Regardless if you care or not about fashion, it is impossible to ignore. From the somewhat delirious yearly coverage of the Met Gala to the eye-watering amounts of money involved in trade deals between fashion designers and big brands, the world we live in is consumed by it.
The very genesis of these modern forms of creative-commercial fashion is explored in Frédéric Tcheng’s Halston. After Dior and I, the director’s niche focus on fashion designers is continued with an assessment of Roy Halston Frowick. The creator of the effortlessly breezy clothes that are now associated with 70s disco, he rose to fame in New York thanks to his meticulous flamboyant tastes. Adopting a highly modern approach to the medium of documentary filmmaking, the success of Halston in the real world sadly does not translate to the screen.
Wasting little time in delivering a backstory to Halston’s success, the film starts at the height of his powers. An iconic American fashion designer, his same is synonymous to a lavish NY lifestyle. Halston is framed as a strange mix between Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. Narrated and starring actress Tavi Gevinson in a self-reflective role, she plays the part of an archivist researching extensive footage of Halston from across his life. Attempting to get behind the man, her character appears to have stumbled in from a film noir. Initially acting outside the norms of a documentary, this scripted act serves nothing more than to hide the formulaic nature that slowly unfolds.
Establishing a rhythm of presenting archive material and talking head interviewees, one swiftly gains a genuine sense of the persona of this central figure. Set against the backdrop of Studio 54 and Andy Warhol era, the filmmakers briefly manage to bottle up and present that specific period. In part thanks to the fuzzy grainy cinematography, the images are only missing Duran Duran’s Girls on Film to complete the aesthetics of the era. A man not afraid of the limelight, the film, thanks to its array of star-studded interviewees as Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson and Joel Schumacher casts its anecdotal magic. In the case of Minnelli, her presence is felt right through as she appears throughout the archive footage of 1970s and 80s stardom. Her ultimate refusal on the screen to give a portrayal of her former best friend with any hagiography feels too tidy a step for such a revered figure who created a whole new fashion industry.
Once Halston reaches the top of the fashion tree, it is funnily enough where the documentary begins the fall down. There is an overreliance on the commercial side of fashion, as opposed to the art in which Halston was creating. Choosing to venture away from the cultural influence he possessed at the start of his career, once former Halston Enterprise V.P’s of Sales and Marketing appear everything takes a banal turn. Granted the nature of the Gordon Gekko approach of “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good’’ the whole affair loses its soul in this decision.
In amongst the rudimentary proceedings, Stanley Clarke’s original music floats between smoothy jazz to electro-pop sounds, mirroring the environments which the fuzzy TV footage places the viewer. Going a long way to smooth over the film’s gaping cracks, this music is a definitive highlight. It is peculiar for such a dense topic, all set against an abundance of material, leaves an underwhelming impression as the final chapters of Halston’s life play out. Though we have seen the titular figure shout and scream at staff members and fashion models, one cannot help but feel empathy towards the man in his final days.
Serving as nothing more than a guileful show, Tcheng’s approach delivers a catwalk of clips and interviewees that becomes rather long, even in its 105-minute runtime. ironically reflecting the state of the heavily laborious manufactured world of fashion, this film is better left in the warehouse than being made for mass consumption.