Halston's big news this season is not a falling hemline or a favorite color. After 11 years of being owned by a huge corporation, he has bought back his own company, "and I feel great. It's like a new frontier," he said yesterday.
The award-winning fashion designer -- whose endeavors include a made-to-order collection for clients such as Jacqueline Onassis, Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli, as well as ready-to-wear, menswear, accessories and fragrances -- last year added a cheaper Halston III line of clothes and accessories for the J.C. Penney chain. "I have acquired back all the ready-to-wear aspects above the Penney price level," he explained.
(According to Women's Wear Daily, Halston signed a letter of intent with Playtex on Tuesday to regain ownership of his made-to-order and ready-to-wear business, while Playtex will retain control of the Halston fragrances and Halston's contract with J.C. Penney.)
Halston would not say what he paid to buy back the company, and no figures were released when he sold his company to Norton Simon Inc. in 1973. "At that time I needed a better league of businessmen to take advantage of all the options in order to go on to bigger and better things," Halston said. In the last year, he said, the business had changed hands from Norton Simon to Esmark Inc. and then to Beatrice Foods Co., which owns Playtex. "That many changes is very unusual," Halston said, "and also made the negotiations very complicated."
So complicated and time consuming, in fact, that while Halston was involved with these changes, rumors circulated questioning the health of the designer as well as his company. "That should end all the mystery," Halston said. "We have been negotiating hard and long. I look forward to being an entrepreneur again," he said.
He will continue designing for J.C. Penney. "The Penney company went ahead 17 percent this year. I'm proud to be a part of that," Halston said. He will not be showing a ready-to-wear collection for this coming spring -- "I am a little late for that. I don't have my fabrics" -- but he will produce a made-to-order collection for his private clientele.
Roy Halston Frowick, who started as a millinery designer -- he created the famous pillbox hat for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis -- had a boutique for his custom-made clothes at Bergdorf Goodman in 1966. He won a special Coty Award, the fashion industry's Oscar, for his millinery designs in 1962 and another in 1969, just after he showed his first ready-to-wear collection. His simple knitwear designs, matte jersey dresses and beaded evening clothes earned him another Coty in 1971, and again in 1972. In 1974 he was elected to the Coty Hall of Fame.
Along with his collections, shown in his spectacular top-floor showroom in the Olympic Towers in New York, Halston has designed Girl Scout uniforms, costumes for Martha Graham ballets and Braniff Airlines uniforms.
He'll remain in the Olympic Towers space. "My lease runs another eight years," he said.
"I feel freed up to do many things," Halston said. "But it isn't the time to say exactly what," he added cautiously.