A SEVENTIES ICON TALKS ABOUT WORK, RUMORS AND THE REVELRY OF STUDIO 54.
Byline: Francesca Stanfill, October 1978
It is early for Halston, 46, to be home. “I am never here before 8,” he says, as the rain begins to beat and the lightning crackles outside. “And if I have friends in for dinner, it”s usually about 10:20 or 11.” Slightly eery, empty, isn’t it — being alone in this place? “No, it’s terrific,” he answers in his hard-to-place, WASP-y accent. “I might have a friend over, or several. People sort of find their place here — Liza [Minnelli] on the floor, Bianca [Jagger] on that chair over there, Martha [Graham] right here, Andy [Warhol] comes a lot.”
At which point the phone rings: a young socialite friend, Catherine Guinness. Halston greets her in his most melting voice and says, “Yes, I’m having a few friends over and then to Studio.”
“Studio,” he calls it (Studio 54); as do, one supposes, the die-hard habitues. “It’s a democracy,” he says, when asked about his fervent attachment to the place. “You see a David Bowie there, Liza, unemployed actors. And it generates energy.” Does he dance? “I NEVER dance,” he answers almost primly.
“No one bothers me there,” he says; he can escape his image. “I have a lot of different public images, but very few people know who I am and what makes me tick. People don’t know me. I’m rather cozy. I’m a fair guy.”
He hints it is the climate of SA that has fabricated his intimidating image. “You have the TERRIBLE problem of jealousy in the fashion industry, and from a lot of designers, too.”
“There is this constant jealousy,” he complains, slowly sipping his drink. “You’re taller, you’re older, you’re younger….
“Or you’re more successful. I’ve always been successful on different levels. From the moment I started in fashion, success liked me, and I like it. I’ve never had lean times. I was ambitious and I wanted to do things. You see, you hear the craziest things about everyone — but I’m just a person like everyone else.” A slight pause. “Well, not like everyone else. There’s more publicity, more picture-taking. That’s sort of the hardship part sometimes. Everyone knows who I am; but I don’t know who THEY are.
“You’re only as good as the people you dress,” the Halston motto goes. “I happen to like women who do things.”
He dismisses the thought that he has any “power” over these Ladies; but who can deny the vatic aura of those wardrobe-planning caucuses, or the devotion that they evoke among his following? At his suggestion, mannequins will shear their locks to Punk length (Connie Cook and Pat Cleveland one day, recently); Lee Radziwill and steely Katharine Graham will bow to his council; Mary Lasker will come to him for stately caftans, and Liz Taylor will deny herself Palm Beach-y get-ups, in favor of his bias chiffons and satins. “You can only SUGGEST,” he says, with a knowing smile.
Discreet or outre, he knows what They want, and is adroit at handling both, nimbly walking the tightrope between Miss America conservatism and High Style theatricality. “I’ve done some mad things in my day, darling,” he says, with a glimmer. “Some of the most extravagant hats there were.” His signature pillbox for Jacqueline Kennedy — discreet, elegant and utterly serviceable — has somehow obliterated the other end of his spectrum (the wild, feathered extravaganza for Maya Plisetskaya in Avedon’s ’66 photo, for instance). In the Seventies, it is his public image that swings between the two poles: Dressed in a banker-ish pinstriped suit, he will wow the crowd at a Girl Scouts of America meeting (as he did this past spring when he redesigned their uniforms); two nights later, he will set the cameras clicking at “Studio” with a wild-eyed and skimpily clad starlet.
How he manages to do all of this — run the Empire, keep up the night life and the workaholic pace — has prompted speculation+drugs being one of them.
His reaction to this is unflustered and biting. “I put on dark glasses and everyone thinks I’m the number-one coke-head of the city,” he retorts. “Everyone gossips about everyone else.” And then, vehemently: “You can’t take drugs and work, to keep up my pace. Everything it gives you it takes up.” He attributes his energy, instead, to “a lot of vitamins. And I eat less than I used to. Fish instead of meat. I think eating less in IN, eating more is OUT.
“I love gossip and hearsay, but I hear I’ve done so many raunchy things it’s unbelievable.” He mentions a party he gave — “a costume thing” — this past July for the employees of Studio 54. “And then I read about it in the columns the next day, and one said I wore a one-shouldered dress, and the other said an off-the-shoulder dress.” Whereas, “he teases, “no one knows what I wore except the people who were there.” But he cannot resist admitting, when pressed, “A black cashmere body stocking.”