The most important costumes of ‘Halston’ are the turtlenecks
Photo: Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images
There’s a scene about two-thirds of the way from the first episode of Netflix’s new miniseries. Halston in which the American fashion designer, played by Ewan McGregor, discovers his signature style. Babe Paley, New York’s hottest socialite, has just shown interest in his work, and it’s time to get serious. He goes home to his apartment, looks at himself for a long time in the mirror and decides to straighten his hair. Then he takes a cigarette break. (Take a break to listen to some dramatic music.) And, finally, it brings out the piece de resistance: a black turtleneck.
It is a baptism of cashmere. When Halston peeks under the thick black collar of the sweater, he’s a new man. His lover at the time, Ed Austin, noticed him. “In recent weeks, I haven’t seen you smile,” he says. “You dress differently. You speak differently, for god’s sake… ”Halston pushes him away. If he’s a choice between Ed and the black turtlenecks, he clearly chooses the turtlenecks.
Halston was neither the first nor the last person to use the black turtleneck as part of a costume. I can think of at least one other prominent businessman who not only walked around in a signature uniform, but also changed his voice to make investors take her more seriously. Over the years, the garment has come to represent a certain level of “creative genius”. Before Steve Jobs brought turtlenecks to Silicon Valley, Andy Warhol wore them to Studio 54 alongside Halston. Now, that’s a bit of a cliché – or a meme, if we’re talking about Drake.
Ewan McGregor in Halston on Netflix.
Photo: ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA / NETFLIX / ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA / NETFLIX
Of course, there are practical reasons to make black turtlenecks your uniform. Model Pat Cleveland – a member of the “Halstonettes” – remembers looking in Halston’s wardrobe before a party and finding something like a black hole. “He opened his closet, and he said, ‘This is what I have,’” she told the Cup. “And you know what he had in there?” The same outfit, boom, boom, boom. And then a red jacket. “It’s my uniform,” he said. ‘So I don’t have to think about what to put on.’ ‘
Cleveland also revealed that like the late and great Nora Ephron, Halston may have felt bad about her neck as well. “Sometimes he was very insecure,” she said. “I remember one time in Hollywood, he was getting dressed and I was there, and he was just standing there looking at himself in the mirror. He said, “My neck is too long. And I said, ‘Are you kidding? You are beautiful.’ But he said, “No, my neck is too long. That’s why he wore a turtleneck.
As a man obsessed with status, beauty, and luxury, it’s no surprise that Halston was drawn to a super soft garment with magical flattering powers. In his biography, Simply Halston, author Steven Gaines describes seeing the fashion designer for the first time. “So tall and thin in his black cashmere turtleneck and sports jacket that it looked like a giant, stern, definitive exclamation mark,” he wrote. (He also reported that in the last years of his life, as Halston struggled with a cocaine addiction, his black turtleneck provided a sad backdrop for the white powder escaping his nose.)
Whatever his reasons for wearing it, Halston’s signature look has likely influenced others to wear it. “He started the whole thing of wearing black on trend,” Cleveland said. Liza Minnelli, a close friend of Halston, was even pictured wearing a black turtleneck and Elsa Peretti Bone Cuff bracelet on the blanket of new York Magazine in 1997.
“He was really a brand genius, and he only wore his own clothes,” says Halston costume designer Jeriana San Juan. For the show, she managed to track down the designer’s in-house tailor, Gino Balsamo, who reportedly adjusted all of his black turtlenecks in addition to his pants, coats and other personal wardrobe pieces. To create the same effect for McGregor, San Juan also adapted almost all of his costumes. “I did just about every piece he wears during the show, even the black turtlenecks,” she said. “I found one that flattered him really well, then the same one for another’s neck, so I had them knitted together.
This attention to detail – to the cut and fit of a garment, and how it falls and feels on the body – is ultimately what made a Halston a “Halston”. Unlike the Warhols and Jobs and Elizabeth Holmes of the world, the designer’s black turtlenecks symbolized something more decadent, more hedonistic. It was almost like instead of saying, “Look at me and how serious I am,” he was inviting you to enjoy it. And, of course, if you wore her clothes, to enjoy life.