Halston’s inner circle has opened up about what it was really like to party with the late designer at Studio 54 and attend the exclusive celebrity-filled gatherings at his Manhattan townhouse following the release of ‘Halston,’ the new Netflix series about his life and career.
Ewan McGregor plays the iconic fashion designer in the miniseries, which chronicles Halston’s meteoric rise to fame and tragic downfall. His fashion empire crumbled after his hard-partying lifestyle started to overshadow his accomplishments and talent.
Halston had a number of celebrity friends, including Liza Minnelli, Anjelica Huston, Truman Capote, Margaux Hemingway, Calvin Klein, and Andy Warhol. He also traveled with a squad of models dubbed the ‘Halstonettes’ who would pour out of limos at the city’s biggest nightspots wearing his designs.
Models Pat Cleveland and Alana Stewart, socialite Cornelia Guest, and former Interview editor Bob Colacello were among Halston’s friends who spoke to Town & Country about the time they spent with him at the height of his success.
Looking back: Model Pat Cleveland is among Halston’s famous friends who have opened up what it was like to party the night away at Studio 54 with the late designer
Famous faces: Halston, born Roy Halston Frowick, had a number of celebrity friends, including Bianca Jagger (left) and Liza Minelli (right)
Halston, born Roy Halston Frowick, first rose to prominence after designing the pillbox hat worn by Jacqueline Kennedy at the 1961 presidential inauguration of her husband John F. Kennedy.
As hats fell out of fashion, he transitioned to designing women’s clothing and launched his first boutique and a ready-to-wear line by the end of the ’60s.
By the 1970s, he had built a fashion empire and was known for his tasteful minimalist style, which prioritized function over decoration.
Cleveland, 70, shared that she was the one who first introduced Halston to Studio 54, the infamous nightclub owned by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager in the late 1970s.
‘I’m the one that took him to Studio 54 the first time, before they even opened,’ she said. ‘Steve Rubell was my friend and we used to go out and buy flowers in the morning. And he said, “Well, why don’t you bring some of your friends over?” And Halston sent a card and he said, “Let’s have dinner together.”
Partying: Halston’s name has become synonymous with Studio 54 over the years. He’s pictured with Jagger and Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell at the club in 1977
Entourage: Halston traveled with a squad of models dubbed the ‘Halstonettes’ who would pour out of limos at the city’s biggest nightspots wearing his designs
‘I said, “I’m going to take you somewhere and you’re going to come and you’re going to dance.” He says, “I don’t dance.” I said, “Well, you’re going to dance tonight.” So we went to the Studio 54 and he started dancing with me, had such a good time that he invited all of his friends back.’
Halston had such a great time that he took Stewart, now 76, to the club with Bianca Jagger shortly after.
‘I went to New York and Halston and Bianca picked me up at my hotel and we went to Pearl’s for dinner,’ she said.
‘Then, going to Pearl’s for Chinese food on Sunday night was a big deal. They were telling me they had just gone to the opening of a new club, Studio 54. They said, “I think it’s open at night, do you want to go see it?”
‘After that, every time I would go to New York I would call them and we would always have dinner at Halston’s and end up going to 54. It was just so much fun. Everybody was in great spirits.’
While the fashion designer’s name is now synonymous with the nightclub, Paul Wilmot, former head of Paul Wilmot Communications and Halston employee, noted that it was only a small part of his life.
Back in the spotlight: Ewan McGregor plays the iconic fashion designer in the new Netflix miniseries, ‘Halston,’ which chronicles his meteoric rise to fame and tragic downfall
Lavish lifestyle: Halston (far left) and his on-off boyfriend Victor Hugo (right) enjoyed hosting after-parties at the designer’s New York townhouse. They’re pictured in 1980
‘Studio 54 really only existed in that one incarnation with Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager before they got into trouble [for financial crimes that led to their arrest] and everything like that, it was something like 18 months. It wasn’t even three years,’ he said.
‘Here Halston had this career that went for 25 or 30 years and, of course, it’s much more interesting to see things about the party with Bianca and the white horse [that she famously rode into Studio 54 on her 27th birthday in 1977].’
Publicist and writer R. Couri Hay said that Halston wasn’t one to drink or do drugs early on in his career while recalling the first time the designer offered him cocaine.
‘I will say that Halston, when I knew him well, wasn’t a big drinker. There were absolutely no drugs,’ he said.
‘I don’t think Halston offered me coke until the Studio 54 days. I remember because he said, “I’m going to give you the good coke.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, in my left pocket, I keep the bad coke for people I don’t like. In my right pocket, I keep the good coke.”‘
Hay noted that Halston’s favorite indulgence in the years prior to his Studio 54 days was ordering steak and potatoes.
Old pals: Halston was close friends with singer and actress Liza Minnelli, who was a regular at his parties. They’re pictured at his Olympic Towers apartment
Hanging out: Jagger (left) and Martha Graham (right) were also close with the famous designer. They’re pictured in 1983 at Olympic Towers
‘For the first year [of knowing Halston], I kept him at arm’s length because he would keep trying to get me to go home with him,’ he explained.
‘Back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, his favorite thing to do was Dial-a-Steak, a service that would deliver steak and a baked potato. He was from the Midwest, he loved those potatoes and later he wanted them with caviar.
‘But back in those days, it was a baked potato and a steak. He would want to go home and Dial-a-Steak and snuggle and be romantic and well, we all know what that means. So I would avoid that.’
Halston loved to throw parties and intimate dinners at his townhouse on East 63rd Street, which he moved into in 1974. Designed by famed architect Paul Rudolph, the brown glass home featured built-in flannel banquettes, geometric black coffee tables, a staircase with no banister, and a balcony. (Designer Tom Ford purchased the townhouse for $18 million in 2019.)
‘Things changed in a very big way when he bought [a] new house,’ Hay said. ‘In ‘74, he wanted to give a Christmas party. Now the house is not that big. I mean, it was big but not that big, the typical New York City townhouse.
Start of it all: Cleveland (not pictured) said she took Halston (left) to Studio 54 for the first time, before it was even open
Wild times: Former Interview editor Bob Colacello, pictured at Studio 54 in 1983, recalled how Hugo would walk around Halston’s townhouse in his jockstrap and pass around cocaine
’70s style: Halston was known for his tasteful minimalist designs, which prioritized function over decoration
‘He had knocked down the ground floor and did this really interesting trick where he mirrored the back wall outside garden wall and planted bamboo, and then put glass on. When you looked through, it was like you were looking into a forest.
‘He had so many people that he had to have two parties. I remember going to the parties. It was glamorous and there was Liza and this one and that one.’
Hay said that at that point, Halston was involved with Venezuelan sex worker Victor Hugo, who was the designer’s on-off boyfriend for over a decade. The pair met in 1972 through a call-boy service Halston used following the breakdown of his relationship with menswear buyer Ed Austin.
‘By this time Victor Hugo had shown up in his jock strap—very vulgar and very in your face,’ he said. ‘It was all a little crazy and I admire it for that, but I wasn’t going to try to compete with that. At that point, I veered right and he veered left. I think that’s when the drugs started.’
Meanwhile, Stewart gushed about Halston’s kindness, recalling how he threw her a birthday dinner once and gave her a white pearl chiffon dress that ‘looked like something from the ’20s.’
‘His home of course was just absolutely gorgeous and in such fabulous taste and he always had great food,’ she said. ‘It was always a small group [for dinners]. It was usually me, Bianca, Andy Warhol, and Bob Colacello. Sometimes Liza would be there, Calvin Klein, sometimes Steve Rubell, they became very close friends.
‘He was such a wonderful host. He just had such a sweetness and a kindness about him. You just loved him. You couldn’t not like him.’
Colacello, a contributor to Vanity Fair, said the parties at Halton’s home were a sight to see thanks to the eclectic mix of people who were invited.
In crowd: Halston was close friends with Elsa Peretti, pictured in 1971, but they had a tempestuous relationship. Halston was one of the first designers to cast Italian-born Peretti
Kind: Alana Stewart (far right) recalled how Halston threw her a birthday dinner once and gave her a white pearl chiffon dress that ‘looked like something from the ’20s’
Fun: Socialite Cornelia Guest, pictured with Paul Wilmot, met Halston when she was a teenager and would attend the parties that he threw at Olympic Tower
‘Looking back on it, it was such a crazy time to actually see Martha Graham, First Lady Betty Ford, or Doris Duke sitting on one of the gray flannel banquettes like the three graces while Victor Hugo’s walking around in his jockstrap passing around cocaine,’ he explained. ‘There’s never been another thing quite like that that I’ve been aware of.’
Cleveland noted that Halson’s parties were ‘very private,’ with the guest list often including Graham, Minnelli, the Halstonettes, Capote, Warhol, and others from the Factory.
‘Some other artists would go over to his house and he’d have dinner and we’d all sit around and laugh and drink wine and champagne,’ she said. ‘Mohammed [Soumaya], his cook [and live-in assistant], would make lamb stew for us, Moroccan food. Marisa Berenson, Berry Berenson would be there. And Tony Perkins and Liza’s dad, Vincente Minnelli. We’d all just dress up and go there.
‘Then we’d have parties at his atelier at the Olympic Towers.’ she added. ‘But those were very glamorous, a lot of these movie stars came like Al Pacino. Then Liza would get up and sing to Halston. Elizabeth Taylor would be in the back, just spraying perfume. Oh, it was just so much fun. He just loved ladies so much.’
Guest, who met Halston when she was a teenager, said she would attend the parties that he threw in his 21st floor office at the Fifth Avenue skyscraper Olympic Tower.
‘They were fun! I mean, that’s where I met his brother and his niece,’ she recalled. ‘He loved his family. He adored his family. And I went to some parties at his house but I never saw any of the craziness. I was very protected. He was very protective of me.’
But the partying eventually caught up with Halston, and by the 1980s, a series of poor business decisions left him completely shut out of his own company and unable to design for it.
Change: Publicist and writer R. Couri Hay, pictured with Grace Jones (left) and Xandra Rhodes (right), said Halston didn’t drink or do drugs early on in his career, but that changed
Loss: Halston, pictured with Minnelli in 1982, was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 and died in 1990 after moving to San Francisco in his final years
Thoughts: Cleveland said Halston’s life was ‘much more bright’ than the Netflix series depicts. He is pictured kissing Elizabeth Taylor at a fundraiser for the Martha Graham Dance Company
Many blamed his downfall on Hugo, but Colacello believes that their tumultuous relationship was only one contributing factor.
‘Listen, you can say well he led Halston astray, but to be led astray, you have to want to be led astray,’ he said. ‘He was immensely talented and that’s why the tragedy of him becoming ill and his business falling apart [was so stark.] He just became more and more exaggerated. There were more orchids, more money spent on limos, more late nights. You can’t do that and actually run a business.’
Halston was diagnosed with HIV in 1988 and died in 1990 after moving to San Francisco in his final years.
Cleveland told Town & Country that Halston’s life was ‘much more bright’ than the Netflix series depicts.
‘I think they focused on the dark, emotionally dramatic conflicts. He was just a person who had these things happen to him but everything else flowed naturally in the atmospheres that he created,’ she said. ‘It was just lovely and we have to remember the goodness in him and how he tried to keep everything going.
‘Regardless of everything he wanted to still be an artist, he wanted to not let go of his true self. But he was forced to give up everything that he believed in, and everything he believed in was making women feel beautiful.’