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1970s fashion with Halston

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It’s Sew Vintage September so how about a look back at a glorious age of fashion, the 1970s? When costume designer Jeriana San Juan was tasked with recreating American design icon Halston’s signature looks for a Netflix limited series about his meteoric rise and shocking fall, the pressure was on. Thankfully, the costume designer was more than ready for the task.

What can you expect from the show?

Halston dancing at Studio 54, arriving in Paris for the legendary 1973 Battle of Versailles fashion show (in which French and American designers went head to head) and holding court at his plush office in Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue, a paradise of giant mirrors, red furnishings and stunning views. A glimpse inside Halston’s design and fitting process is the peak for sewing enthusiasts.

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Who designed the costumes for Halston?

Jeriana San Juan is responsible for the incredible costumes. Ranging from minimalist to outlandish, they include printed kaftans, block-coloured shirtdresses, slinky gowns, velvet jackets and sequined tops. San Juan, who grew up between Miami and New York and is a first-generation Cuban American, was always a fan of Halston and his very American story.

She designed around 1,200 costumes for the series, recreating some iconic items (such as the metallic sequin gowns for the famous Battle of Versailles fundraiser in France that pitted American design stars against French legends). Some of the pieces she invented herself in the designer’s style. She also searched the vintage market, hauling in many pieces from dealers and borrowing from private collections and friends of the designer.

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Collaborating with Ewan McGregor

Speaking ahead of the release, San Juan recalled “We worked very closely together not just on his costuming, but on the design process. He would come to the shop just to observe the tailors, or watch me do a fitting, to get a better idea of how a designer works. It was a very unique experience — we worked on how to pin clothes properly, how clothes are constructed and assembled, how to move through a workroom, and I even walked him through where my eyes go when I’m designing so he could better track his eyeline when he’s designing as Halston in the show.”

Also in an interview with insider.com she revealed: “He had a sewing machine in his hotel room and he made his own trousers that he sent me photos of that I was very impressed by, barring the fact that he had sewn one pocket on the outside of the pants by accident,” the stylist recalled. “But the style of them was very cool and I actually could see it as very deconstructionist kind of chic.”

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Sourcing the costumes

“Most of the pieces in our show on our main characters are created from scratch. I found vintage dealers from every corner of the world, but vintage clothes are often not in fantastic shape, and I wanted to make sure the costumes fit with the same ease and pristine effortless style that defines Halston. There are also many original Halston pieces in the show. Halston’s entire archive was disassembled when he left the company, but I was able to find pieces that were tucked away. Lesley Frowick, Halston’s niece, had gifted a great deal of his work to Lipscomb University. I worked with a company called Toray International, the original manufacturer of Ultrasuede fabric, and they gave me a ton of Ultrasuede that was the same quality Halston used in his designing. We also worked with Tiffany & Co. to obtain all of the original Elsa Peretti jewellery.”

The rest, she and her team constructed. This includes a dress that the audience sees McGregor’s Halston create on the show, which San Juan wanted to “highlight all of the magic and iconic elements of his work.” She decided to go with a Batik dyed one-seam caftan.

“I wanted to make something we could see turn on the bias on camera in order to educate an audience about what the bias is,” the designer says. “And for the real fashion crowd, I wanted for them to see the caftan and really understand it was a tribute to that very iconic shape and silhouette.”

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Halston sewing patterns

Between the early 1970s and early 1980s, Halston released over 100 patterns with McCall’s and another handful of hat designs with Vogue. They celebrated his trademark easy slinky style and many featured mini collections of garments that could be worn together or separately. He also came up with unique pattern pieces to avoid unnecessary seams and using bias layplans to create the drape he loved in his fashion line. Halston licensed his millinery designs with Vogue Patterns during his time as Chief Milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. At the amazing Vintage Pattern Fandom site you can see photos of the patterns in case you’re lucky enough to find one for yourself! It does happen… I found M4453 at a car boot sale in Yorkshire of all places.

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Get the look

Choose Kaftans like S8505, perhaps a poncho with S6630 or a slinky halter top using S5555.

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The 5-part series is available for streaming in the UK on Netflix now. It’s also nominated for an Emmy in the category “Outstanding Period Costumes – 2021” to be announced Sept 19th.

All images courtesy of Netflix.

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