Halston (***)

Many know Halston as a superstar designer, a member of the in crowd and a fixture at Studio 54 back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. For those who want to know less about the image and more about the man, this doc reveals plenty. 

Yes, fashionistas will cling to every word, want to know the gossip and be intrigued by how Halston dealt with homophobia back in the day. But, even if fashion is not your thing, this will be a lesson in Business 101 and a cautionary tale. What to do and what not to do. 

It’s all here. The rise and fall. From Halston’s beginning as a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman, to creating Jackie Kennedy’s iconic pillbox hat. To starting his own brand and creating 30 active and very lucrative licenses. Then over-ambition, hubris—or fate—takes over. The historic partnership with JC Penny, which got a lot of pushback from the high fashion industry. His tenure as the CEO then an employee of Halston Enterprises. The downward business spiral that left him on the outside looking in. 

This revealing film plays out almost like the story of old musicians from the ’60s or ’70s who sold the rights to their music, brand or name, only to be haunted by the royalties they lost and the control they surrendered. The difference? Not much. This story is about fashion. Same predicament. Same stink.

Famous jet setters abound—Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Pat Cleveland—and though the fast circle Halston ran in is intriguing, it’s not nearly as compelling as his Midwestern family life, business downfall and his battle against AIDS. His fire burned bright, but not forever.

Director Frédéric Tcheng has walked this runway before: Co-producer Valentino: The Last Emperor; co-director Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel: director Dior and I. His strength is working with editor Èlla Gasull Balada (The King) to assemble an impressive archive of photos, videos and interviews that shed light on a fashion impresario who, till this day, is recognized by just his last name. Does the director miss a stitch? Yes.

There is a fictional subplot involving a character, a pseudo archivist (Tavi Gevinson), rifling through files at Halston Enterprises to get the real scoop on the company and Halston. It’s a distracting device that was possibly designed to enhance the doc. It doesn’t. It’s an unnecessary sidetrack. Frivolous. But, not a faux pas that’s big enough to take viewers’ attention away from the core of the doc: Roy “Halston” Frowick, a young man from Idaho who became a fashion pioneer and died before his time. 

The jazzy musical score by Stanley Clarke comes as a total surprise and adds a touch of class and hip sophistication. The visuals by cinematographer Chris W. Johnson work on multiple levels. 

Halston thoughtfully captures both a meteoric rise and a dramatic fall to earth.

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com and BlackPressUSA.com