Roy Halston Frowick, better known simply as Halston, fashion designer and king of Studio 54, once said that "you’re only as good as the people you dress". This is perhaps even more true in today’s celebrity-obsessed fashion industry than it was in Halston’s heyday, when the people he dressed included Jackie O, Bianca Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and Anjelica Huston.
So it was probably a good omen that Liza Minnelli, another of Halston’s original fans, was in the front row yesterday as the Halston label, now backed by the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the Jimmy Choo founder and president Tamara Mellon, returned to the New York catwalk.
Marco Zanini, the designer appointed by Halston’s new owners, is no stranger to glamor, having been headhunted from Milan where he spent the last eight years as Donatella Versace’s second-in-command.
Zanini is the sixth designer to have been given the task of bringing Halston back to life: by the time he died in 1990, Roy Halston Frowick had long since sold the rights to his name. But none of Zanini’s five predecessors have succeeded in living up to the name and Mellon, a fan of vintage Halston, is gambling on a belief that the recognition and respect which the Halston name already enjoys suggests potential to create a luxury brand. Mellon and Weinstein are thought to have paid around $22m to buy the Halston name.
Halston’s original success was in being at the forefront of a defining moment in style. In the early 1970s, his clean, unadulterated lines, free of unnecessary seaming and embellishment, cut a glamorous swath through a world growing bored with patchwork, beading and tiered skirts. That kind of fashion moment is impossible to reproduce, but what Zanini, Weinstein et al are hoping to recapture is the spirit the brand came to personify: cool, urban, glamorous and decadent.
Zanini’s new Halston may come as a surprise to those who associate Studio 54 with disco balls and Lurex. Evening wear was simple and sculptural, in floor length draped jersey with bare shoulders or a low cowl neck; high-waisted trousers and crepe-de-chine blouses for day were demure and elegant. Minnelli proclaimed it "wonderful, sensual, and chic".
Just one day after the show, two of the outfits – including a teal blue shirt dress which brings back to life the spirit of Halston’s 1972 classic Ultrasuede shirt dress – are available to buy today on Net-a-Porter.com, a full six months from the time any of the other outfits in the show, or indeed any of the other outfits at New York fashion week, will go on sale.
In the world of designer fashion, which still operates on a six-month time-lag between catwalk and store, this is a groundbreaking move. It is the first attempt by a designer label to combat a serious problem faced by the designer clothing industry: high street labels have recently become able to sell cheaper versions of the trends launched on designer catwalks during the six-month gap between the catwalk show and the designer collection going on sale. In effect, a designer can start a trend, only to find that by the time the real thing hits stores, the high street has milked the look for all it is worth.
The decision by Net-a-Porter to invest in the brand before it even hits the runway also shows the high hopes retailers have for the new Halston. Natalie Massanet of Net-a-Porter describes Halston as "a truly iconic American fashion brand. This is one of the most exciting fashion relaunches in the last decade".