Halston, a leading and influential fashion designer who created clothing both for the rich and famous and for millions of middle Americans, died March 26 at Pacific Presbyterian Hospital in San Francisco. He had AIDS.
Although his status had declined in recent years, at the peak of his career in the 1970s, he was one of the most copied innovators in the fashion industry. Halston, 57, was known for a design style that was simple, elegant and timely, yet free of gimmickry. His clothing was carefully cut to show off the human body to its best advantage.
His designs bridged the generation gap. Women over 30 could wear them without looking as if they were trying to recapture a lost youth, and teenagers could wear them without looking inappropriately sophisticated.
His work included made-to-order collections for the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lauren Bacall, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli, as well as ready-to-wear, menswear, accessories and fragrances. In 1983 he added a cheaper Halston III line of clothes and accessories for the J.C. Penney department store chain, a move that cost him standing at the highest levels of the fashion industry.
He designed uniforms for the Girl Scouts, U.S. Olympic athletes, the New York City Police Department, Avis Rent-A-Car and Braniff Airlines. He did costumes for the Martha Graham ballet troupe and the Metropolitan Opera. He was a pioneer in the use of ultrasuede, a synthetic fabric much like suede.
As a pacesetter in a contentious and volatile industry, Halston had no fear of bucking prevailing trends. At the height of his authority, he could provoke a major story in the fashion media by cutting six inches from a hemline as a way of making a statement that the hemline needed to retreat, and he could provoke a major story by dropping the hemline to make the opposite point.
Newsweek magazine, in a 1972 cover story, called him the premier fashion designer in all America." Vogue once said "The Halston label on a dress or perfume tells a woman that what she's buying will be recognized as 'right,' . . . that it's more than just stylish, it's in good taste."
Halston won four Coty Awards, the fashion industry equivalent of Hollywood's Oscars; one in 1962 and one in 1969 for millinery designs, one in 1971 and another in 1972 for knitwear designs, matte jersey dresses and beaded evening clothes. He was elected to the Coty Hall of Fame in 1974.
He was born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines. Halston created his first fashion design on Easter Day 1945 when he made a red hat and veil for his mother. His family moved to Evansville, Ind., after World War II. He attended Indiana University for two years before enrolling at the Chicago Art Institute.
While a student in Chicago, he designed department store window displays. In his spare time he stitched hats on a second-hand sewing machine in his apartment. Later he talked the hairdresser at Chicago's Ambassador Hotel into displaying some of his creations. They were so well received that at the age of 21, Halston opened his own millinery shop at the hotel.
Among his first clients was Fran Allison of the television show "Kukla, Fran and Ollie." Others included Kim Novak, Gloria Swanson, Hedda Hopper and Deborah Kerr.
In 1957 he moved to New York City to work in Lilly Dache's hat division, then in 1958 transferred to Bergdorf Goodman, where he eventually became chief milliner. Jacqueline Kennedy was one of his early customers there. Halston designed the celebrated beige felt pillbox hat she wore to her husband's presidential inauguration in 1961.
In this period, Bergdorf Goodman was the largest U.S. retail outlet for European fashions, and Halston made trips twice yearly to Europe, where he purchased hat samples to be duplicated for Bergdorf's American customers.
His first venture beyond the world of hat design came in 1966, when he designed an 18-piece interchangeable collection of jackets, dresses, coats, and a red ski outfit that included full-length knickers and a Cossack-like overblouse. After that Halston split his time between millinery duties and designing custom apparel.
He left Bergdorf Goodman to go into business for himself in 1968, signing a contract with Lin-Mac Hat Co. to manufacture an inexpensive line of hats that were sold in hat bars nationwide. Later that year he launched his own clothing business, operating out of an old town house on Manhattan's Upper East Side that had once been the childhood home of Franklin D. Roosevelt. There he produced a ready-to-wear collection sold in select stores around the nation.
In 1973 he sold his business and the Halston trademark to the Norton Simon conglomerate in a $16 million deal that permitted Norton Simon to use the Halston name for products he did not design. It also barred Halston from using his name on any product without Norton Simon's permission.
In the 1980s, after successive corporate takeovers of Norton Simon, Halston made several legal efforts to regain the right to design under his own name, but he was unsuccessful. Bergdorf Goodman announced it would no longer carry his line after announcement of the 1983 deal with J.C. Penney. Soon afterward, his company was disassembled by its new corporate owners in a cost-cutting effort. Although the Halston name still appeared on the J.C. Penney labels, the actual design was being done by someone else.
Revlon bought the Halston name in 1986 and used it on a popular fragrance line simply called "Halston."
Once a visible and ubiquitous figure on New York's social circuit, known for his lavish parties and his appearances at Studio 54 during the nightclub's heyday, Halston had been away from the public spotlight in recent years. "There really isn't much to celebrate," he told The New York Times in 1987 when asked why he no longer gave his parties.
Survivors include two brothers and a sister.
Government & Church Secretary
Pauline Lawrence, 81, a former government and church secretary who was a member of the National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington, died of cancer March 25 at the Bethesda Retirement and Nursing Home. She lived in Washington.
Miss Lawrence, who came here in 1942, was born in Comanche, Okla. She worked for the government from 1942 to 1968, first for the Agriculture Department and then for the Central Intelligence Agency. She was secretary at National Baptist Memorial from 1968 until retiring in 1979.
Survivors include a sister, Robbie Lawrence, of Washington.