How Halston Re-creates the Disco-Era Glamour of New York

Halston (played by Ewan McGregor) hosts a fashion show in the Olympic Tower.

Ewan McGregor plays fashion designer Halston in Ryan Murphy’s five-part limited series, which hits Netflix on May 14. Halston was, from the 1960s to the 1980s (he died in 1990) as famous as many movie stars and as chic as almost anyone. At the height of Halston’s fame and influence in the 1970s, he was besties with Liza Minnelli and a regular at Studio 54, and he ran his business from an all-red double-height desk, recessed into glass and mirrors in the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue. The spectacular view to the south was the spiers of St. Patrick’s Cathedral across the street.

Halston, whose full name was Roy Halston Frowick, was born in Iowa and raised in Indiana. He arrived in New York in 1957 and found work with the Lilly Daché milliner before becoming head milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wore one of her pillbox hats at the inauguration. He opened his own store on Madison Avenue in 1968 and launched a ready-to-wear collection in 69. Among his innovations: Ultrasuede, the wrap dress, kaftans, the bias cut, and other essentials of American fashion. Her famous clients included Babe Paley, Elizabeth Taylor, and Martha Graham.

What a Halston show looked like in the 1970s.
Photo: John McDonnell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

In order to ensure stable cash flow, he sold the rights to the Halston name to a businessman whose ubiquitous licensing deals with JCPenney ultimately undermined the brand’s glamor. On the flip side, that meant he could afford to live in a shady townhouse designed by cutting-edge architect Paul Rudolph on East 63rd Street and buy a resort in Montauk to move the party into summer.

One of the challenges of the series was to lavishly conjure up Halston’s lost New York, with its glamor and seed, convincingly and on a miniseries budget. I spoke with show production designer Mark Ricker, who this year was nominated for an Oscar for Ma Rainey’s black background.

The whole of Halston’s penthouse apartment, before his personal style evolved into something more minimalist.

I had always associated Halston with this very chic modernism. And yet, at the start of the show, he lives in a somewhat conventional pre-war apartment that doesn’t resemble the minimalist aesthetic he’s famous for.

I never saw the actual apartment so it was a guess based on photos and then what the script called and we tinkered it all together… You know it’s funny it was a legacy setting from another television show; it just happened to be there.

We see the apartment through three iterations, which was also fun. We changed all the devices at some point. The bed came down to the floor… that was just as he was starting to develop his style.

Who shopped for full details of the period?

Cherish Hale, the set designer, and she had the decor team and a fabulous assistant, Carol Nast, then a buying team, and they kind of broke it down, and we’re doing it all at the same time … I mean, we ordered the Lucite chairs from China for the fashion show at the Olympic tower from the start… We knew this was going to be a project and luckily before the pandemic hit, or we never would. had, but you try to look at the big picture and think about it, What’s gonna take a long time, what do we need to land on, then simultaneously all the time shopping and waiting for scripts too …

The set of Halston’s first showroom.
Photo: Netflix

He called his friend [interior designer] Angelo Donghia will set up this fabulous harem tent [in his early showroom, above]. He was borrowing things from the apartment for there. In the first episode, those elements and details aligned. It was so fantastic to discover this aesthetic Halston had before stripping down to minimalism. He was a completely different Halston.

Where were the scenes of Paris and Versailles filmed?

We started out talking about going to Paris and doing the right thing there, but the budget was keeping us from doing it, so it was another whole, you know, building Versailles in Jersey City. and Yonkers. [laughing] was a project.

Who was Studio 54’s replacement?

Elsa Peretti (played by Rebecca Dayan) dances with Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez) at Studio 54.

We were going to shoot on the real Studio 54, the exterior and that famous mirrored lobby, but we lost that opportunity when the pandemic hit because the theaters were closed… and they didn’t allow us to do that. So anyway, we landed in the Hammerstein Ballroom for the interior, which is West 34th Street, and Amanda Burbank, my location manager, found out she had the right structure with the balconies and the stairs and the places … The whole hall that we just created … we just tried to reduce the space with a lot of these Mylar curtains, and get the scale of the famous gold bar and from the DJ booth, then of course the neon and the light columns with the flashing bulbs, and of course the silver sofas with the tubular cushions.

Tell me about the entire Olympic tower.

The view north into the Olympic Tower Showroom which has doubled as the location for Halston’s fashion shows.

We built it on Stage 10 which was in Brooklyn at Broadway Stages, a great soundstage that we basically filled. It took a while because looking at the pictures of Halston’s office, [it] was impossible to figure out what was really going on here because of all the mirrors – every photo was as if you were looking through a kaleidoscope. So I went into the real building, first right on the street, then finally we entered the real building also on the ground, and that’s where we shot the backdrops; I had architectural plans, then Chris Royer, who was one of the “Halstonettes” (a term coined by Andre Leon Talley for Halston’s favorite models), drew the ground plans, and really directed where things were. .

Halston Red Office, overlooking Patrick Street

How did you recreate the view of the downtown 1970s skyline from the windows?

We photographed the view from each direction. The company that made [the backdrop] really did a brilliant job of photoshopping, replacing the whole downtown area as the Pan Am building you can’t see anymore it’s blocked off by newer buildings. We put the twin towers back in place. We erased the Trump Tower. The key was that we erased the two St. Patrick’s Day arrows from the photographs. We built them in 3-D, which means these arrows move relative to each other. If we hadn’t done this I think it would all have been betrayed. It would have looked like a flat bottom. My assistant artistic director, Marie Wagner, was brilliant at figuring out all of this, and all of the sculpture and all of that. Honestly, as good as the sets might be, no matter how many orchids or the red furniture, if you didn’t believe the city then I think it would’ve been all betrayed. So we put a lot of work into the panoramas.

Let’s talk about the set for its Paul Rudolph– designed house.

A 1970s archival photo of Halston in the living room of his townhouse designed by Paul Rudolph. Elsa Peretti is standing against the wall.
Photo: Deborah Turbeville / Conde Nast / Shutterstock

I have to say when I signed up for this position I thought we would shoot the real townhouse because it had been around for years as an event space and you could rent it out, and I think things had filmed there. And for some reason we couldn’t shoot there, so I just assumed we would build the whole set because it’s so iconic and so specific. But then there was no space and we didn’t have the budget to build it, and the chase started trying to figure out how to do that? I mean, quite honestly I was a little clueless about it all and then one of our scouts found a house in Red Hook and I looked at the pictures of it and thought we could enter it, we could understand. . If you had to see the location before doing it, it looked a lot different. We built platforms and we created the living room below, we built all of the fireplace, fireplace and floating staircase, and we covered their existing kitchen. For the photography and drama of the film, it really worked. I know people who know the house so well will know this is an interpretation of it, but I think we did well.

The whole of the Paul Rudolph house.

But I will also say that the Rudolph house was a whole conversation in terms of lighting because Halston didn’t have any lamps, you know, when you look at all the pictures of this place, there aren’t, how we let’s call it, “practices” – a practical lamp that serves as a source of light, so this is one of the reasons we chose to leave the windows open on either side of the fireplace, as this was simply allowing light in. natural to enter there, then I really pushed the idea of ​​the architectural lighting that was there; there was like a column of fluorescent light that is in the fireplace, then a horizontal column that runs the full length behind the sofa, then we really talked about what lamps can we have here that will not deflect the attention to the iconic notion of the fact that there was none, so we talk and we collaborate and we kind of push and we pull and finally we just hope to find the right thing.

Joe Eula (played by David Pittu), with Victor Hugo on the ground, in the Montauk house.

No, we didn’t. We went to the complex very early in production because I was aware of it; I knew Mickey Drexler owned it for a long time because I worked at J.Crew. I found the new owner and they made us welcome there and for a while I thought we were going to be able to shoot there. But, since we didn’t shoot this before COVID, and they were selling the house again, we had to recreate it. This place we filmed in was just a series of houses in Locust Valley, Long Island, on the Sound, so what they did was they erased Connecticut in the visuals. . We just created this whole place and we have it in mind. It was a little frustrating for me because I had been in the real place and it is so majestic and so beautiful, but I think what we achieved was good.

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