he has had in the decades since.

ANNE PAVY

Halston is screening on August 29 as part of the Raine Square Fashion Film Festival at Palace Cinemas. Check website for details and other fashion films screening throughout August 1 – September 5. 

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