NEW YORK — With Sarah Jessica Parker on her way out at Halston and Harvey Weinstein said to be following suit, what is next for this storied but challenged American fashion house?
Industry insiders were wondering just that after it emerged on Wednesday that Parker and Weinstein were about to end their association with Halston — marking yet another chapter in the brand’s checkered history that has been through more revival attempts and designers than most people care to remember.
This story first appeared in the July 14, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In the most recent iteration, Hilco Consumer Capital and Weinstein Co. acquired the brand with much fanfare in 2007, and tapped Parker as president and chief creative officer in January 2010 to steer the secondary Halston Heritage line (Marios Schwab spearheads the main designer collection). Parker’s deal included a seat on Halston’s board as well as an equity stake in the brand, though the size of the stake was never disclosed.
The actress is said to be entitled to roughly $13 million over the next four years under her current agreement. At press time, it remained unclear whether Hilco was looking to buy out Weinstein and Parker. Richard Kaye, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Hilco Trading, Hilco Consumer Capital’s parent company, declined comment.
As reported in April, Hilco was looking for additional investment or to potentially sell Halston. According to one source, there were at least three bidders for the company including Max Azria, but Halston is now said to be pursuing a licensing model instead. The departure of Parker and Weinstein — both high-profile personalities with no experience in running a fashion licensing business — could clear the path for this.
The news of Parker’s exit from Halston Heritage first appeared in a feature on her in the August issue of Vogue.
The two high-profile departures spotlight the complicated realities of celebrities’ ongoing fascination with fashion and the common misperception that a fashionable Hollywood personality naturally makes a good designer or, in Parker’s case, a capable president of a fashion label set for revival.
Weinstein and Parker are just two of several executives who have joined and subsequently left Halston under the current ownership. Halston chief executive officer Bonnie Takhar also left the company and, recently, there has been some speculation that the firm may not renew its contract with Schwab unless he relocates from London, where he designs his own, namesake line, to New York, where Halston is based.
Executive shuffles have become something of the norm at Halston, which had its heyday in the late Seventies when its charismatic namesake designer was a glamorous fixture at Studio 54 and dressed the global celebrity jet set. Since his death in 1990, there have been numerous attempts to revive the label, with designers Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall, Craig Natiello, Piyawat Pattanapuckdee, Bradley Bayou and Marco Zanini passing through the company’s doors. None succeeded at restoring Halston’s position as a premier American fashion brand.
The move to bring in Parker raised many eyebrows, but it was also seen as a bold experiment and out-of-the-box approach. Unlike Victoria Beckham and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who have made successful transitions into fashion, Parker never put her entertainment projects on the back burner to focus exclusively on Halston and instead spent months on movie sets when she might have been a fixture in Halston’s showroom.
Parker never made a secret of her inexperience. “You could make many arguments to why I am not qualified,” she told WWD at the time of her hire. “I would say that I am very aware of the enormity of the titles, and how important they are, and my response is that they [the board] felt confident in their decisions.”
According to one source, Weinstein was instrumental in bringing Parker in at such a senior executive level, hoping that she would bring renewed credibility to the brand.
“I know I come to the company in a rather unorthodox way but I’m not the first to be president of a company without the traditional background,” Parker said at the time. “Others have been successful in those endeavors and I do so hope I can be as well.
“There is a huge amount I don’t know and I am very candid about that, and I am excited to learn,” She added. “I have no allergy to learning.”
In the early days, Parker was very involved in the Halston Heritage design process and, on occasion, sported the label in her public outings. Over time, however, the actress is said to have used her role at the firm to demand the kinds of clothes she wanted for herself, which were often at odds with the positioning of the contemporary Heritage collection and the overall DNA of Halston.
Nonetheless, it is understood that the Heritage line got off to a strong start last year. One industry source, however, questioned Parker’s role in the success, suggesting that the Halston moniker could still be more credible to fashion consumers than Parker — even in today’s celebrity-obsessed culture. “I think Halston will be fine without her,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.
As for Parker, it is unlikely this is the last the fashion industry has heard from her. As Carrie Bradshaw in “Sex and the City” and with the help of the show’s stylist, Patricia Field, Parker became a fashion icon and like many of her peers, she has worked to extend the Sarah Jessica Parker brand beyond television and movie theater screens. Her several fragrances with Coty Prestige, including Lovely and Covet, are largely considered a success, and her clothing debut — a low-cost line called Bitten for now-defunct Steve & Barry’s — was well-received though it suffered at the time as a result of the retailer’s woes.