"YOU ARE only as good as the people you dress," said the late great Halston.
•ON THIS Valentine's Day, coming as it does at the end of Fashion Week in snow-blind New York, here is a memory of fashion giant Halston. Not all sweet, but real memories seldom are.
• Halston at the height of his grandeur in the days just before Studio 54 changed the social life of New York at night. My good friend in the mid Sixties was a tall drink of water named Joel Schumacher. He was a window designer for my pal Geraldine Stutz who ran the elegant store Henri Bendel. This swept me into what fashionistas call "The Youthquake" and I was amused when Joel, too, became a fashion designer. (He won the Donald Brooks Award and other kudos. However, fashion bored him and eventually he went to Hollywood and became a famous movie director.) But before that, Joel and I shared an East 60's apartment and I became a tangential part of his fashion crowd, the new ITAL Jeunesse Dorée ITAL as the French call it.
In this group was Halston, ever rising, ever in demand; taller, better looking than anyone else with clean-cut Midwest looks, and a soigné disregard for the riff raff swirling around him. He was always pointedly kind to me, because of Joel. They would take me to Harlem discos and it was like being escorted between two White Russian aristocrats. They were whisking and diving on the dance floor with me between them -- sexy, funny, wearing gorgeous boots and being arrogant and out to shock. They were heavily into sex, drugs rock'n'roll, but I was oblivious to all that stuff. So they kindly kept me out of most of it. They were the actors; I was their audience.
It was an interesting scene. I was an interested observer. We thought we knew everybody who was anybody, from Diana Vreeland, the power that was Vogue, to people slaving on 7th Avenue and sewing with a hot needle. We carefully followed the In and Out lists in the magazines. This led to the Joel-Halston theory that once you were "In", you better get ready to be "Out." We kept up with who was being excoriated by John Fairchild's Women's Wear Daily, which, at the time, was the greatest gossip sheet in New York.
Studio 54 was a fabulous place to go to dance and have fun. But in my opinion it sealed Halston's fate. It wasn't really safe to be so "In" that Steve Rubell invited you to go downstairs, where God knows what went on. When I eventually tabulated my many friends who were dying with AIDS, they were often the privileged ones who went downstairs to limitless cocaine and sex. Truman Capote was a captain in this crowd. And while I was always treated royally by Steve Rubell, he never asked me downstairs. After all, I was press and I might write the wrong thing.
It is not possible for me to remember Halston only for his charm, his talent, his social success and the glamour that surrounded him even in death. I have to always associate him with cocain -- his downfall, I believe. There was the mutual friend who went to dine with him one night and remembered being offered a full whiskey glass piled to the top with cocaine. "When the evening ended," said the friend, "Halston was just ga-ga, sitting there with a white snow of powder down the front of his black cashmere sweater."
And then there was the love/hate affair with Halston's fashion girl of that moment. He was her best friend and mentor. They had a fight after a Christmas Eve party and there were 12 cans of garbage out in the alley.
She wanted the one stash of coke that was left. He said, "If you want it it's out in the garbage. Go get it." She went out, furious, dug through the cans, found the coke, came back, and snorted it .Then she took the gorgeous golden sable coat Halston had given her and tossed it into the fireplace. Either she, or someone, thought better of it and dragged it out, bearing the scorch marks.
This too was part of Halston's life -- the private part; a different face from the one he put on with the Upper Crust. And it was the face that killed him. Even in the sad tales of Halston's slide, he remained an appealing, generous and sweet person. Cocaine changed his nature, ruined his career, caused him to sell his fabulous label to J. C. Penney. He died of AIDS, a death fueled by cocaine carelessness.
But just to show you, today his name is as glamorous as ever. People have forgotten -- scarily! -- all about cocaine and AIDS. They just remember the tall talented man who single-named himself, like Garbo. The man who hung with Babe Paley and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor; a kind of genius who went from making hats to creating simple fluid clothes that wowed what would eventually become "the red-carpet crowd." I will always love and remember his essence, the best of him.
Right now, hanging in my closet is a Halston original, a sheath of bugle beads and glitter that makes me feel like a Knight waiting for a charger. I don't wear it anymore, but I treasure it. It belongs in a museum.