Thursday, August 18, 2022
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    Halston: Why Is It So Hard To Make a Good Fashion Film?


    The final and fifth episode of Halston, the new Netflix miniseries starring Ewan McGregor as the mononymous designer, is named for the fashion designer’s feared adversary: “Critics.” The finale takes place after Halston’s interest in orgies and cocaine binges, and a perilous licensing agreement, have overtaken his life. The designer asks his last gal standing, a secretary named Sassy who is mostly charged with procuring cocaine for the office, to read him the reviews of his latest collection, a low-priced iteration of his wares for mall retailer JC Penney. Spoiler alert: they’re bad. Embittered and tearful, he proclaims, “Reviews don’t matter.”

    This is true, actually, on the occasions when consumer desire overrides a critic’s ire, but Halston is near tears because he knows the reviews are right. And Halston is currently in Netflix’s Top 10 streamed programs on the homepage. That leaves the question: is Halston, the series, good? The casting—the film’s own entourage of Halstonettes, if you will—is terrific: McGregor stalking around in ever-longer coats; Bill Pullman as a pushy then greedy backer; Kelly Bishop as a foul-mouthed Eleanor Lambert, creator of the International Best-Dressed List and New York Fashion Week, calling the French fashion establishment “motherfuckers.” You’ll love Victor Hugo, Warhol hanger-on with the perfect mustache. Villains with mustaches—don’t see those very much anymore!

    Ewan McGregor as Halston.

    ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/NETFLIX

    And aside from the casting, Halston gets one crucial thing right: the costumes, by Jeriana San Juan. I smiled at the savage stiffness of grand dame Babe Paley’s hair; the out-of-date leopard suit on Halston’s first backer, illustrating why women like her needed a man like him; Elsa Peretti with her bone cuffs and caftans; and of course, the man of the five-plus hours in his turtlenecks and shield sunglasses. (You can see how and why Tom Ford was taking notes.) The best scenes are of Halston snipping a piece of fabric with savant simplicity and shaping it on the body, and of dresses twirling and moving down a runway, though of course that’s just the beginning of life in Dress Years.

    But how the dresses changed women’s lives—their raison d’etre, in Halston’s world—isn’t seen. A Ryan Murphy production, the show sets out to portray the life and influence of Halston, the American designer who, after finding fame as the designer of Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat, launched his own brand of American clothes that blended the ease and wearability of sportswear with the taste and culture of couture. The miniseries format mostly means that little is spared—we see things even a generous biopic would admit, like his forgotten first and failed attempt at couture, and Halston begging the filmmaker Joel Schumacher to get sober. With its didactic structure and dialogue—early on, there’s a strange rehashing early of Ralph Lauren hawking his wide ties—the series is emblematic of a mass camp that seems to have taken over film and especially television. The sly wink has become the overly articulated one, the secret language has become a string of cliches. (If writing about camp is to betray it, then Murphy’s oeuvre amounts to camp treason.) There is nothing secret or sensual about the series—qualities that defined Halston’s work.



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