Unraveling ‘Halston’: Lessons on Life & Business

Six life and business lessons we learnt from ‘Halston’ - CNN’s documentary on Fashion’s Disco King, Roy Halston Frowick.

Photography,    Vernon Shibla   /New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images

Photography, Vernon Shibla/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images

Words, Douglas Henry Lewis

Photography, New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images


In its purest form, fashion can be enchanting and representative of a very real way to unleash one’s wildest imaginations of creativity into the realities of everyday life. However, it is also very tough when it comes to the business side. Like supermodel Heidi Klum always proclaims, “One day you’re in, and one day you’re out.”

The most successful houses in the business have managed to stay in simply by making informed business decisions, keeping their feet on the ground, and sometimes, taking a deep breath. On Sunday evening at approximately 9:00p.m. eastern time, thousands of people across the U.S. turned their television screens to CNN, diving into the intoxicating story of the legendary, all-American fashion designer, Roy Halston Frowick. I was one of those people watching and I’ll just say, it only took about ten minutes into the documentary - I was ready to sprint to my nearest Tiffany’s to purchase a silver Elsa Peretti bone cuff, get a thousand orchids for my apartment, drape myself in crimson ultrasuede fabric, and dance maniacally to Sister Sledge as if I was a regular at Studio 54.

Seriously, I don’t think I’m alone when I say I was at the very least bit inspired. And who wouldn’t be?

Without question, Halston’s rise to success represents the apotheosis of the American dream. A young, effeminate, and hopeful boy from the small, empty, town of Des Moines, Iowa took his talent for sewing as a child all the way to Bergdorf Goodman, where he constructed chic hats for rich and sophisticated high-society ladies of New York.

Once he sensed he’d progressed as far as he could, making hats for the renowned department store, he ventured out to design fancy dresses with a sense of simplicity and modernity in mind. He assembled a small team of loyal and eccentric creatives and pulled together a successful runway show presenting looks to an elite group of the fashion press.

By mixing all of the right moving parts together, Halton single-handedly re-wrote fashion history with his parred down, uncomplicated, silhouette. Endlessly glossing the pages of Womenswear Daily, and every other important fashion publication there was, he journeyed all the way to Paris to shake the global stage with his debut in the Battle of Versailles, became a marketing genius with his spectacular public appearances, and introduced never-before-seen fragrance design.

He was on top of the world, and everyone wanted to be a part - strangely enough, during a time where it seemed like a handful of the big cats were out.

Eventually though, Halston himself was out. Out of his own business, out of his mind, and out of his life. 

The CNN documentary showcases one of the most heartbreaking stories throughout the history of fashion to date and with that, I took a few notes the story left us with on life and business.

Photography, Ann Clifford/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Photography, Ann Clifford/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

  1. For the love of God, stay humble.

    Yes, Halston did redefine American fashion, was largely successful financially, and knew how to create publicity very well. However, he began to sink once he started to believe all the publicity he created and let it get to his head.

  2. You can do anything, but not everything.

    A serious A-Ha moment occurred when Halston was asked, “Well don’t you find that when you take on that many things that one of your projects is going to suffer?” Halston wanted total control over everything which is quite a bit for a business the size of his at the time of his reign. No matter how hard you try it’s a fact that when you take on too many things something eventually suffers. If it isn’t the work itself, its you. There is such a thing as delegating. At some point, one has to trust the team and learn to let go.

  3. Saying “no” to drugs can be chic too.

    It’s common knowledge that many fashion executives are often driven to drugs such as cocaine. It’s just one of those things. Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, and Yves Saint Laurent all fell victim. With all the stress, nearly impossible deadlines, and increasingly high demands of the industry, it just makes sense. However, nothing is worth limiting your years. There are other healthy and effective alternatives of coping with that stress. In many ways, staying off of those heavy drugs can actually push you further along. When you don’t have that toxic influence on your mind and body, you gain full clarity, pay better attention, and can be totally aware of what’s really going in your business.

  4. It costs nothing to be kind. 

    As a result of trying to control everything to maintain his seemingly “perfect” exterior image, the interior suffered tremendously as the “Emporer” notoriously treated his subordinates like slaves. Halston isn’t alone in this. This management style is still alive and well today. It is true that this comes with the territory of such a detail-oriented industry like fashion. It can be effective, but on the contrary, studies have shown that when employees are celebrated, appreciated, and inspired, they simply produce better results. It’s a no-brainer.

  5. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

    Another Emporer of Fashion by the name of Valentino Garavani once stated regarding his American counterpart, “I remember Halston in the sixties when he was a young hat maker in Rome at one of my shows. Then I met him again in the seventies and he was the talk of New York—a great designer and the greatest star in New York.” All of this glamour and glory quickly deteriorated once he sold himself short to the department store, J.C. Penney as it documentary insinuates. As a result, the brand never reclaimed its 5-star status. Arrogance and making impulsive business decisions took his brand from divine to demure. As the saying goes, sometimes the grass just isn’t greener on the other side.

  6. Having your name on your business could be a recipe for disaster.

    Last but not least—reconsider and carefully examine putting your own name on your business. Now I know what you’re thinking. What about the likes of Tom Ford? In some cases, this works and in some cases like Halston’s, big businesses can buy the rights to your name and proceed to do what they please with your beloved brand. Tragic, but totally legal. That’s why it’s so important to do your research and always, be precautious.