The five-episode series based on the 1991 book Simply Halston: The Untold Story by Steven Gaines focuses on the rise of the late designer (played by Ewan McGregor) known for dressing big-time celebrities — Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jackie O — who ended up becoming a celeb in his own right. But that fame came at a price and the series delves into his personal struggles.
It’s not the first time Halston’s glamorous and tortured life has been given the cinematic treatment. (See: the 2019 doc Halston.) But the stylish Ryan Murphy-produced take on his life doesn’t shy away from his queerness or loneliness. Some might not love this version of him; Halston’s family has called it “inaccurate” and “fictionalised” and McGregor's casting has been the subject of controversy. But what Halston does show is that it can be very lonely at the top.
Still, Halston was a man all his own; this guy didn’t just have a way with fabric, he also had a way with words. He is known for the deliciously snobby motto: “You are only as good as the people you dress.” To capture it all, we're recapping the Netflix take on his life — including all the best celebrity sightings in the series. Get ready because this show is going to be a fashionably bumpy ride.
Episode 1: “Becoming Halston”
Even when he was growing up, in 1933, on a farm in Evansville, Indiana, Halston was a snappy dresser. Also quite creative, taking the feathers from the chicken coop and making a cloche for his dear old mum. By 1961, he had become first lady Jackie Kennedy’s hatmaker, designing her iconic pillbox. Unfortunately, seven years later, Haston went from saying “God bless Jackie Kennedy” to “Fuck Jackie Kennedy” after she decided to stop wearing hats so as not to crush her bouffant.
This intro offers a sense of how quick trends fade. It’s why Halston is so interested in re-branding himself to be more than the hat guy. He wants to be the guy who can do everything. To do that, Halston takes a page from Ralph Lifshitz (before he changed his surname to Lauren) and his Polo shirts and decides to play a little hardball. He wants to create a complete line of custom couture for Bergdorf Goodman. Unfortunately, the world isn’t that interested in his black and white mod dresses. “I was brilliant; they’re the dummies,” he says when he sells not one single dress.
Halston is all about that hustle, so he keeps trying to break the mould. But this isn’t a one-man operation, as the “putting together a team” montage shows us. He finds a muse in Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez, in a spot-on performance), who, like him, is trying to get out from behind the shadow of a powerful woman. She even compares his pillbox hat for Jackie O to her famous mum Judy Garland. They both need to break out on their own to be taken seriously as artists.
His other “merry misfits” include illustrator Joe Eula (David Pitta), model Elsa Peretti (Rebecca Dayan), and junior partner and director-to-be Joel Schumacher (Rory Culkin). For Halston, Schumacher presents a new way of dying his fabric, which would become the thing that helped him do something no one else is doing — his ultimate goal as a designer. (Halston’s commitment to getting Schumacher to quit doing speed is an interesting counter to his Miranda Priestly throwing down the cerulean gauntlet vibe in the studio.)
In the blink of an eye, Halston goes from designing a “prom dress for a martian” to flowy dresses that are the definition of “modern sensual.” These looks are somehow both billowy and tailored; the kind of stylish caftans we all might want to live in post-pandemic. But this line isn’t met with the fanfare he hoped for. Still, he knows all he needs is for some New York socialite to say "yes" to his clothes and he’ll hit the big time.
Halston talks a big game of knowing what it’s like to be on the outside looking in, which is why it’s sort of disheartening to see him give up his loner status to become one of the beautiful people. He throws on his soon-to-be signature black turtleneck, the bug-eyed sunglasses, and a bit of bronzer. He slicks back his hair to become a new character that might be better received by the NYC elite. He even cattily mocks Liza behind her back for being a little cheesy.
But when he finally gets a "yes" from socialite Babe Paley (Regina Schneider) it’s not because of those things, it’s because he created a new kind of fabric, Ultrasuede, a suede that won’t get ruined in the rain. “It’s sexy. It’s comfort. It’s freedom,” he says of his Ultrasuede dresses, which she wants in every colour.
“Orchids are part of my process.”
Jackie Kennedy is only seen in news footage from her husband John F. Kennedy’s inauguration day, but it’s clear the woman knew how to wear a hat.
Liza Minnelli, who gets her Star Is Born moment when we see her perform “Liza With A Z” in her “Buster Brown getup,” as Halston calls it. But that moment she sees herself in that red Halston halter gown lets you see what a style icon she was poised to become with a little help from a friend. It might be why she has never said a bad word about him.
Joel Schumacher, the late director of Batman & Robin who helps Halston find his signature style. In 2019, he told The Hollywood Reporter, “If you look at photographs of Halston, of his life, it might seem to people that maybe he was arrogant and full of himself. Well, we all have a touch of that. What I remember was, he was kind. He was one of the most loving, kindest friends I’ve ever had.”
Barbara "Babe" Paley, a New York City socialite and style icon whose second husband was William S. Paley, the founder of CBS. In 1958, she made the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
More to come.