The five-episode series shows how Roy Halston Frowick helped place American fashion on the map, but his relatives are not too happy with how the narrative went.
Fashion is an aesthetic and glamour-driven industry, one hinged on having people look their best. And so when it comes to Hollywood depicting the lives of fashion designers, the industry’s architects, the aesthetic matters. Sometimes even more than the narrative’s accuracy.
Halston, Netflix’s limited series, tells the story of famed American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, who is played by Ewan McGregor. When the designer created his first ready-to-wear collection in 1966, he created pieces out of luxury materials for everyday wear, which was considered a game changer.
In the drama, he exhibited trench dresses made of Ultrasuede, describing them as versatile pieces you can wear to your kid’s school drop-off or a night of drinks.
At the height of his career in the 1970s, Roy partied in Studio 54 with many of the women he dressed. The New York nightclub regulars such as Betty Ford, Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger, and Liza Minelli were some of the late designer’s glitterati muses.
Halston means to chronicle the story of the designer, from how he built his fashion empire to his eventual fall to drug abuse. It shows his addiction developing in the nightclub environment and extending to his everyday life. Unfortunately, the designer tested positive for HIV in 1990, and he died of Kaposi’s sarcoma, an AIDS-defining illness, in 1988.
Family members of the late designer, however, argue that the series doesn’t reflect the true spirit of the designer.
Contrasting the biopic placing the designer’s nightlife at the forefront of the narrative, his niece Lesley Frowick insisted to WWD that he was married to his craft instead of being a constant partier. In addition, she says that Roy merely utilized the star-studded Studio 54 scene to promote his brand.
Lesley says that creator Ryan Murphy chose to highlight the designer’s domineering personality and drug-fueled nights.
In reality, Lesley says the designer’s work ethic was streamlined. When his brand became global, corporate meetings would eat up the designer’s days.
Roy could only start designing in the wee hours, and he did. The production approached people from the “quote-unquote” inner circle for research, but the family doesn’t know who they are. “They did not approach us at all, so this is, in fact, an unauthorized series about my uncle’s life and touching on fiction, I guess. Salacious things sell,” she says.
Lesley wants to point out all of her uncle’s real impacts in the fashion world. ”Helping to put American fashion on the map, his marketing abilities, worldwide travels that included a stop in China before it was open to Western visitors and his involvement with the Battle of Versailles,” she lists down.
His Real Legacy
The Battle of Versailles is the brainchild of Eleanor Lambert, the legendary fashion publicist who birthed New York Fashion Week and the Met Gala.
The November 1973 event became possible when Palace of Versailles curator Gerald Van der Kemp was seeking funds to restore the French historical landmark. Lambert jumped at the opportunity to launch the fashion fundraiser, enlisting French and American designers to showcase 24-piece collections.
At the time, only French fashion houses were deemed relevant in the industry; they were considered the courtiers and the trendsetters. On one corner were Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior, Marc Bohan, and Emanuele Ungaro pitted against the Americans, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, and Roy.
According to critics, ultimately, the Americans won. The French displayed an ode to their historical roots and traditions, which was deemed monotonous, while the Americans put on a Broadway spectacle.
Roy’s thought of tapping Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez) to perform in the show. She was not only his muse but also the designer’s best friend. Minnelli put on an electric performance, and lit up the palace. The series also showed Minnelli as being Roy’s most constant ally.
The next day’s headline for Women’s Wear Daily read, “Americans came, they sewed, they conquered.” And since then, the US native designers have put on American fashion the map. Roy’s Battle collection, in particular, provided the vibrant energy the 70s called for: liberated femininity in the course of a disco era.
Despite his family’s distaste of Netflix’s depiction of their designer relatives’ life, Halston was able to capture the designer as a fashion game changer. With all these considered, the five-episode series conveys that the higher you rise, the harder you fall.
Halston is now available for streaming on Netflix.
Banner photo from Halston’s Official Instagram page.