Ruthless PR and friendship with the stars: what was Roy Halston first

Roy Holston told his friend Tom Fallon

“You and I cannot count on more than the role of trained poodles, obediently jumping through the hoops of the rich,” Roy Holston told his friend Tom Fallon at the dawn of his career.

At the time, in the early 1960s, Halston worked as a modist for Bergdorf Goodman and had already become famous as the author of the cap Jackie Kennedy, in which she appeared at the inauguration ceremony of her husband. However, the American heirs of high-profile names still disdained to sit down with him for dinner at the same table. After a few years, they had to temper their snobbery towards a young man from Iowa.

In the 1970s, Halston will change the course of development of American fashion and will not be afraid to fight with Parisian colleagues who are trying to defend their monopoly on couture. Instead of “poodle,” he will become, in his own words, “emperor of clothing,” and a few years later he will say goodbye to his empire, and to the rights to his own name.

The designer’s dramatic biography has become the ideal material for the new documentary by Frederick Cheng (“Dior and Me”, “Valentino: The Last Emperor”, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Must Travel”). A refrain through the entire Halston tape, consisting of stunning archival footage from the shows, video from the backstage and interviews with Holston’s colleagues, says: “At what point did everything go wrong?” Did it happen in the year that Studio 54 opened? Moving to Olympic Tower? Meet the artist Victor Hugo? A contract with Norton Simon? Or a line with a network of cheap JCPenney department stores?

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Tracing the entire trajectory of Roy Holston’s ups and downs and form his opinion about the moment when he turned the wrong way, it will be possible on June 6 and 8 – the Holston film will be shown during the Beat Film Festival during two days. In the meantime, it’s time to remember what he deserved the title of one of the main American designers and what is ahead of the rest.

Celebrity Marketing

Halston’s 1970s disco brand means nothing less than Studio 54. And the brand, and the club went down in history thanks largely to competent work with celebrities. “It was the beginning of the celebrity era,” as Jan Schrager observed in the Studio 54 documentary. Supermodel Pat Cleveland, actresses Bianca Jagger and Marisa Berenson and singer Lisa Minnelli were among Roy Holston’s entourage. Because of loyalty to the brand, they were even called “holstonetta”. Halston wore them in their dresses, reminiscent of ancient Greek tunics and tunics, and they went to dance in the “Studio 54”. Their party photos, flying every morning through the front pages of the Daily News and the New York Post, served as the best Halston ad. Perfectly feeling the era and media interest in the stars, Halston was the first of the designers to sit the heroines of the tabloids on the first row.


“We looked exotic: 12 African-American girls. They all had only one, ”recalls Pat Cleveland about the ratio of models that went to the Halston show and to the French designers who took part in the“ Battle of Versailles ”, a symbolic competition between Paris and New York for the title of fashion capital (France was Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro and Marc Boain, USA – Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anna Klein, Roy Halston and Stephen Burrows. – Ed.). Even today, the casting of Halston would look surprisingly progressive: he was looking for interesting dark-skinned models (he discovered Iman, among others) and loved to dress women of all sizes. The first wave of fashion on the plus-size models began thanks to him: Halston owes her catwalk debut to Pat Ast, one of the Andy Warhol muses.

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Among the main people who influenced him, Halston always called the famous American designer Charles James, for whom he once worked as an assistant. Close friends laughed that he even repeated his cues and gestures. James himself believed that Halston was copying his silhouettes (and added that it would be better for Roy to go to the stylists or buyers). This is not entirely fair: Halston took the elegance of Charles James’s outfits as a basis, but made it much easier. Most of his dresses were tailored from just one piece of fabric – he skillfully tailored the crochet. “Halston lay down on the floor, cut and threw a cloth over you — that was how the dress appeared,” the models recall.


In accordance with modern practices of the fashion industry, PR for Holston meant nothing less than the design itself. After world recognition in the 1970s, he began to control absolutely everything that related to the appearance of his brand in public. The most striking example is a trip to China at the invitation of the local government. The Chinese hoped to use the media potential of a secular designer in order to show the whole world that they are becoming an increasingly open state. Holston’s excitement was to use this trip as a showcase for his dresses. Both sides got everything they wanted. Ideal photographs of Holston appeared in the press every day, surrounded by beautiful models in his dresses. Over these seemingly natural snapshots there were more than 100 suitcases with pre-sewn outfits for each excursion — from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall of China — and hours-long rehearsals of joint exits. Including hand luggage from the airport. Everything was perfectly delivered and worked on the Halston image. When the designer began to control even the gestures and image of his office workers, many did not stand up and left the company.

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High fashion and fashion for ordinary people until the 1980s existed in parallel worlds. The first bridge between them was the contract of Halston and low-cost department stores JCPenney. Halston wanted to dress all of America – and many believe that his ambition and ruined.

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