By  on July 19, 2007

NEW YORK — Halston has a new leading man.

Marco Zanini, head designer of women's wear, ready-to-wear and haute couture at Versace, said in an interview that he was "honored" to be joining the iconic American brand as creative director. The appointment is effective after the spring 2008 Versace show in September, and Zanini will relocate from Milan to New York for the job. This confirms a WWD report on July 13.

Zanini's appointment is a key component in the larger strategy to reestablish Halston as a leading fashion and luxury player. Zanini will oversee all aspects of designing Halston product, as well as its overall image. He will report to Halston's president and chief executive officer, Bonnie Takhar, and work closely with Tamara Mellon, Jimmy Choo's founder, who is on Halston's board, and stylist Rachel Zoe, who, with Mellon, is a member of Halston's creative advisory team.

Zanini, 35, arrived in New York on Wednesday for a Halston board meeting and was expected to stay until Saturday.

"When I first got called, I almost fell out of my chair," the personable Italian said in fluent English. "I didn't expect to be offered such a good position from such an iconic and legendary name. Halston, for me and for so many people in fashion, has always been a reference."

Since childhood, Zanini added, Halston had been among the designers whose images were pinned on his bedroom walls. "The name is so refined to me," he said. "It was a lifestyle, and the whole spectrum of his name means so much to me. It's a dream come true."

Zanini joined Versace in January 1999 and worked closely with Donatella Versace on the women's and men's collections.

"During this time, I have seen his talent and creativity continually evolve and I am convinced he will do a fabulous job as creative director at Halston," Versace said in a statement. "I am very proud of him and I wish him the best."

Before joining Versace, Zanini worked at Dolce & Gabbana, where he was Domenico Dolce's first assistant on the women's main collection. He started his career as Lawrence Steele's first assistant.He credits much of his design skill to his extensive experience with several important Milan designers.

"From them I learned the joy of work. Both [Donatella Versace and Domenico Dolce] enjoy what they do, and they have fun," he said. "They love to dress women and to flatter the female body. But I learned so many things, from Donatella especially. I couldn't even make a list. It's been such an unbelievable experience to work with her so closely."

Takhar said that the search was very focused. "We spoke to three or four candidates," she noted. "We were really looking for somebody to be able to pay homage to the heritage of Halston and also bring it into the modern day, with the strength being in certain classifications, such as eveningwear and dresses."

Zanini came to the attention of Halston's board after being recommended to Mellon. "His talent and creative vision will be invaluable in rejuvenating the Halston brand," said Mellon.

Halston died in 1990, and the label was relaunched in 1997; since then, designers Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall, Craig Natiello, Piyawat Pattanapuckdee and Bradley Bayou have passed through its doors.

The brand was bought by the The Weinstein Co. and Hilco Consumer Capital LLC last March from Neema Clothing Ltd. and its owner, James J. Ammeen. Harvey Weinstein's involvement has made this one of the most anticipated comebacks in fashion. The new owners are looking to give Halston the kind of heat and fashion relevance it had during its heyday, when the designer made jersey dresses and off-the-shoulder numbers de rigeur for the Studio 54 set.

"There's a lot of heritage to work with," Takhar said. "We're not looking to just copy [Halston's signature look], but we're looking to adapt [it]. Marco will be involved in all aspects of the creative side of the business."

As creative director, Zanini will oversee the entire gamut of product design for the house.

Takhar said that because Zanini would be working on only the Halston brand, he could completely dedicate himself to it.

As for his creative vision for the house, Zanini indicated that he would refer to the namesake designer rather than the slew of designers that have come and gone."Of course, you have to be true to what he did," he said. "I wish to bring back that sense of glamour and refinement that is still so contemporary to me."

Zanini's first collection could be unveiled as early as next February, though Takhar wouldn't disclose specific details of the launch.

With movie mogul Weinstein and Hollywood uber-stylist Zoe onboard, Halston has its share of Hollywood connections, and Zanini is not oblivious to the power of the red carpet in fashion.

"Having worked with Donatella for eight-and-a-half years, of course I learned how important red carpet is," he said. "Halston is a glamorous American brand, and I hope to also create good work for the red carpet."

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