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Ewan McGregor in Halston.
Ewan McGregor in Halston.
Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/Netflix






4/5 Stars


Iconic American fashion designer Halston skyrockets to fame before his life starts to spin out of control.


Calvin Klein, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent - their fame and power all lie within their names. Some of the most iconic fashion designers of yesteryear, their brands that still hold power today when it comes to setting trends. Their power is so great that even on rags, just that branding of their name will fetch a high price tag.  However, one icon from the late 60s and 70s appears to have disappeared entirely from public knowledge and our closets - American designer Roy Halston Frowick.

Once upon a time, he was a household name in the US fashion world, a pioneer that changed the industry through his minimalist designs and easy-to-wear dresses at the height of the discotheque era. Today, his name holds no meaning for many generations.

Yet that might change as his life is remembered in a new Netflix limited series, helmed by Ewan McGregor and directed mainly by TV stalwart Daniel Minahan (Game of Thrones, Deadwood, American Crime Story, House of Cards). Starting with his days as a hatmaker made famous by Jackie Kennedy, it tracks the rise of his empire, his spiralling addiction to everything and his repentant final years. Based on a book of his life, he's your typical tortured artist that can't handle the tortured part - he wants to live in a world where he's at the centre of it all, and he's given anything he wants when he wants it. People tolerate his childish tantrums for his genius, and it's a wild ride for the audience as well - you root for him in the beginning, then eventually believing he deserves all the bad that happens to him, and then he comes right around again, coming out on top as a hero you hope wins again.

It's not an easy role to take on, but McGregor has a depth and dedication to his talent that's not easily matched. He has a transformative physicality to his performance as he fades into his role - the way he holds his hand when he smokes, the inflexions in his voice, his posture towards friends and enemies. McGregor disappears, and all that exists within that space is Halston. While the story had some problems with momentum, you won't be able to take your eyes off its lead star.

And what's a series about fashion without a phenomenal wardrobe? You might see Ryan Murphy's name attached to the show (only as one of the co-writer on some of the episodes), but his trademark style is nowhere to be seen. The costume design is suave, gorgeous and peak 70s, including a scene-stealing red trenchcoat worn by Halston that I will dream about for weeks to come. You'd have to have some interest in fashion to fully enjoy and appreciate the crux of this series, although McGregor's performance could also interest the non-fashionistas in the audience.

But beyond the glitz, sex and drugs, Halston crafts an important tale about the cost of giving up your name. There's an interaction between Halston and his old friend that stuck with me long after the credits rolled - the designer talks about how cheaply he gave away his name when his friend pipes in $100 million aren't cheap. He retorts with: "It is cheap when I would pay twice that to get it all back." It highlights how our name, our reputation,  our legacy is an intricate part of who we are and that we need to take care of it. Especially in the modern world of social media, where your personal brand can be your career, Halston is a reminder to be careful with how we trade our names for fame and money - you can't always get it back.


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