2010 March 31

Halston, Revisited

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RoyHalston with models in his designs, circa 1975. RoyHalston with models in his designs, circa 1975.
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(NEW YORK) In terms of fashion, there are few dependable things we can always look forward to at the Tribeca Film Festival. We’re talking about the Vanity Fair dinner and the big Chanel sit-down---but this year's must-see film also deals with the industry: Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, which will have its world premiere on April 30. Director Whitney Sudler-Smith spent a few years obsessing over the late designer and wrangled various Halston heads (like Diane von Furstenberg, Ralph Rucci, Liza Minnelli, Cathy Horyn, Bob Colacello, Glenn O’Brien, Amy Fine Collins, and Naeem Khan) to dish on the designer. The auteur admits that the wrangling was the hard part. “It took a while to compile this great group,” the director told The Daily. “A lot of big names were skeptical at first with all the salacious books written on Halston, but once Liza signed on it became a little easier. Soon everyone realized that this was, in fact, a real movie that was telling the story of this great American icon.”

The L.A.-based director had a secret weapon in André Leon Talley. “He’s friends with my mom and obviously Halston meant so much for him,” recalled the Sudler-Smith. “So he guided me along in terms of who I should speak to and what I needed to research. He was incredibly helpful. ” In fact, it was Sudler-Smith’s mother who inspired the project in the first place. “She’s very involved in fashion,” he said. “I’m not such a big sartorial expert. But growing up, my mom would put on these great, glamorous dinner parties that were full of stories on fascinating people like Halston. And over time, I became intrigued over his iconic life, his friends, and his tragic rise and fall. His story is ultimately very American and full of this over-the top decadence.”

Sudler-Smith confirms that Halston was very much the very first American celebrity designer. “It’s simply because he was the first one to use celebrities to promote his clothes,” he theorized. “Icons of the time, like Elizabeth Taylor, Candice Bergen, and Jackie O used to come to his salon, drink red wine, and gossip. They would also party together, be photographed together, and Halston got as much of a rush dressing them as being with them. But ultimately, he wasn’t this crazy and off-the wall party maniac. He was very kind, popular, and generous. And I think celebrities were attracted to that as well.” Sudler-Smith’s dream night with the designer would involve the iconic scenario. “Like everyone else, I would love to party with him at Studio 54 for one night surrounded by all those Halstonettes.”

And the director agrees that replicating Halston is a tough challenge that designers like Randolph Duke and Marco Zannini found to be daunting. “His brand was very connected to his identity,” he said. “It’s hard to re-create that spirit of the master. And everything that he produced was very specific to his aesthetic.” The director did not catch Marios Schwab’s latest Halston presentation for Fall 2010, but was pleased with the reviews. “Halston’s legacy deserves a strong designer like him,” she said. “And it’s fascinating to see Sarah Jessica Parker as the president of the brand. She’s very well dressed. I’m sure she can do no worse than Lindsay Lohan. But that was a pretty easy standard to eclipse. Remember those pasties?”

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