Fashion Documentary - Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston Welcome back to the Summer of Fashion Documentaries! This week we are looking at Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston. (You can find this documentary streaming on Netflix.)
Roy Halston Frowick was THE fashion designer that defined the 1970's in America. His approach to fashion was based on minimalism with a strict eye toward line, yet his dresses absolutely dazzled. He was embraced by Europe and was one of the first designers to embark upon multi-tiered licensing deals. He started out as a milliner, and is perhaps best known for Jackie Kennedy's pillbox hat.
Watch This Documentary
If you want to watch a train wreck. Writer / producer / director / legend-in-his-own-mind Whitney Smith somehow makes himself the center of a film supposedly dedicated to the life and work of Halston.
Wait. Have you not heard of Whitney Smith? Yeah, me either. I did some research and found out that he is now a cast member and executive producer on the Bravo TV show Southern Charm.
Smith did spend a lot of time changing outfits and riding around in his muscle car. What he did not do was a ton of research. Here's a play by play of a conversation he had with Andre Leon Talley (former editor-at-large for Vogue magazine) when Talley was talking about Halston:
Smith: "Sorry to interrupt, but Diana Vreeland. Who was she, exactly?"
Talley: "I'm going to talk about Halston, and not the fashion of Diana Vreeland. I don't want to do fashion history. It's been talked about. Don't interrupt."
(The blog post I did on Diana Vreeland's documentary can be found here if you want to learn more about her. The quick version - she was a hugely influential person in the fashion world and worked for Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and turned the Costume Institute into the triumph it is today.)
Skip this Documentary
If you can't handle an ego-driven, masturbatory piece of filmmaking.
If Smith could get out of his own way he would actually have a decent documentary on his hands. He lands interviews with some impressive people (Anjelica Huston, Billy Joel, Naeem Khan, Liza Minnelli, Ralph Rucci, Diane von Furstenberg, etc.). But, the majority of his interviews turn out to be painfully awkward due to lack of basic fashion knowledge and social skills.
Side note: The fact that I've talked so much about the filmmaker versus Halston drives me nuts.
One thing that I will give Smith - the archival footage within the documentary is fantastic. There are old interviews with Halston, pictures of the 1970's that give context to Halston's New York City, and gorgeous clips from runway shows.
Can You Watch This While Doing Other Stuff?
This is a really hard film to get through, period. I had to chop it up into viewing sessions out of pure exasperation. But, if you get a kick out of the documentary-turned-hilarious-disaster genre, go for it. It's like an early episode of The Office. Except with designer interviews. And, it's nonfiction.
Running Time: 85 minutes (released 2010)
You can find our next documentary, Mansome, streaming on Netflix.