Take those three essential ingredients and mix them together with a splash of genius, a glug of emotional insecurity and a shot of betrayal. Voila! A heady fashion designer cocktail, served in the form of a miniseries biopic.
The designer in question is Roy Halston Frowick, known as Halston – just Halston.
With Ewan McGregor in the title role and prolific TV producer Ryan Murphy behind the scenes, Halston is the kind of attention-grabbing series which should loiter in Netflix’s top 10 carousel – at least for a few days.
Across five episodes, the lush but very flawed series offers some musings into the extravagant world of Halston and his inner circle, the likes of which included his muses Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez) and eventual Tiffany’s jewellery designer Elsa Perreti (Rebecca Dayan).
There are loose, drug-fuelled nights at Studio 54, cosy beach weekends away and triumphs on the runway. But there were as many downs as there were ups – and on the money side of things, it was never smooth sailing.
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The business side of Halston’s challenges is actually the most interesting aspect of the series. From the moment he decides to launch his own shop and atelier, he has to fundraise from his rich clients.
Famed for starting his career as a milliner who made Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pink pillbox hat, Halston moved into clothing in the late-60s.
But Halston’s insistence on the purity of his process – including tearing up expensive bolts of fabric while designing, instead of cheap muslin – means he’s always a day away from being put out on the street.
When David Mahoney (Bill Pullman), an investor comes calling, set up by the grand dame of fashion publicity Eleanor Lambert (Kelly Bishop). Though Halston is hesitant at first, the promise of resources and millions of dollars proves too enticing.
But no one hands over a ton of money without expecting just as much in return – especially investors who expect gargantuan returns for their cash.
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How Halston morphs into Halston Inc is a revealing look at the numbers side of a creative endeavour. He’s pushed for luggage lines, a perfume with a cost-effective bottle stopper, airline uniforms and, eventually, jeans (or as Halston insists on calling them, dungarees).
It’s all terribly unglamorous.
The pressure of the money men is in constant conflict with a man whose only professional preoccupation is beauty. Profit and loss statements aren’t nearly as sensuous as the drape of luxurious fabric against a woman’s hip.
Elsewhere, Halston spreads itself too thin. Its five episodes are rushed, rarely exploring the many aspects of his life that it teases
A traumatic childhood memory flashes up infrequently despite suggestions it’s behind his neuroses while you don’t even realise his mother is still alive until he receives the call that she’s dead.
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His relationships with his core group – Peretti, illustrator Joe Eula (David Pittu), lovers Ed Austin (Sullivan Jones) and Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez) – are often in flux and the series never delves into the tempestuous nature of all of Halston’s ties.
Others come and go for one episode, including dancer Martha Graham (Mary Beth Peil), would-be director Joel Schumacher (Rory Culkin) and a perfume artist (Vera Farmiga).
Perhaps that’s the point, that even when he’s surrounded by people, he’s alone. McGregor’s performance is very watchable, and he always has screen presence.
The series is ultimately too shallow and ephemeral to offer any real insights into Halston the man or what drove him to become one of the most well-known names in fashion whose legacy still endures in the three decades since his death.
But Halston is glossy and occasionally captivating, and the costumes and production design are gorgeous to look at, and for some viewers, that’ll be enough.
Halston is streaming now on Netflix
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