Halston director Dan Minahan has infused his Netflix limited series with a lot of love. A massive fan of the designer, Minahan has been trying to bring the life of Halston to the screen for many years. He originally planned on a feature film, but the screen wasn’t big enough to contain the luxurious life of the man who created Jackie O’s iconic pillbox hat. When the rights to the Steven Gaines’ Simply Halston became available again, Minahan knew the time was right to honor Halston with a longer format.
“I originally developed this as a feature with Killer Films and we just felt that we couldn’t get the script to sing. In hindsight, it didn’t fit into a 90 minute story and it would become this cliched biopic in that format. It made sense as a limited series. I have worked in series for the last 15 or 20 years, particularly in limited and long format. I was confident that the story would have the scope that it needed. If it were a film, you could focus on one thing and it would do a disservice to the rest of it. It needed to be about this meteoric rise and then is ultimately stripped of his name.”
Halston was a genius, but sometimes he is not credited as such. Queer artists are sometimes demoted to the status of ‘fabulous friend’ or the character the heterosexual characters can learn a valuable life lesson from. Minahan’s Halston celebrates the designer’s flaws and depicts his sexuality and desires in a frank way. It’s a refreshing way for us to salute the queer brethren who gave us so much.
“The character of Halston—this sophisticated, florid, extravagant man—would be relegated to a supporting role. The best friend or the dying friend who imparts some incredible wisdom. As a main character, we get to explore him as he deserves. I don’t know why gay people have been represented that way until now. It’s changing as we historically explore what that means.”
Halston also depicts the AIDS epidemic raging through New York City. Author Fran Liebowitz always encouraged us to think of the gay men who might still be alive if they weren’t so violently snatched from us. New York City is still the epicenter for culture and art, but it could be even richer. And gayer. The world would be an even better place.
“All of these people who basically schooled her and brought her to the theater and brought her to the opera and taught her about culture have died. An entire generation of men. I see Halston as kind of an elder gay. In my time, he inspired me. I didn’t know him personally, I wondered what my life would be like as a gay man in New York. I looked up to him as a creative person. He was wealthy. He was famous. It’s interesting that Ewan had never heard of him because besides the fact that he was erased, he was part of the generation that went away in the AIDS crisis. When younger people come to me and tell me they’ve discovered him and they’ve been down a rabbit hole researching him. Working with Ewan on it was incredible because I got to share my twenty years of research with him. He then went on and did his own research and made Halston his own. His voice, as a Scottish man, was entirely different. We would read the scripts together, page by page, and I would hear what his Halston dialect would sound like. He would ask me how I might say certain things and we got to spend time together without pressure and the thing that just the thing that knocked me out was when he came to set and nailed his physicality. He’s an intense actor but he put everyone at ease. It was amazing to see.”
An important element to Halston is the intersection of art and commerce. Men in suits try to tell Halston (and all creatives) how to market their products or art or clothes when spreadsheets and reports don’t necessarily fit in the fashion world. Halston constantly bucked at the system even though they were helping him make money.
“There is a line that Bill Pullman says that I found in research. He’s so great, because he just throws it away. He says, ‘I think you see the writing on the wall.’ He was forcing his hand because the company wasn’t turning a profit. There’s a lot of theories as to why he did JCPenney, and maybe it doesn’t matter why. It changed the course of his career. By today’s standards, it’s not uncommon for people to do something like a diffusion line for H&M. What happened to him was that he lost all his prestige clients and his boutique stopped ordering his clothing. Movie stars stopped wearing his clothes except the very loyal. What makes it very universal is the idea of how much you’re willing to compromise your beliefs and your standards to get ahead and get what you want. Anyone who has worked in a job has had to compromise. You really feel for him because we’ve all this experience.”
Trying to select one favorite Halston piece is like picking a child. Do you pick a dress or a bottle of perfume? Every single piece that Halston created is elegant and elevates the owner’s home or closet. Minahan knew which of Halston’s pieces was his favorite.
“There is one piece that Jeriana San Juan, our costumer, collaborated with Naeem Khan. He was Halston’s protégé and his family did all the beading for Halston. Krysta Rodriguez wears this purple, beaded jumpsuits when she collapses. I’ve seen Liza wearing it at Carnegie Hall. It’s the benchmark. It’s such a beautiful thing.”
Halston wanted to create things of beauty and sophistication. There is a simplicity to his designs that not a lot of other designers come close to, but Minahan clearly loves the designer and his work. When you admire something or someone so much it’s hard to get a firm grasp on the subject but Minahan avoids falling into that trap. His Halston embraces the tragedy of the designer’s life but revels in the sex and decadence. Minahan demands that Halston receives the recognition he deserves. The series has a beautiful beating heart and Minahan guides the ship with aplomb.
Halston is streaming on Netflix.