Some could say Halston got what he deserved. He wanted the best people not only to work for him, but be devoted to him and never leave him. He wanted to treat them like garbage and yell and scream but still take credit for their successes.
Others may say he was a creative genius whose ability to make his name synonymous with an elegant lifestyle (and elegant lifestyle brand) was before his time. He was a fashion influencer before the term meant a 22-year-old in her dorm room with a mastery of contouring apps.
Either way, Halston’s right when he tells his old friend Joe Eula in the middle of this final episode that “we’re given one name … just one. And that’s all we have when we’re on the earth. And that’s all we leave behind us when we’re gone. I wasn’t precious enough with mine.”’
But, before he gets to this level of acceptance, Halston must work through the other four stages of the Kübler-Ross model.
The episode opens with Halston heavy in denial. It’s 1984 and he’s in the Olympic Towers bathroom, where everything is red or mirrors — everything, except for Halston’s black turtleneck and the white cocaine dripping from his nose. Not only does he have a drug problem, but he’s exhausted from trying to rally some feeling out of the Halston III line he’s designing for JC Penney. His friends still come to the show, sitting in the front row and clapping where appropriate. But the critics hate it.
At night, rather than being alone, Halston forces his assistant Sassy to stay with him at his apartment since no one who wasn’t on the pay books stopped by. After he makes her read one negative review after another, he asks her why she thinks he’s failing. “You used to wrap women in a feeling. Now it’s sweatshirts and zippers,” she bravely tells him.
Meanwhile, businessman Carl Epstein and his bosses are pushing for Halston to make more, more, more. They want a menswear line and home furnishings. Carl also wants him to stop using the company money to fund his extravagant lifestyle, like taking the Concorde abroad and making the staff wait around all day while he doesn’t come in until 4 p.m., as well as be more reasonable with his materials (according to the miniseries, Halston eschewed creating patterns on the more affordable muslin and cut directly to the fabric whenever inspiration hit him).
Most importantly, Carl tells him he has a drug problem and he needs to seek help. He even calls Betty Ford personally for him. Betty has no idea who “Carl Epstein” is, but she knows Halston. This, above all else, should be the reason she shouldn’t believe him when Halston tells her he’s just exhausted.
But it’s true that the fashion designer is unwell. Like Victor and so many of their friends, Halston learns that he has AIDS. He decides to have his PR manager tell the world he has something more unique, like liver cancer.
Anger also takes over. Victor comes to him demanding $1 million and a workshop like the one Andy Warhol has so that he can finally realize his potential. If Halston doesn’t finance the endeavor, Victor will release the photos and sex tapes they made — damaging Halston’s otherwise wholesome, sophisticated public image for his new mall shoppers. In response, Halston breaks his nose. The images get leaked to “Page Six” and Halston finally pays off Victor.
Halston does try to play nice with John David Ridge (Jack Mikesell), the costume designer Carl brings in to help get the brand back in line. Halston tells the younger designer that he wants him to fix his name. But then John submits a sketch when they’re behind schedule and Halston can’t be found. Halston goes on the defense, claiming John promised that he could trust him. His replacement goes for the jugular: “How dare you be so careless with your own brand?”
Once he’s been evicted from the offices and he’s out in Montauk, Halston schemes for ways to get back on top. “You sold your name, Halston. Anything you make or try to sell, Esmark owns that,” his lawyer, Nick Lewin, (Juri Henley-Cohn) tells him. “You are not Halston anymore. They are.”
“Well, moving forward, next time I sign a contract I’ll be sure to read it first,” Halston responds, making me wish I always take the time to read a website’s Terms and Conditions section.
He’ll also confide to his friend Martha Graham (Mary Beth Peil): “I just don’t care anymore.”
But the latter, and better, half of this episode is dedicated to Halston’s acceptance of his mortality and his legacy. Victor comes to him to suggest they form a new fashion partnership and Halston realizes he is more comfortable being alone than having that kind of toxic energy in his life. He tells Liza that he’s packing up and moving to California to spend his last days driving up and down that coast. After learning that Joe is healthy, he admits to him that “I never did anything on my own, Joe. I always had you.”
This doesn’t mean Halston doesn’t have one last show-stopper up his sleeve. Martha is mounting a production of Persephone and Halston offers to design the costumes — while also knowing a certain costume designer currently at the helm of a famous fashion label who might be game on assisting with him.
Halston originally wants to dress the designers in ace bandages, telling John that he wanted the audience to feel something pulling back at them (like mortality). But the dye won’t hold and they end up wrapping “up all the dancers in big bolts of spandex.”
It works and the reviews are phenomenal.
And now Halston is ready to retire to California. He tells his driver he used to look at the ocean and think of how he could replicate that shade of blue in clothing and how he could monetize it. Now he only thinks “about what a pretty blue it is.”
The final shots of the miniseries aren’t simply of Halston in the back of his Rolls Royce, thinking about his life’s work. They are also intertwined with shots of him watching the production of Persephone, taking it all in not just as the designer of the costumes worried about how the audience will react, but as a spectator wowed by the beauty and splendor of the way all the art works together onstage.
• While red is in abundance early in this episode, the color trickles out in the back half and only really makes an appearance onstage or in the theater.
• It’s impossible to condense the life of someone like Halston down to five episodes and inevitably a lot was left out. Some of it was not great (Simply Halston, the source material, mentions that the designer was known for anti-Semitism). Other aspects might have been too complicated to include (Halston’s New York Times obituary states that he started his career in Chicago, where a newspaper write-up resulted in him getting clients like “Kim Novak, Hedda Hopper, Deborah Kerr, and Shirley Booth”).