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NEW YORK — It looks like the designer door has swung again at Halston.
This story first appeared in the July 16, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Just one year after being hired by Harvey Weinstein and Tamara Mellon to resurrect the iconic fashion house, creative director Marco Zanini is said to be out.
The Italian-born designer no longer works at the company’s Spring Street headquarters in lower Manhattan, according to sources familiar with the situation. Zanini is said to have designed the spring collection, which will be unveiled during New York Fashion Week in September. The company may already be considering potential successors, and an announcement could come before fashion week, the sources said.
Halston executives were unavailable for comment. Zanini could not be reached.
Zanini’s departure appears to mark another chapter in the checkered history of 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 and 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 and Bradley Bayou passing through the company’s doors.
Zanini arrived at Halston during a period of renewed promise for the label, where all the right ingredients were aligned: a charismatic movie mogul in Weinstein, a bona fide business executive in Jimmy Choo founder Mellon, a press-loving celebrity stylist in Rachel Zoe and a designer with an impressive résumé.
Last year, the Weinstein Co. and Hilco Consumer Capital LLC bought Halston from Neema Clothing Ltd. and its owner, James J. Ammeen. Sources speculated the sale price was between $22 million and $27 million. The buzz surrounding Weinstein’s involvement in the deal, with Mellon on its board and creative advisory team, instantly made the Halston moniker one of the hottest commodities in American fashion. Many believed with the new ownership, Halston could herald fresh synergy between Hollywood and fashion.
“Our model was Arnon Milchan and what he had done with Puma,” Weinstein said at the WWD/DNR CEO Summit in October. “So when Tamara Mellon brought us the idea of acquiring Halston, I immediately knew it was a perfect fit. She showed me a book of a thousand designs that Halston had done. To be honest, I didn’t even know that much about Halston. I’d kind of heard about Halston, and Tamara did the education and so she deserves the credit.”
At the time, Weinstein added that Halston could become “a great American luxury brand, something that evokes glamour, elegance, sophistication and is effortlessly timeless.”
The plan was to bring this brand to life with respect to the original namesake designer and his Seventies heyday, not what followed. The launch collection for fall came complete with full ready-to-wear, footwear and handbag collections produced in-house, and an unprecedented marketing initiative with Net-a-porter.com that allowed shoppers to get their hands on two looks from Zanini’s first runway show within 24 hours of the presentation. There also has been buzz involving a documentary about the company’s namesake that would be produced by the Weinstein Co.
“I want to introduce Halston’s life to a world of playwrights and authors, actors and filmmakers,” Weinstein said at the CEO summit. “I want them to be inspired. Maybe somebody will make a movie about that time period. I see Halston filled with limitless opportunities and I’m thrilled to be associated with this amazing group of people.”
Much hope was pinned on Zanini, who joined the brand from Versace, where he had worked closely with Donatella Versace on the women’s and men’s collections since 1999. Before that, the 36-year-old designer worked for Dolce & Gabbana and Lawrence Steele.
Mellon was said to have brought Zanini to Weinstein’s attention. At the time of the hire last July, the designer said he had admired Halston since childhood.
“Halston, for me and for so many people in fashion, has always been a reference,” Zanini told WWD at the time.
His background — and Weinstein’s Hollywood muscle — prompted many to expect va-va-voom gowns that would immediately establish Halston on the red-carpet circuit, not unlike Marchesa, which is designed by Weinstein’s wife, Georgina Chapman.
Zanini’s first collection for fall didn’t deliver on that front. Weinstein arrived at the show on the arm of Liza Minnelli, the quintessential Halstonette, which many took as an ominous sign.
The collection that followed was referential to the original designer’s archive without enough freshness to make a real impact on fashion, and it largely received a mixed reaction. WWD said in its review, “It’s clear that Zanini has a long way to go before he can assume the mantle of one of America’s greatest talents and make it his own,” calling the clothes “lost in a limbo between historical reverence and the yen to update.”
The International Herald Tribune described Zanini’s first outing as “a polite homage to the Halston heritage without much fire,” lacking the “sexual charge” so inherent to the label’s DNA and the original designer’s own lifestyle. Sources at the time said Zanini was devastated by the reviews.
Other signs of friction surfaced during the New York shows. Zoe, who was also serving on Halston’s creative advisory board, was notably absent from Zanini’s first runway effort, even though she managed to be a front-row regular at other shows that week. It led to speculation that the Hollywood stylist and the designer had fallen out over the creative direction in which the new Halston was heading.
The fall collection was said to have received underwhelming interest from American retailers.
That said, European and Asian stores were apparently more impressed with Zanini’s efforts. In June, Selfridges opened an 800-square-foot Halston in-store boutique on its second floor, decorated with dove gray carpets, slate-colored sofas and mirrored gray screens. A company spokesman said the collection had a 52 percent sell-through for its rtw in the first 10 days of business. At the opening party, Bonnie Takhar, president and chief executive officer of Halston, told WWD there were plans to extend the brand into other categories, including sunglasses, swimwear, jeans and candles.
“It’s one brand that can diversify,” she said.