Did Halston do to fashion what Warhol did to art?

A new exhibition at the Warhol Museum looks at the influences, careers and legacies of the designer and the artist
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Right, Halston, by Andy Warhol, 1974; left: Warhol self portrait with fright wig, 1986
Right, Halston, by Andy Warhol, 1974; left: Warhol self portrait with fright wig, 1986

Andy Warhol once described his friend Roy Halston Frowick as "the first all-American fashion designer", and while historians might question that claim, both the pop artist and the designer, for a while at least, followed a similar path occupying comparable positions in American culture.

As the Andy Warhol Museum explains in its notes for Halston And Warhol: Silver and Suede (on at the Pittsburgh museum until 24 August), both were born in tertiary industrial towns during the interwar period; Des Moines for Halston, Pittsburgh in Andy's case; and both began their careers as window dressers, before moving to New York in their twenties, to make their name.

 

Halston silk dress, 1972, based on Warhol's flowers paintings, 1964
Halston silk dress, 1972, based on Warhol's flowers paintings, 1964

Both had an innate talent, Halston in clothes-making and millinery, Warhol as an illustrator and draftsman; yet both delighted in the manufactured world, Warhol with his multiples and screen prints, Halston in his use of synthetic fabrics like Ultrasuede.

Unsurprisingly the pair were friends. As we explain in our Halston book: "Warhol became a backstage regular at Halston's shows and snapped candid photographs of the famous and not so famous denizens of Halston's world."

 

Studio 54 Complimentary Drink Invitation, (1978) by Andy Warhol
Studio 54 Complimentary Drink Invitation, (1978) by Andy Warhol

They each enjoyed fame during the disco era, when Warhol screen printed copies of Studio 54's drinks coupons, and Halston was name checked in Sister Sledge's 1979 single, The Greatest Dancer. Each capitalized on this stardom; Warhol with his magazines and celebrity commissions, Halston by becoming one of the first high-fashion designers to lend his name to lines of affordable products, via high street chains such as JC Penney.

Though the label survived its founder's death in 1990, Halston is no longer held in the same regard as Warhol. Indeed, while it's easy to appreciate works of art produced many decades ago, its harder to take in and enjoy other, more transient creations from a similar age.

 

Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 471
Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 471

This exhibition goes some way to addressing this imbalance, though there's plenty of fun in there too. Take this exhibit, one Warhol's famous Time Capsules, filled with Muppets merchandise.

As the Museum explains, in 1984, Halston heard that the Muppets character Miss Piggy was planning to wear one of his dresses to her 'wedding'. The designer wrote to the Muppets creator, Jim Henson, enclosing a consignment of grooming products.

"In return, Henson sent a box full of Muppets memorabilia," the museum explains. "It was a timely offering, very close to Warhol's birthday, and Halston gave all the Muppets collectibles to Andy as a gift, signing each one: 'To Andy, Happy Birthday love Halston.' Warhol saved all of the items in a Time Capsule, the complete contents of which are on view for this exhibition."

Proof, perhaps, that back in the day, the designer's appeal had reached the animal kingdom. Find out more about the exhibition here. For a richer understanding of Halston and his contemporaries consider The Fashion Book, and for more on Warhol consider our many titles, including the comprehensive Catalogue Raisonné, as well as the concise and competitively priced Phaidon Focus edition.


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