Undersized doc takes on '70s fashion giant Halston

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      A documentary by Frédéric Tcheng. Rated PG

      The designer known as Halston put a modern, American spin on the fashion world of the early 1970s, then still dominated by European couture.

      His easy-flowing fabrics, disarming in their simplicity, were a reaction to the “engineered clothes” of the period, according to the numerous colleagues interviewed here. It’s surprising, then, that this largely fascinating documentary is marred by some fussy details of the sort he would have disdained.

      Like composer Cole Porter, Roy Halston Frowick was a transplanted gay Midwesterner who came to represent the ultimate in urban refinement upon arrival in New York City (after a long stint in Chicago).

      Unlike tiny Porter, the tall, handsome man with one name went to the top as a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman, placing that famous pillbox hat on Jackie Kennedy’s head.

      When hats flew out of fashion, he launched his own line. From there his outsized fame, and consequent business problems, began.

      French writer-director Frédéric Tcheng draws on a trove of archival material, as well as a present-day coterie of Halston’s models, assistants, and celebrity pals, including Pat Cleveland, Marisa Berenson, and Liza Minnelli.

      They make the case that he had a keen instinct for liberating women’s fashions, and for using innovative materials, with Ultrasuede a particular marker for the pre-Reagan era.

      He could also be an insufferable control freak who bullied his minions into acting out his grand scenarios.

      “Everything had to be staged perfectly,” one cohort recalls, “including his social life.”

      A PR master to rival his art-world counterpart Andy Warhol, Halston was more careless with money, trusting the corporations that bought his brand to support his lavish lifestyle and creative freedom indefinitely. They didn’t, and the nights at Studio 54 took another kind of toll.

      For all the digging, Tcheng doesn’t get all that close to Halston, who died in 1990.

      For some reason, the filmmaker, who did fine docs on Dior and Diana Vreeland, gums up the works with a haphazard through line that finds a fictional “detective” rooting through his archives looking for clues—most of which are already out in the open.

       

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