The Real Halston

Already in your idiot box via Netflix is a miniseries about a man who also used one name, but burned out rather early due to an outsize ego and too much coke. His name was Halston, and his fame was based on the fact he designed a pillbox hat that Jackie Kennedy Onassis wore at her hubby’s inauguration. Yes, fame is tricky, especially in America, where self-creation was invented, and where superciliousness and sleekness pass for gravity and depth. I knew Halston, he was a friend of my then sister-in-law, but we had zero in common. In fact he thought I wasn’t important enough to greet in a nightclub, and I didn’t exactly ever mistake him for a Hemingway hero. Never mind.

Some wannabe who made a documentary on Studio 54 compared Halston to Cole Porter because they were both from Indiana. That’s a bit like comparing an organ grinder to Mozart because they were both Austrian. Halston affected an upper-class accent and a persona of distance and hauteur, copied by Anna Wintour, both the designer and the Vogue editor mistakenly assuming that a nose up in the air means one’s aristocratic. The Scot Ewan McGregor is cast as the designer in the series, an unfortunate choice as the Scot looks like a Glasgow tough, whereas Halston was effete, elongated, effeminate, and haughty. The hard-partying designer died of AIDS in 1990, age 57, but his downfall began much earlier when he got down and dirty with the sexual hustler Victor Hugo (the French government should have sued when such a lowlife adopted the great name), spending his evenings in Studio 54’s balcony, where free and anonymous sex took place nightly.

But what I want to tell you has nothing to do with the sleaze that was Halston, Warhol, Bianca Jagger, and Studio 54. It has to do with what transpired between Halston, the Queen Mother’s cousin, and Princess Margaret, parts of the story having appeared on July 12, 1980, in The Spectator. John Bowes-Lyon, Bosie to us for obvious reasons and perennially broke, had been more or less ordered by Halston to organize a party for the designer and invite la crème de la crème of the London scene to meet him. Princess Margaret was the pièce de résistance. The blast took place at the Savoy. Among the first to arrive was Rupert Galliers-Pratt, eager to taste the free canapés and Savoy drinks. Rupert, walking five feet ahead of his wife, advanced fearlessly into the grand ballroom when he ran into a tall imperious figure with an outstretched right arm. Next to that figure stood Bosie. “I am Halston,” said the elongated man with a raised eyebrow. “Thank you, Halston,” boomed Rupert, wrapping his wife’s coat around the designer’s extended arm. When Bosie later remonstrated with him about the coat incident, Rupert said that only people in service had one name, and that he was genuinely sorry.

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