Who was Halston? The visionary fashion designer Ewan McGregor's Netflix character is based on

17 May 2021, 10:18 | Updated: 17 May 2021, 10:19

Ewan McGregor plays Halson in a new Netflix drama
Ewan McGregor plays Halson in a new Netflix drama. Picture: Getty/Netflix

By Emma Clarke

If you love fashion and you're after for your next Netflix binge - look no further.

Ewan McGregor plays visionary 70s fashion designer Halston in Netflix's latest biopic series.

Based on the biographical novel titled Simply Halston by Steven Gaines, the five-part series is about the rise of the Studio 54 creative, and his hedonistic lifestyle.

Executive-produced by Ryan Murphy - the man behind American Crime Story, The Prom and Glee - and lauded by critics, the series promises to be a gripping (and stylish) watch.

Despite the praise the series has received across the board, however, the family of Halston has slammed the Netflix show for "sensationalising" and "over-inflating" the fashion designer's life.

So, here's a deep dive into the man behind the series - including his much-celebrated fashion career, personal life and death.

HALSTON | Official Trailer | Netflix

Who was fashion designer Halston?

Rising to fame in the 1970s, Halston - whose real name was Roy Halston Frowick - was known for his elegant, minimalist designs.

Before his fashion career blew up, he started out making women's hats whilst studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1957, he then opened a store on the city's upscale shopping area, the Magnificent Mile.

From there, he moved from New York department store Bergdorf Goodman, before making a pillbox hat for Jacqueline Kennedy to wear at her husband JFK's inauguration.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that he opened a women's clothing boutique on Madison Avenue - at which point, Newsweek called him the "premier fashion designer of America".

Halston's business was backed by Texan millionaire, Estelle Marsh, going on to design simple, yet beautiful every day pieces for the women of America.

Speaking to Vogue, Halston said he did away with "all the extra details that didn't work - bows that didn't tie, buttons that didn't button, zippers that didn't zip, wrap dresses that didn't wrap."

He added: "I've always hated things that don't work."

After designing a gorgeous green wedding gown advertising exec Mary Wells Lawrence, Halston was commissioned by her husband, the CEO of Braniff International Airways, to create uniforms for the airline.

Consisting of chic, muted tones, the comfortable yet stylish uniforms were in complete contrast to Emilio Pucci's kaleidoscopic designs from the mid-1960s.

Halston and partner Victor Hugo pictured with models at the New York Met
Halston and partner Victor Hugo pictured with models at the New York Met. Picture: Getty

Who was Halston's partner Victor?

Halston met Venezuelan-born artist, Victor Hugo, in 1972. Working as a makeup artist, Hugo became Halston's on-again-off-again partner.

For a period, they lived together in Halston's home, before Halston hired Hugo to work as a window dresser for his store.

Their relationship spanned over ten years.

According to The New York Times, Halston was known to have an affair with fellow designer, Luis Estevez.

How did Halston die?

Sadly, Halston tested positive for HIV in 1988.

When his health began to deteriorate, he moved to San Francisco, California, to be closer to his family.

Two years after his diagnosis, March 26, 1990, Halston died of Kaposi's sarcoma.

Ewan McGregor plays Halston in the new Netflix series
Ewan McGregor plays Halston in the new Netflix series. Picture: Netflix

What was his role with Studio 54?

Legendary New York nightclub, Studio 54, was renowned for its celebrity guests. Attracting artists, photographers, designers and other creatives, Studio 54 may have only had a short run, but it continues to be an iconic part of pop culture and modern history.

Halston often designed clothes for the well-heeled guests of the Midtown dancehall, most famously being responsible for Bianca Jagger's decadent white-themed party.

Other muses Halston fitted included Anjelica Huston, Cher, Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor.

Halston had an especially close relationship with Liza Minnelli after they were introduced by Liza's godmother, Kay Thompson.

Talking to Harper's Bazaar about their friendship, Minnelli said: "H. was wonderful. He had a great sense of humour about himself, and he pushed the envelope. He put us on the map."

Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Halston at Studio 54
Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Halston at Studio 54. Picture: Getty

What has Halston's family said about the Netflix show?

Halston's niece, Lesley Frowick, said: “As a custodian of the archives, I was not consulted in any way. [I] was unaware [of the show] until the project was near completion and the promotional activity started.”

Earlier this week, a statement was released by the Archives, which read: “These people who didn’t know him well, perhaps because they were mere children during the Halston apogee, often like to focus on the most sensational parts of the story.

“Those details tend to be overinflated rather than placing the rightful emphasis on his incredible gift as an artist, the depth of his contribution to American fashion, his work ethic and his success as one of the first true American fashion influencers.

“In actuality, our uncle Halston was a very private, dignified gentleman, and it is my hope that he will be remembered and respected as such.”

Halston is available to watch on Netflix now.