Designer Diaries – Halston and Princess Grace

Note: It’s hard to determine who designed what for Grace back in the day. The photos in this post are the closest I could identify with Halston, all from Italian and French publications. There are lots of references to her friendship with him, and the fact that she did wear his designs, but not so many photos. If anyone can come up with anything new, please post it in the comments! Also feel free to post any and all Halston designs.

Born Roy Halston Frowick, for most of his career he was known simply as Halston. He was raised in Des Moines, Iowa, by a Norwegian immigrant father and homemaker mother. He always had a passion for fashion, and began designing clothes and hats for his mother and sister when he was a boy.

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When his family moved to Chicago in 1952, Halston began working as a fashion merchandiser at Caron Pirie Scott and taking night courses at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1957, the Chicago Daily News featured him in a story about his hat designs. He seized the day, dropped the Roy and the Frowick, and became “Halston”. He moved to New York CIty as a designer, and eventually became the head milliner at the Bergdorf Goodman, the store’s first designer to have his name placed in the hats he created.

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In 1961, Halston emerged on the international stage when he was commissioned to design a hat for the new First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, for the inauguration. The famous pill box hat cemented his reputation as a modern American designer.

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As hats became less fashionable in the mid-sixties, Halston turned to clothing design. He felt women deserved clothes that were both beautiful and functional, and he often designed directly on his in house models. His couture featured the pantsuit, the halter dress, and the ultrasuede caftan. He was commissioned to create uniforms for Braniff Airways flight attendants, and eventally designed the soft interiors in the planes, including the seart covers. The campaign was called“Ultra Touch”, in a nod to his famous Ultrasuede designs.

In the seventies, Princess Grace was a mother of three, a Princess, and a fashion icon looking for mature and sophisticated clothes. She needed to remain modest, and wanted dresses that were less constricting than the styles of her fifties Hollywood years. Halstons modern designs were just the ticket. The designer, who had retained his midwestern American openess, was a favorite of the Princess. Maybe he reminded her of home or maybe she just liked his work, but she was seen wearing his clothes frequently during the decade.

Italian Vogue
Point de Vue

Halston even convinced Grace to pose for his brand, and she appeared in one of his red caftans, modified from one of his runway designs.

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Halston was obsessed with detail. His cutting technique was a thing of beauty, and he labored over the finishing on his designs. He was so devoted to streamlined simplicity that only the very necessary buttons and zippers cluttered up his collections.

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Halston was a highly social person, and Grace was hardly his only high profile customer. He numbered many friends among the rich and famous. Well-known as a stylist as well as designer; he streamlined Liz and sequined Liza. He was a fixture at Studio 54 throughout the seventies (don’t Google the photos if you have delicate sensibilities – it was seventies nightlife with all its attendant debaucheries).

Due to a series of commercial miscalculations, his business eventually faltered. He was diagnosed with AIDs in the late eighties, and sadly passed away in 1990 at the age of 57. That is too somber a note to end this post on, for Halston was a bright light in the design world, perhaps the best designer the U.S. has ever seen. He was the quintessential self-made man, molding himself and a fashion legacy from modest beginnings to world wide success. It seems fitting that he merged his talent with the star power of the American born princess for a sophisticated run through the seventies.