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Iconic American fashion designer Halston TV series on Netflix’s


Iconic American fashion designer Halston TV series on Netflix’s

Iconic American fashion designer Halston TV series on Netflix’s

Iconic American fashion designer Halston TV series on Netflix’s

Around the middle of the third episode of Halston, thanks to a mixture of boredom and fascination, I started counting every time someone said the name “Halston.” The new Netflix limited series is about the fashion designer Roy Halston, and sometimes characters say the name to point at the brand: “This bottle says ‘Halston!’” or “Now that’s a Halston.” Often it’s just part of the dialogue, an unrelenting verbal tic. “Good morning, Halston.” “You’re an asshole, Halston!” “Halston, you’re a genius!” “You’re out of control, Halston!” From somewhere midway through episode three until the series conclusion at the end of episode five, I counted 114 Halstons, plus three times someone called him “H” to shake things up.

Ryan Murphy’s latest five-part limited series for Netflix delivers raunchy, raucous, row-of-tents-level camp in a full-frontal, Studio 54-led shimmy through the life of American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, the man who famously lost his own name. With Ultrasuede and Liza Minnelli to the left and hot pants and Andy Warhol to the right, the series is led by Ewan McGregor performing a man whose public persona was itself a grand performance. Not since his character dived down a toilet in Trainspotting has the actor taken such gleeful risks and, certainly, Halston is a show to launch a thousand memes, many of which will involve McGregor’s face in various stages of drug- and sex-induced ecstasy. If it all seems too much to be true, a quick sashay over to Frederic Tcheng’s 2019 documentary Halston on Amazon proves that yes, indeed, it is all true, even if Murphy has chosen to very much accentuate the outrageous here.

Don’t make the mistake of taking all this too seriously. The entire second episode of Halston is devoted to the 1973 French vs. American ‘Battle of Versailles’ couture showdown which took place in the Palace itself. Halston snuck his BFF Liza Minnelli (an endearing Krysta Rodriguez) in as a secret weapon – naturally, she and he stole the show. The American team – Bill Blass, Ann Klein, Stephen Burrows, Oscar De La Renta – are shown wafting around Charles De Gaulle airport to the sounds of Bowie’s ’Jean Genie’, darting arch looks at the French (Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, et al). A slew of recent French feature films have treated Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel with po-faced reverence: Halston makes it all look like a gas-gas-gas. And the clothes themselves are extraordinary.

It probably was all a huge laugh – until it wasn’t. Murphy and series director Daniel Minahan don’t really dwell on Halston’s simple childhood in the backwaters of Idaho, except for in rudimentary flashback which half-heartedly tries to connect the designer’s violent father with his later-life predilection for rent boys and his insane boyfriend Victor ‘Huge-o’ Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez). We meet Roy when he is already ‘Halston’: he has just designed the famous pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to her husband’s Presidential inauguration. Working at swanky Bergdorf Goodman, Halston is an overnight sensation, although it’s not too long before women stop wearing hats entirely and he’s out in the cold.

As is often the case with Murphy projects, the dialogue frustratingly tends toward the obvious and expository. Even if you go in with minimal knowledge of Halston’s life, you’ll likely be able to predict nearly every major plot development. The moment businessman David J. Mahoney (Bill Pullman) appears like a suit-clad devil at a crossroads, you know precisely where he’ll be leading Halston. The real designer’s story is ultimately a sad one — foreshadowing the increasing loss of artistry in the fashion industry, a tricky business deal stole his name and creative freedom, and he and much of his cohort died young of AIDS. But his clothing stands as gorgeously minimal yet extravagant encapsulations of the ’70s. The show captures the turbulence of Halston’s life in a neat package, but would benefit from a closer look at the work that made his name. Halston is at its best when we see the designer draping his vibrant dresses or working a fashion show. All the drama in his story can’t be avoided, but the dresses themselves deserve more focus.

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