Netflix limited series ‘Halston’ follows the life of the most celebrated American fashion designer of 1970s and ’80s, Roy Halston Frowick, who owned the designer label Halston.
Originally from Indiana, he launched his fashion empire in New York and his label became synonymous with luxury, status and fame all over the world. The series revolves around his journey to success and, then, his fight for the rights to his own name.
Halston, played by Ewan McGregor, has a difficult childhood with an abusive father who often deprecates him for being effeminate. He adores his mother and, often, designs hats to cheer her up. She knows he is meant for big things.
He starts out into the big world of fashion as a hat designer and becomes an overnight success when Jackie Kennedy wears his pillbox hat for JF Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.
He reinvents himself and teams up with design illustrator Joe Eula, model and jewellery designer Elsa Peretti, and his friend and inspiration Liza Minnelli to create his own signature look.
His designs are popular and fast-selling, however, he is broke and is not able to cope up with demand.
Halston participates in a fashion fundraiser at the Palace of Versailles and catapults to unprecedented fame alongside big names like Calvin Klein and Bill Blass.
When David Mahony of Norton Simon Industries pitches for Halston, he signs a fateful business deal with a promise that he “will never be unappreciated, unprotected or underfunded, or left to feel unsafe”.
He starts creating a range of aesthetics, which go on to become a phenomenon in New York and its enduring fashion scene. Whatever he lays hands on, gathers success.
Old insecurities plague Halston, but, he finds a lover and companion in Victor Hugo, a charismatic escort and artist.
Victor, however, turns out to be a demanding and controlling presence. Halston’s insecurities soon return and when Liza is married, he is scared of losing his muse.
Plenty of time is devoted to hedonistic partying at Studio 54 in between business meetings and work. With nights of excess and days fuelled by cocaine, he does not realize the business slipping out of his hands.
A hostile takeover of Simon Norton by Esmark Corporation leaves Halston to battle for control of his most precious Halston name. He works under hawk-eyed managing director Carl Epstein and his designs are not taken well, but he remains in a denial mode.
His expenses go out of the roof with his jet-setting adventures with friends, his love for orchids and cocaine. Liza falls sick and checks into rehab. Studio 54 closes down after a police raid.
‘Halston’ ending explained in detail:
In the penultimate episode, Halston’s cocaine habit spirals out of control leaving him with ruptured friendships. He has the most upsetting fallout with both Elsa and Joe, who leave. Already reeling, he then has a fight with Victor who threatens to make his private life public, if he doesn’t give him a million dollars.
At work, he faces stiff competition and is frustrated with repeated proposals of licensing deals to feed the much needed money into the brand.
As his travails mount, he starts snorting cocaine all the time, gets up at three in the afternoon, arrives in the office at 6, has a light supper with friends, tells staff to secure as he is not feeling inspired.
Esmark takes note and force hires designer John David Ridge to help him push through the deadlines. When Ridge overrides him, he is mad. Nothing shakes him as much as Ridge’s answer: “You are the most talented man I have ever met, and you are throwing it all away.”
But why is he throwing it all away? Is it because of his insecurities? The series fails to explain that.
A bitter deal
His cocaine use extends to his office hours in Midtown’s Olympic tower and his carelessness during a restructuring deal with his managing company tips scales in their favour.
A conversation with his lawyer Nick reveals that he has given away all his leverage and sold his name in a deal hundred times worse than the one initially offered to him. Though he is permitted to design, he cannot use his name anymore even for his own creations. This is a huge setback for him.
A slanderous news story about his male hookers makes headlines, calling him “A spirited drug user at the designer Studio 56”. Liza reprimands him for having trusted Victor blindly. He feels insecure and exposed but refuses to relent.
Victor’s constant threats about selling their personal tapes to ‘People’ magazine bother him and he finally pays him off.
His mother’s death is traumatic for him. The biggest jolt is yet to come. He tests positive for AIDS, though he revs up his PR to keep it secret.
Victor tries to make a return by offering him to start all over again. Halston, who is disillusioned by now, though admits that he loved him truly once, refuses.
Halston proves he is a true fashion icon yet again, when he designs costumes for Martha Graham for her dance academy performance of Greek myth Persephone at the City Centre, New York. His creations are inspired by his own thoughts about immortality while dealing with his own falling health during this time.
He has a sweet reunion with his former illustrator Joe on his way to the performance. Both reminisce about old times and Halston for the first time admits, “I never did anything on my own Joe. I always had you”.
He also confides about his failure to keep his brand name with him and for selling it “cheap” and that he “will have to spend twice as much to get it back”.
Persephone is a great success, but, it is his designs that steal the show. He is as usual insecure about the reviews but is paid glowing tributes calling the show as “a high point of a long and illustrious career.”
At a thanksgiving dinner with Liza, he reveals that he has found peace after Victor’s betrayal and that he plans to move to San Francisco.
He spends the next eighteen months going up and down the coast looking at the blue sea. He reminisces how years ago, whenever he looked at that blue, his mind raced to use that hue for a collection, about its cover and a fall opening; but, now it only makes him think about what a pretty blue it is.
The artist in him is, perhaps, satiated with the journey and no more aspirations beckon.
The episode ends with him in his Limousine with flashes of images, going as far back as the studio where he created his first designs, to the ‘Battle of Designs’- a defining moment in his career, to the great finale at the City Centre, New York.