Amidst the extreme fashions of the 1960s & 70s emerged an unpretentious American designer who left a lasting imprint on the fashion world. Roy Halston, a young milliner-turned-couture king from the mid-West, developed classic collections and classy clientele that has since been unsurpassed. He was known for fluid and draped lines, columnar dresses and minimalist, timeless separates that could be worn with confidence year after year. His customers, who included Liza Minnelli, Barbara Walters, Jackie Onassis and Katharine Graham, were attracted to Halston's cordial and practical service. Many clients appreciated his goal of dressing them according to their own desires, not according to a frivolous high-fashion ideal.
Halston first began designing for the elite as a milliner, presenting his designs adjacent to a hair salon in Chicago's Ambassador Hotel in the mid-1950s. He was soon learning on the job under Lilly Dache` and making hats for Oscar de la Renta, who was early in his own career at the time. Until his last collection, Halston might have felt he was a milliner-turned-clothing designer, as he kept two milliners on his staff despite the minimal need for hats into the 1980s.
Halston's own first clothing collection was presented in New York in 1968, in a comfortable bohemian space unlike the purist, overbearing architecture previously common to couture houses. He quickly became a trusted designer and personal friend to the Beautiful People, spending many evenings with them at the famed disco Studio 54. Halston called this "the best show in town", as he could engage in conservation while observing his clients (and potential clients), studying them all through the lens of a designer.
His company blossomed in the 1970s with draped and seamless evening wear, Ultrasuede dresses, spiral-seamed gowns, and cashmere tops & tunics. Over time, the various Halston lines were differentiated with Roman numerals (I through VI), and he quickly expanded his range, creating plus-size fashions with Pat Ast as inspiration, and using the Halston name on perfumes and luggage. Though his designs have become classics, Halston's own success diminished rather quickly, ending with his last personally designed collection in 1984.
As "the first designer to realize the potential of licensing himself," his influence went beyond style to reshape the business of fashion. Through his licensing agreement with JC Penney, his designs were accessible to women at a variety of income levels. Although this practice is not uncommon today, it was a controversial move at the time. Halston, his perfume, was sold in a bottle designed by Elsa Peretti and was the second biggest selling perfume of all time.