A New Era of Luxury, Sensuality and Pleasure

In an age of indulgence and privilege, Halston emerged as the preeminent American designer who would leave an indelible mark in the world of fashion and culture. Halston’s larger-than-life persona helped establish a legacy that still reverberates today. Responsible for designing a distinctly American aesthetic in the 1970s and 1980s, Halston used the appeal of Hollywood’s pageantry with the refined glamour of the rising NYC fashion scene and ushered a sense of modernity and practicality to high fashion. Ultimately, he established a new era of luxury, sensuality, and pleasure at a time of “money, power, and sex.”

Forever Changing American Influence in Fashion

Halston’s meteoric rise to fame, along with his hedonistic lifestyle, also attracted the world’s attention, creating a coveted fashion milieu in the city of New York, with the Halstonettes and the allure of Studio 54 displacing Paris as the ultimate destination for the expression of contemporary fashion and glamour.

After an early career of great creativity and personal industry, Halston’s untimely downfall, marked by awry business deals and personal problems, resulted in him losing control over his fashion house. Nonetheless, Halston is remembered as one of the most influential designers who changed the fashion industry and introduced an American identity to the highest echelons of style.

“Halston created garments that were perfect for the modern jet-set lifestyles of the 1970s. …One of the great aspects of his success was his ability to balance beauty and modernity.” –Patricia Mears, Fashion Historian. Historicism: Halston, Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC.

Capturing Halston

Legendary photographer Harry Benson is renowned for capturing some of the world’s most meaningful events since the 1950s, like when The Beatles first set foot in Americathe Meredith Marches with MLK, and even every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. In the late 1970s, Benson photographed Halston at the peak of his career. He enjoyed broad access to Halston both in his office and at his chic residence, creating images that helped cement the iconic status of the designer.

Harry Benson, Halston Stairs, Shadow
Harry Benson, Halston Stairs, Shadow, 1978, Archival Pigment Photograph

Halston in his Townhouse

Harry Benson captures Halston in his famed modernist Manhattan townhouse. Sitting with his Pekingese on his lap and smoking a cigarette, Halston’s posture conjures images of grace, charm, and confidence as he looks directly at the camera. Halston’s emblematic poise became synonymous with elegance and his minimalist sense of style as a stalwart of fashion. Moreover, the long shadow cast by his figure on the wall behind him perhaps foretells both his double life and his enduring presence in fashion history.

Harry Benson, Halston & Liza Minnelli, Olympic Tower
Harry Benson, Halston & Liza Minnelli, Olympic Tower, 1978

Halston & Liza Minnelli, Olympic Tower

Benson’s image of Halston with Liza Minelli in his office at the Olympic Towers on Fifth Avenue is about power. The image depicts the magnitude of NYC and its iconic skyscrapers along with the spire of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The photo presents Halston’s iconic office, known for its floor-to-ceiling windows and mirrors, and its dark red carpets with a connecting H motif, details that signify Halston’s authority over the fashion industry in NYC. The designer’s impressive office was quite literally high in the sky. Here, Halston was on top of the world. His friend Liza Minelli was often by his side and represented a link to the glamour he surrounded himself with.

Harry Benson, Halston and the Halstonettes, 1977
Harry Benson, Halston and the Halstonettes, 1977

The Halstonettes

The Halstonettes became a signature troupe that accompanied Halston as his entourage, made up entirely of models. Perhaps a precursor to the age of the supermodels, these ladies would become famous in their own respect by appearing in Halston’s editorials, advertisements, and by wearing the couturier’s designs by accompanying him to many fashion related events. Benson captures The Halstonettes with Halston conveying his classic look in the ’70s and ’80s. In a black turtleneck surrounded by women whose feminine figures are outlined by tightfitting outfits, his slim figure and cool demeanor represented his legacy as a fashion superstar very much in control. The designer would be one of the first to hire models from different ethnic backgrounds to showcase his designs.

Harry Benson, Halston Four Models
Harry Benson, Halston Four Models, 1978

Benson on Halston

Of his experience with the shoots, Harry Benson wrote:

“Halston’s name was magic in the 1970s when I photographed him. He had redefined American fashion with his pared-down designs that are as relevant today as they were when they first hit the runways. Even Halston’s entourage was the envy of every other designer. He had Liz Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Margaux Hemingway, Elsa Peretti, Bianca Jagger, Martha Graham, and every socialite in New York wearing his designs.

His gorgeous model muses, the famed Halstonettes, Karen Bjornsen, Alva Chinn, Pat Cleveland, Chrissie Royer, were not only on the runway but also at his side at glittering nights around town.

To me, the most important part of any assignment is getting as close as I can to the subject, so they will relax. I like to take photographs in a person’s own surroundings, not in a studio. To photograph breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner until I am a part of the group.

I’m not talking about any special technique, just doing my job.”

Harry Benson, Halston with Warhol painting, New York, 1978
Harry Benson, Halston with Warhol painting, New York, 1978

Ultimately, Halston embodied the enterprising spirit of America through a fabled career in fashion, of self-creation and resolve, resulting in the creation of a legacy as one of the finest American tastemakers. The esteemed designer summarized his relationship to fashion when he said:

“I mean, there’s no magic about fashion. Fashion is made by people, all kinds of different people. But in fact, they have to put their money down, and they have to buy it, and it must work for them, and they have to look terrific in it, or nobody wants to look that way. So that is really always what happens in the fashion world…” – Halston.