Ryan Murphy’s fashion biopic Halston is fun but fragile
Produced by Ryan Murphy, king of the shiny, camp dramas – and now streaming dramas, with his $ 300 million Netflix contract – this story of the inevitable rise and fall of American fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick ( who insisted on being known only as Halston, taking the concept of branding to new heights) should be amazing.
Halston, played by Ewan McGregor (an unusual choice, although he plays him fabulously for the most part) was for a time one of America’s most influential designers. He dated movie stars, rock stars and Andy Warhol, one of his closest friends and muses was Liza Minnelli (played by Krysta Rodriguez) and he was a regular at Studio 54. He also indulged in to a very 1970/80 cocaine habit, organized gay orgies at his ultra-chic Manhattan townhouse – and never been without a bad mood. Ryan Murphy’s first material, then.
But despite Murphy’s usual attention to period detail with appealing locations and production design, the writing (by playwright Sharr White, and based on the biography of Steven Gaines Simply Halston,) falls flat, grazing this fabulous surface, leaving you wanting. Halston is a limited series of five episodes, but it seems both too short and too long; the behavior and ambition of the creator, the series suggests, stems from his unhappy childhood, but we are given very little flashback of it, and a flippant remark that his love of hat making had just “upped the spirits of her. mother”. In a later episode, when he designs a perfume, there’s a chance to explore its backstory, but again, we’re only given clues as to what shaped it.
Traveling the classic route of reinventing himself and moving to New York after a stint as a milliner in Chicago, Halston landed a job as a milliner at the Bergdorf Goodman department store and his break came when Jackie Kennedy wore the one from his casemate hats to the Presidential Inauguration in 1961; this is where the series opens, as he becomes a sought-after designer overnight.
The first episode spreads in its expansion into couture fashion (out of necessity as American women stop wearing hats) as it assembles a coterie of colleagues – poster and fashion illustrator Joe Eula (David Pittu), model and jeweler Elsa Peretti (Rebecca Dayan), who went on to become one of Tiffany’s top designers and, briefly, Joel Schumacher (a disappointing turn from Rory Culkin) who worked in the industry before becoming a director – and charmed women of the company to finance his workshop.
His next big break comes when he uses the ultra-suede fabric for a shirt dress that has become a blockbuster and before long he’s a household name, creating both ready-to-wear dresses for everyday women. and couture designs for everyone from Anjelica Huston to Elizabeth Taylor, her look helping to define the ’70s disco era, especially her iconic halter dress.
The fashion show montages and debauchery party scenes are slick and fun, but as Halston’s addiction spirals out of control and he alienates all of his friends, his lack of inner life makes it difficult to build sympathy. Even in what is described as his closest friendship, with Minnelli, this version of Halston never really opens up.