Mystery Monday: Halston, The Hat Man

Halston for Bergdorf Goodman. Sketch of a leopard skin shaped toque, Fall 1960. Pencil and watercolor, 5.5″ x 7″. From The Halston Hats Collection at the FIT Library Department of Special Collections.

Cloche hats, toques, doll hats, and snoods…yes, this is one of Halston’s designs!

When many of us think of Halston, we think of heady perfume, sultry synthetics and Studio 54.  Most of the world remembers Halston for his designs and his luxurious lifestyle, but before the sequins, glamor, and star-studded parties, there was only the young Roy Halston Frowick, an ambitious young milliner.

Born in Des Moines, Idaho in 1932, Halston showed an aptitude for sewing and for design at an early age. He attended the University of Indiana but never graduated, and in 1952, he moved to Chicago to explore career opportunities. While in Chicago, “Fro” studied at the Art Institute while working as a window dresser. In 1953, Fro was given the opportunity to work alongside a hair stylist, André Basil, who provided a small space in his elegant salon for Fro to create and sell hats. The press soon discovered Fro, renaming him Halston as they reported on his latest designs. In 1956, Lily Daché discovered Halston, and noting his talent, later brought him to New York to work in her millinery studio.

Halston for Bergdorf Goodman. Black, red and green doll hat with front knot and veil, Fall 1959. Pencil and watercolor, 5.5″ x 7″. From The Halston Hats Collection at the FIT Library Department of Special Collections.

In 1958, less than a year after moving to New York to work with Lily Daché, Halston was promoted to co-designer, but left to work at Bergdorf Goodman.  To Halston, a hat was “a covering which is supposed to make you glamorous, exciting, and more interesting than anyone else.” Bergdorf Goodman was the perfect place for the ambitious designer, who created whimsical styles for celebrities and socialites until 1966, when his first clothing collection premiered in June.

Halston Studio for Luksus. Black feathered crest shaped hat, 1960s. Pencil and watercolor, 5.5″ x 7″. From The Halston Hats Collection at the FIT Library Department of Special Collections.

“From the early to the mid-sixties, Halston’s style in millinery was both well and widely documented on the covers and in the editorial sections of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. In most cases, his designs were dramatically oversized and overscaled with what one journalist called ‘sky-rising silhouettes’; yet they also incorporated the remarkably clean and simplified lines that defined his later fashions.”  – from Halston [Mears and Bluttal], page 27

Halston Studio. Large snood shaped hat of oversized fuzzy pompoms in contrasting colors, 1960s. Pencil and watercolor, 5.5″ x 7″. From The Halston Hats Collection at the FIT Library Department of Special Collections.

Halston Hats on covers of Harper’s Bazaar, April 1963 and April 1964. Found in Halston.

Halston headpiece. Harper’s Bazaar, July 1962. Photo: Martin Munkacsi. Found in Halston.

One of his more familiar designs is the pillbox hat he created for Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  She became a life-long client, sending him letters, like this request for a dress in a particular hue:

Letter from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Halston, 1976. Collection: Andy Warhol Museum. Found in Halston.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at benefit, New York, 1976. Photo: Globe Photos. Found in Halston.

Halston’s rise to fame and precipitous decline ended with his death in 1990. His talent for creating accessories and clothing that accentuated a woman’s face and form is well documented in photos and through the words of his admirers. Diane Vreeland once said:  “He was probably the greatest hatmaker in the world. I’d say to him, ‘H., I had a dream about a hat last night’; and I’d go about describing it, and then, by God, he’d give it to me line by line.”

The New York Times, June 29, 1966. Found in Halston.

Source: Mears, Patricia and Steven Bluttal, ed. Halston. London: Phaidon, 2001.
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