(Article updated on May 27th, 2021) This documentary is available on Amazon Prime Video –
We have leveraged the visit of Frédéric Tcheng in San Francisco to interview him about Halston, his last movie.
Halston was not only the most influential figure of the American fashion of the 80s, he also participated in defining the Golden Age of the hedonistic culture of the time with Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Studio 54… This documentary is a fascinating journey into the heart of the Halston myth; its rise, its decline, and thanks to its own archives, the various interviews of its entourage and up to the members of Proctor & Gamble who destroyed it.
Interview with Frédéric Tcheng, the French director of this documentary, at the Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco.
I really liked your documentary about Dior, with Raf Simons as head designer. It was showing all the suffering of a creator, ready to deliver his collection to the world. He is almost physically sick.
In “Halston”, it’s the opposite: relaxation, self-confidence, talent easily acquired and delivered. Does this seem to be the product of a cultural anthropology? Or precisely of the US anti-culture?
Yes, compared to Raf Simons who does not hesitate to show the work accomplished behind a collection, Halston had built a very controlled image where relaxation and natural talent were essential.
It’s also what he wanted to project from his clothes: fluid, easy to wear silhouettes that magnified women’s bodies. The more relaxed American culture has probably played too. It did not have a tradition in fashion as in France, and besides Halston did not want to create museum pieces, he wanted a fashion portable and accessible to everyone.
Many people still perceive him as a ” stylist ” according to the American definition, but he was an extraordinary creator. He wanted to democratize fashion and reach a wide audience, with actually very complex patterns unfolding like origamis.
And he dressed both Jacklyn Kennedy and Nancy Reagan.
Halston did everything first: minimalist clothing, fashion models of varying sizes and colors, fashion shows in unusual places, sculpted perfume bottle, democratizing its brand by transferring it to a cheap retailer, and even selling his name and society as venture capitalists do today. Was he too avant-garde?
He was totally avant-garde. His way of cutting in one piece, with a single seam to make a dress was amazing. He worked all his life with models of colors. He owned the Versailles show, which became the first success of American fashion. And even selling his name, which he did before everyone else, ended up ruining him, but was his opportunity too.
Why was he so quickly forgotten? Is the US lack of interest in fashion? Counter-culture?
He did not have a Pierre Bergé, like Saint Laurent who kept everything. In the USA, there is no institution such as a Fashion Museum.
Then his work was also deliberately destroyed (donations of clothes, cassettes erased…) to assess the new authority on his society.
Carl Epstein thought that the important thing was to keep the patterns. He did not see any added value to the clothes.
Why fashion? What is it saying?
It was a bit of a coincidence that I found myself there, but it was an opportunity to explore the complex relationships between creators and businessmen, and American energy.
You do not like to differentiate between documentary and fiction?
Haston had a very romantic life, a little Citizen Kane style, very constructed too. There was a real American myth, an ascent, a decline. The character of Tavi Gevinson is there to discover the man behind the dark glasses.
You do the editing yourself. Is real difference more between reality and images? What is the relationship between them?
Images are made to create a myth, but they do not necessarily stick to reality. What interests me is the double meaning. In an image, one can perceive very different things, even contradictory ones. I am looking for ambivalence.
Tavi is there to build a story, maybe even fictional, with images, without being their slave.
Other sources of inspiration? A project on David Bowie?
Yes, rather a fiction … but with a lot of research upstream. Fiction is freedom…
Do not forget to go to SFMOMA and see the Andy Warhol exhibition, this is the same vibe.
Merci Isabella Demeulenaere