Costume designer puts ‘Halston’ back in the spotlight

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Creating the costumes for “Halston” was both a dream job and a daunting task for costume designer Jeriana San Juan, who received an Emmy nomination for her work. Netflix’s five-part miniseries, based on the book “Simply Halston” by Steven Gaines, involved more than 2,000 costumes, most of which were made from scratch. Throughout the process, San Juan was designing clothing lines on behalf of the titular designer, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, and tried to reflect the real sensibility of the designer as well as the dramatic aesthetic of director Daniel Minahan.

Creating the costumes for “Halston” was both a dream job and a daunting task for costume designer Jeriana San Juan, pictured with the costume inspiration board.

(Julia Hirsch)

“It was always going to be a challenge to have that very fine rope to walk between paying a full homage to Halston and what he did as a designer and his beautiful clothes, but also remaining a storyteller as a costume designer. “, explains San Juan. . “I found myself wearing two different hats and finding the times when I really needed to take a more creative license and the times when I wanted to feel authentic. I really had to achieve these two things in order, in my mind, to do it right. I wanted to reach people who didn’t know anything about Halston and I wanted it to feel festive and authentic to people who are huge fans of him.

While the series only covers five episodes, it spans decades of Halston’s life, including pivotal moments in his career, like the debut of his iconic fabric Ultrasuede and the looks he created for his muse Liza Minnelli. . One piece San Juan painstakingly remade was the Halston red sequin halter mini dress designed for Minnelli when she performed “I Gotcha”. The dress in the series is an almost glitter-to-glitter replica of the original.

“It’s a documented footage that people can very easily get on YouTube,” San Juan says. “This ‘I Gotcha’ look was so fresh and modern. It captured the spirit of young Liza and a fresh take on fashion from Halston. It was perfect, there was nothing to improve on. is a very specific fabric. It’s a very specific clear sequin that Halston was working on when he created it. It’s a very clean and very crisp shape. It was the one where I had to do it with complete precision .

Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli in "Halston."

Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli in “Halston”, wearing a replica of the red sequined halter mini dress designed by Halston for Minnelli when she performed “I Gotcha”.

(Atsushi Nishijima / Netflix)

In other scenes, San Juan took a more creative approach, seeking to capture sentiment rather than historical fact. The Battle of Versailles, a showdown between designers held in France in 1973, was an example, where she did not feel the need to copy documented images exactly. For Halston’s collection, she found an original piece, a multicolored hand-painted kaftan, and then built her own take on the looks that surround it. “It was a marriage of many things, but this real caftan has become the anchor from which to develop her collection,” she notes.
For the rest of the show, which involved American designers such as Bill Blass, Anne Klein and Oscar de la Renta presenting collections against French designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy, San Juan took an equally open approach. She wanted “to pay a real tribute and a tribute to the creators represented, but also to riff on the idea and to capture more the spirit and the energy of these collections than to reproduce everything literally”. It was this episode, “Versailles”, that earned San Juan its Emmy.

Rory Culkin, Ewan McGregor as designer and Rebecca Dayan as "Halston."

Rory Culkin, Ewan McGregor as designer and Rebecca Dayan in “Halston”.

(Netflix)

“For some reason, I was like, ‘We can never do this,'” recalls the episode’s costume designer. “I thought there was a way to do it [the Battle of Versailles] without really doing it. There you go, I got a script and my jaw hit the ground. It was not small. It was a great thing to do in a TV series.

With San Juan only having about six weeks to prepare for filming – which was cut short early due to the pandemic – she got help with her research from several Halston peers. Halston’s assistant Sassy Johnson, Halstonette Chris Royer and head tailor Gino Balsamo offered first-hand testimonials and notable details, such as Halston’s obsession with red socks. The designer’s former apprentice, Naeem Khan, even helped with the detailed beading that appears on several looks, including a brown jumpsuit Minnelli wears at Studio 54.

Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli on stage with Halston models in "Halston."

Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli on stage with Halston models in “Halston”.

(Atsushi Nishijima / Netflix)

“One of the most wonderful things about creating the show was being able to talk to people who had known it firsthand,” said San Juan. “And because of the way they talked about him and the love they had for him and the appreciation for the man he was, I felt a sense of duty to do it right.” for them, for their friend. I felt, in a way, that it was part of my responsibility to redeem his name.
San Juan’s work on “Halston” had a tangible ripple effect. At the start of her process, she says she felt like “a private investigator. [who was] discover Halston ”, where it was difficult to find Halston originals from vintage collectors. Now, following the success of the miniseries, there is a renewed appreciation for its creations.

“It’s really remarkable now what I see in the vintage market,” says the costume designer. “How people are celebrating Halston more than ever. The prices were raised. It’s fresh again and people are now more aware of the story behind it and Roy Halston Frowick, who was the man behind it. It was really exciting for me to see.


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