The cabine of Halston models that seemed to follow the designer everywhere was known as the “Halstonettes,” a term coined by the fashion editor André Leon Talley. In the book Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s, curator Patricia Mears described Halston’s ever-present entourage of models:
This assemblage of young women was striking not only for their tall, lean bodies and beautiful faces, but also for their ethnic diversity. On one end of the spectrum was the cool Nordic blond, Karen Bjornsen, and on the other, the sensual African American, Pat Cleveland. Most prominent of all was Anjelica Huston, daughter of the famed movie director John Huston. Collectively, the Halstonettes did more than reflect the designer’s clothing style, they mirrored his self-image: young, beautiful, glamorous, haughty, vibrant, and photogenic.
Halston treated design as a whole element. Relentless in his quest to achieve a total aesthetic vision, he was determined to have his design sense inform every part of any project he undertook, from elegantly understated evening gowns to the meticulously assembled interiors of his showrooms, offices, and homes. Marvin Traub (president of Bloomingdale’s) recalled that when Bloomingdale’s opened its Halston boutique in August 1969, “Halston wanted to be involved in every detail, down to the shelving. The night before the boutique opened, he stayed up all night to personally sew the drapery and fabrics.”1 The models he chose were central to communicating the Halston look and lifestyle, and the Halstonettes appeared on the runway season after season. They traveled with the designer en masse to social gatherings and press outings—from nights at Studio 54 to the Great Wall of China.
When Halston designed uniforms for Braniff Airlines in 1976, he and his entourage flew to Acapulco to attend an opulent celebration hosted by the company. The Halstonettes appeared with the designer each day, dressed head-to-toe in Halston. Often, the models’ ensembles were identical. Together, the group functioned as a kind of mobile billboard. The models’ diversity showed the versatility and modernity inherent in Halston’s clothing, and in turn, the uniformity of the model’s ensembles served to highlight each woman’s unique features. A key principle of Halston’s work was that his designs were made to flatter a diverse range of women; the Halstonettes were the ideal embodiment of the designer’s intention to create clothes that suited women of diverse ages, shapes, and sizes. He once said, “You have to design for what people are, not what you’d like them to be.”2
In 1979, Halston and a twenty-eight person entourage—including the Halstonettes, assistants, executives, and friends—embarked on an international tour to promote American fashion, visiting six cities on three continents over a span of twenty-four days. The entourage was taken to Kennedy Airport in nine identical limousines, and Women’s Wear Daily reported that the group was “dressed in streamlined sportswear—in contemporary shades of red, black, beige, and ivory, so anyone could stand next to anyone and not clash—sunglasses as glossy black and secludingly impenetrable as the limos, they watched as piece after piece of matching brown Ultrasuede luggage covered the sidewalks.”3 The tour began in Los Angeles, then made stops in Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, and Paris.
Preparations for the tour took weeks. Color-coordinated ensembles, along with schedules of when and where they were to be worn, were provided to the entire group. Halston said, “The only thing I didn’t furnish was their underwear and something to sleep in…That’s the fascination of it—to be able to edit a wardrobe down to the pieces necessary for a world tour.”4 Remarking on his grand design, Halston said “I wanted it like a little movie. It makes it more amusing and removes the whole curse of it being just a business thing. If we directed our whole planet the way we would a play or a movie, it would make life more interesting for everyone.”5 Pat Cleveland remembered, “We were like migrating birds, well-choreographed, all color-coordinated.”6
If Halston needed an affirmation of his modernist aesthetic, he got it from this celebrity clientele. The women who purchased and wore his garments were as diverse as his models; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Liza Minnelli, Babe Paley, and Bianca Jagger were all friends and loyal clients. Another close friend was Lauren Bacall, who wore his designs both on-screen and off. In 1973, for the televised version of the play Applause, Halston created twelve full looks for Bacall, including an ice-blue jersey evening gown. During the 1970s, Bacall was a crossover client who wore both Halston + Yves Saint Laurent. MFIT’s permanent collection includes several ensembles from both designers donated by Bacall, and key pieces are on view in Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s.
To see more ensembles donated to MFIT by Lauren Bacall, be sure to visit the graduate student exhibition Lauren Bacall: The Look online. Love this post? Share it on social media with the links below. Stay tuned for more interviews and insights from #YSLhalston.