Review: Halston documentary celebrates the designer’s singular vision

The fashion icon's story isn't that complex or mysterious, but half a century later, the clothes still look splendid


HALSTON (Frédéric Tcheng). 106 minutes. Opens Friday (May 31). See listing. Rating: NNNN


The documentarian Frédéric Tcheng specializes in historical documentaries about outsized fashion personalities: he made Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel and Dior And I, and worked as an editor and cameraman on Matt Tyrnauer’s Valentino: The Last Emperor.

It’s his thing, and he’s very good at it, and the designer who called himself Halston is a fine subject for his latest feature.

Halston – born Roy Halston Frowick – gave Jackie Kennedy the iconic pillbox hat for her husband’s inauguration in 1961, and parlayed his celebrity connections into superstar status of his own by the mid 70s. He dressed Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger for Studio 54 he was a fixture in society pages. And then he pretty much disappeared – or at least that’s the thesis put forward in voice-over narration by fashion writer Tavi Gevinson, playing an imagined employee of Halston’s whose excavation of his supposedly secret files guides us through the history.

Other than giving Tcheng licence to use a noirish musical score, the invented character does very little for the movie: Halston’s story isn’t that complex or mysterious. The designer himself, though, proves to be a compelling enigma.

Halston brings its subject back to life through archival clips and the recollections of famous friends like Minnelli, Marisa Berenson and Joel Schumacher, and colleagues like Tom Fallon, who was his assistant at Bergdorf’s – and who, early on, speaks to the designer’s awareness that as talented as they might be, he and his fellow designers would never be seen as anything more than “trained faggot poodles” to the wealthy people they dressed.

Tcheng implies this painful knowledge – and the desire to stand among the one per cent as an equal – was what drove Halston to become a global brand, which led to some bad business decisions in the 80s and a fall from grace from which he never had the chance to recover. But all distractions aside, Tcheng’s Halston isn’t so much a rise-and-fall tragedy as a celebration of a singular sartorial vision. Half a century later, the clothes really do look splendid.

@normwilner

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