It seems that in order to be a celebrated fashion designer, you’ve got to be eccentric. We’ve got Vivienne Westwood and her orange bed hair glamour, there was Karl Largerfield and his villain-esque relationship with his white cat, Choupette, and Donatella Versace with her face as taught as the leather handbags she designs. But one of these louder than leopard print figures that managed to slip the net of our collective minds is the height of camp, Halston. Thankfully Ryan Murphy and Netflix are on hand to right this wrong, in a fun and trashy telly series.
And there’s plenty of material to go at. As much as he is celebrated for the pillbox hat Jackie-O wore, and his clean, minimalist designs made in high quality fabrics, Halston is also known for his coke-snorting, money blowing, promiscuous lifestyle, surrounded by orchids and rent boys. So who better to play him that Ewan McGregor…? We weren’t quite sure on that casting choice either.
That aside, though, this series is a fun period piece. Set in the 1970s drugs, shagging and outrageous behaviour abounds (which is likely why Halston’s family have already made their thoughts known, calling it “inaccurate”). We watch as he builds his fashion house from the ground up, immersed in the glamorous excess of the Studio 54 celebrity circle. We get a good chunk of airtime with Halston’s best friend, Liza Minnelli, superbly played by Krysta Rodriguez, and when they are together we see a new side to the designer. And ultimately, this is a sympathetic portrait of his career – yes he was wild and eccentric, but he was also a creative genius and an icon of women’s fashion.
The series could have gone deeper into his character and his life before fame, as there does seem to be a lack of emotional depth to the story. This means that the more moving parts, such as the garment creations, or his HIV diagnosis, don’t quite carry as much emotional weight as they should. But it’s still a good, easy watch, and it looks as expensive as its subject’s home, which was famously grand and ridiculous. We just can’t help but wish they’d hammed it up even further, but we imagine Halston’s rellies are glad they didn’t…
Reviews for Halston have been fairly middling, with The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson saying “this entertaining and often very funny drama” is “only five episodes long, but it takes time to earn viewers’ sympathy for the main character, and it isn’t until the last two episodes that it really gets under his skin.” And in The Independent Kevin E G Perry agrees, saying “for all the sex and drugs that surrounds it, the story itself ends up feeling somewhat sanitised. Like one of its titular character’s own designs, Halston is clean, sleek and beautiful to look at – but you might find yourself wishing it was a little messier around the edges.” The Telegraph’s Anita Singh found it slightly unsatisfying too, believing that it “could have been so much more… Halston could have been a luxury product, but it feels more like fast fashion.”
First shown May 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.