‘Ultrasuede’ Director Talks Halston, Disco and ’70s Style

Whitney Sudler-Smith takes a fresh look at America's first celebrity designer.

by Lesley Kennedy • MORE.com Reporter
halston image
"Ultrasuede: The Search for Halston" looks at the designer's life.
Photograph: Bill King

WSS: We just wanted to be amusing. This is a fun film, and although we take the subject seriously, we clearly don't take my character very seriously—he's a bit out of his element. It was more for non-fashion outsiders, to follow the story as one would who didn't know anything; I hoped it was a device to make the viewer more empathetic toward the story and its subjects.

MORE: Studio 54 plays a big part in the film. Would making a movie about Halston be impossible without including the club? And what would you give to be able to time-machine back to one of those nights?

WSS: Well, his look did define the Studio 54 look, and that's what he's probably best known for. I suppose you could leave most of the 54 stuff out, but it would be a lot less interesting. Everybody loves the mystique of that place—that lost, forbidden world. I would have loved to have checked it out!

MORE: Your own appearance changes several times during the movie. Was it filmed over a long period of time?

WSS: It was filmed over a year and a half. As the film is a bit of a surrealist pastiche, I wanted to mix it up, provide some comic relief to an already pretty heavy story. My character is a bit of a Dante taking you through the nine rings, with ridiculous ’70s-style outfits.

MORE: There’s not much talk about Halston’s youthhow a boy from Des Moines, Iowa, ended up the face of 70s fashion and glamour. Why did you decide to leave that part out?

WSS: The whole idea of the film was to avoid the typical documentary/Biography Channel thing—the kind of A to Z trajectory of one's life. We touch upon his early days, and his start as a milliner, but I wanted to hit the ground running.

MORE: Halston’s story ended with such a sad and lonely conclusion, especially when compared with his life, which was rich in success, glamour and excess. What do you want people who see this film to take away from his life, and what do you think Halston’s legacy is and will continue to be?

WSS: Well, as [Vanity Fair writer] Bob Colacello says at the end of the film, “you can't have greatness if there was no tragedy in the first place.” Halston was a great artist, and a tragic figure because of it, and I wanted people to know of this incredible person in an incredible time. I also want the viewer to walk away wanting a glass of champagne, as it's a fun film and a bit of a celebration.

In regard to his legacy, you can see his minimalist influence in many designers' work today: Michael Kors' sleek furs and trouser suits; Derek Lam's columns; Marc Jacobs' 2010 spring line. Halston really changed fashion.

Click here to read more about Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston.

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First Published January 18, 2012

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