Say the word “Ultrasuede” and women of a certain age will immediately think of Halston, a quintessential American designer of the ’70s and ’80s, who used the humble material to design, arguably, the chicest shirtwaist dress ever.
Known for nonchalant elegance and mastering the art of the drape, Halston (his full name, Roy Halston Frowick) counted Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli among his dearest friends, dressed first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Betty Ford, and was the beloved, must-wear designer of luminaries such as Elizabeth Taylor and Lauren Bacall.
From Saturday, March 25, through July 9, the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor will present “Halston Style,” an up-close and comprehensive view of the legendary designer’s work. The exhibit “is one of the most ambitious projects [we’ve] ever undertaken,” says the museum’s director, Karl E. Willers. “The entire museum is being turned over to this celebration of Halston and his achievements in fashion.”
The exhibit is curated by Halston’s niece and confidante, Lesley Frowick, 58, the author of the book “Halston: Inventing American Fashion” (Rizzoli New York, $75). “He gave me all of his archives, and I think partly he brought me into his life so I could be talking about him now,” says Frowick of her uncle, who died of AIDS in 1990 at 57. “People who see the exhibit will be blown away with so much content, design, artwork and photographs, and I’m hoping they’ll get a better understanding of Halston as a designer, a family man and a workaholic.”
There are 10 galleries in all and 60 Halston designs, including a pillbox hat similar to the one he created for Kennedy in his early days as a milliner. There’s also a silk chiffon gown Frowick says is “priceless. It’s a showstopper.” And, of course, several Ultrasuede pieces will be on display, along with that gorgeously curved iconic Halston perfume bottle designed by Elsa Peretti.
In addition to fashion, there are personal effects, some never before seen, including his tomato-shaped pincushion. “He liked to sew, but his hands were so huge that he couldn’t use regular needles and had to use big, sailcloth needles instead,” says Frowick. And the exhibit includes more than a glimpse into his social and personal life through photography that captures both his high-living days of the Studio 54 scene to more serene lifestyle snapshots at home in Manhattan and Montauk, where he rented a seaside retreat from Warhol.
Not everything is archival. One section of the show is devoted to current clothing brand H Halston, which is sold exclusively at Lord & Taylor, the sponsor of the exhibition.
Frowick, who is hard at work on the exhibit, says, “I’m so nervous. I’m trying to honor him in the best possible way. Everything has to be polished and in the right spot — he was such a perfectionist.” One thing that’s a no-brainer is what she will wear for the opening. Though she says she’s more of a “bluejeans and cowboy boots” kind of woman, the two-piece, black cocktail dress her uncle made for her way back when, is, she says, “my go-to.”
WHEN | WHERE March 25 through July 9 at the Nassau County Museum of Art, One Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor
INFO Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Admission: $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and $4 for students and ages 4-12; 516-484-9338; nassaumuseum.org
Halstons flamboyant costume for Liza Minnelli in the 1977 musical The Act.
A pensive moment
Halston, pictured in 1988, "was such a perfectionist," said his niece Lesley Frowick, curator of the exhibit that opens March 25 at the Nassau County Museum of Art.
A last look
This yellow/mauve beaded dress was from Halston’s final collection, Resort, 1984.
Ladies in red
Halstons window at his Madison Avenue boutique was all about red in 1976, featuring his best-selling "Savage Suit" swimwear collection.
The blazing shade was a Halston favorite. Shown here, a dress and jacket ensemble from spring 1975.
Halston combines lush shades of blue, yellow and mauve in this hand-painted caftan from his 1972 Resort collection.
This one-shoulder jersey dress modeled by Iman in 1975 was imbued with the designers DNA.
Apparently inspired by his friend Andy Warhols pop art flowers, Halston designed this dress for fall 1975.
Halston in France, around 1966.
Halston began his career as a milliner, designing hats for Bergdorf Goodman (this leopard number is from 1958). He also designed the famous pillbox hat for first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
The king of Ultrasuede
This shirtdress in faux suede from the spring 1975 collection was one of Halstons greatest hits.
Halston’s gold lamé sarong from 1976 could still be worn today.