Halston icon: trailblazing model Pat Cleveland
To mark the release of the new Netflix series starring Ewan McGregor, we speak to one of the legendary designer’s most famous ‘Halstonettes’
New Netflix biopic series Halston stars Ewan McGregor in the titular role of the Iowa-born designer who is credited with revolutionising American style in the 1970s and 1980s with his elegant aesthetic that mixed high-gloss glamour with pared-back minimalism.
The five-part production charts the meteoric rise and heartbreaking downfall of a true talent whose clothes transformed the landscape of fashion on a global scale and whose name is irrevocably linked to the decadence of the disco age.
Halston played hard and partied even harder. He was a regular fixture at Studio 54 along with his “Halstonettes”, his band of favourite muses which included Anjelica Huston, Pat Cleveland and Elsa Peretti. He dressed Bianca Jagger (her famous entrance on horseback... she did it in a Halston), collaborated with Andy Warhol and transformed the style of his close friend and confidante Liza Minnelli. Thanks to him, Minnelli shed her babydoll look and adopted a slinky diva-esque style that helped propel her career as a performer, one who had earned her place on stage, not simply inherited it as the daughter of Judy Garland, as had often been perceived.
Both Minnelli and Peretti have leading roles in the show - played respectively by Krysta Rodriguez and Rebecca Dayan - the starlets highlight the special connection Halston had with his closest confidantes. He naturally encouraged people’s creative streaks and was himself naturally inquisitive and experimental, as proven by his collections. House signatures included gossamer dresses cut on the bias, seamless chiffon caftans and innovative fabrics like his soft, machine washable “ultrasuede”, fashioned into sell-out shirt-dresses. All timeless classics still coveted to this day.
More than just a filmic fashion parade (although the fashion is spectacular here) the series shines a light on Halston as a person: exuberant, life-embracing and acerbically witty, he was also often quick tempered, drug addled (he had a well documented addiction to cocaine) and a bad judge of character when it came to business decisions. Ultimately, he had to fight to protect his most valuable asset, his eponymous brand name, a battle which becomes a focus in this revelatory production. His death was untimely and cruel: in 1990, the designer lost his 18-month battle with Aids, by which time he had also lost control of his business. His name, however, remains forever etched in the annals of fashion history as one of time’s most inspiring pioneers.
To celebrate this compelling new release, The Week spoke to original Halstonnette and iconic model, Pat Cleveland, about her fondest memories of the man known as “America’s first superstar designer”.
“Halston was impressed with all-girl singing groups like The Supremes,” Cleveland says. “He wanted to create his own group of swirling, entertaining, well-dressed young ladies, so he called his models the ‘Halstonettes’, that way we too could be in harmony. It felt divine moving in our chiffon, cashmere and bugle-beaded evening dresses to the smooth jazz sounds which he so loved.”
‘Pet poodle Pat’
“Halston would create dresses for each of his girls’ personalities. He loved to call me his pet poodle, so he dressed me in this fine black tulle layered [dress] with little cuffs - just like a shaved poodle! I even had a little leash that he held onto for fun. One time, we went to a party in Hollywood and he would introduce me as his ‘pet poodle Pat’. We had a laugh. It was a joke and he loved to play.”
‘He brought his light into everything’
“[When he was in the studio], he would pause to listen to his heart in silence, then create. In the fitting room, it was so quiet you could hear only the sound of his large scissors cutting across fabric. Everything flowered naturally in that [studio] between the orchids and the perfumed Rigaud candles, as he would throw the fabric onto the floor and cut on the bias and just suddenly make a dress. Halston could create the garment to make you shine, he brought his light into everything.”
Halston is released on Netflix on Friday 14 May