CHENNAI: A five-episode Netflix series, “Halston” touches on the many facets of the largely forgotten American designer’s work and life. It is a vice-fueled romp, focusing on the ups and downs of the designer who shot to fame in the late 1960s and faded into obscurity due to bad business decisions and a horrifying approach to his finances.
Played by Ewan McGregor who steals the show, very little of Halston’s childhood is explored and in this sense it is a little disappointing. What we know from the episodes here was that he had a mercurial temper and an ego to be reckoned with — more of a focus on Halston’s early years in Indiana would have been illuminating in understanding these character traits but we only see snippets of a dysfunctional home life.
Drugs and alcohol, as well as his muses, including Liza Minelli (wonderfully played by Krysta Rodriguez) and Elsa Peretti (a brilliant Rebecca Dayan) kept him afloat during the peak of his fame, and this is essayed in painful detail, including his own failure at finding love.
Helmed by Daniel Minahan, the series begins with Jacquline Kennedy wearing a Halston pillbox hat on the day of her husband’s presidential inauguration. Halston rose quickly to fame, but suffered financial losses and was forced to reinvent himself as a gown guru when the taste-making first lady ended her love affair with headpieces and American women followed suit.
Based on Stephen Gaines’ biography, “Halston” explores the way this masterly artist shaped silk and satin into some of the world’s finest designs at the time, dressing up leading ladies of the day in an exquisite manner.
Halston was America’s answer to French haute couture, and watching this story unfold on screen is visually enjoyable, but also a cautionary tale about the destructive power of addiction, including his bizarre and incredibly expensive obsession with orchids.
The series is a standard biopic, which like many others of its ilk wades through delight and disaster. And disaster comes when the star is talked into becoming a label for the humdrum department store J.C. Penny. It was a lucrative step but one that triggered his descent into nothingness.
Ultimately, it is a story about the friction between art versus commerce, as we see the designer’s name sullied by the many brand deals he signs off on. This focus on the business of Halston’s empire comes at the cost of getting to grips with his character and motivations, however, and it is something that could have been explored much more.