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Hollywood Insider Halston Review, Ewan McGregor

Photo: ‘Halston’/Netflix

SPOILER ALERT – This article spills the hidden greatness within Halston’s life story in ‘Halston;’ watch the series or spoil all of the good stuff by continuing to read.

Episode One: Becoming ‘Halston’

Episode Description: “Looking to reinvent himself, Halston sets out to create a signature look, assembling a design team and finding inspiration in new friend Liza Minnelli.”

‘Halston’ is directed by Daniel Minahan, who also worked on ‘American Crime Story,’ which dictated the true story on crimes and criminals within the high-fashion brand Versace. Considering this, I could not think of anyone more fitting to direct a series dictating an individual’s life in the fashion industry who found Versace to be a competitor alongside their brand. ‘Halston’ is written by Ian Brennan (‘Glee’), Ryan Murphy (‘American Horror Story’), and Ted Malawer (‘Fallen’), and based on the book ‘Simply Halston’ by Steven Gaines. Looking at this crew of individuals alone, I could not pick better people, and after having watched the limited series, it all makes sense as to why they were chosen in the first place. 

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In the first episode, we are introduced to a young Halston (Maxim Swinton) living in the quaint town of Evansville, Indiana, in 1938. As someone who is only a mere few miles away from Evansville at this very moment, I am in awe to know that Halston grew up and became the person he was and grew a legacy for himself from such a small town. Quickly, we see that Halston’s mother is beaten by his father, leading the young boy to make her hats to lift her spirits. 

This short intro is all of the details we get before traveling years into the future and ending up in New York City in 1961. The news travels that Halston (Ewan McGregor) is the hat maker for First Lady Jackie Kennedy, making him widely known to anyone. Although, with another travel in years to 1968, Jackie has decided to stop wearing hats so as not to ruin her luscious hair-dos resulting in low sales for Halston. Halston meets Ed Austin (Sullivan Jones) at a bar where we quickly learn that Halston is indeed a gay man who projects that he is unique compared to others. “I’m not like anybody else,” Halston says.

With a few remarks between himself and Ed, he begins to connect the dots from his childhood that he only so often reveals by saying, “Or maybe I’ve been an outsider, too, my whole life. Getting sideways glances from white guys in Brooks Brothers suits for what I was and whom I liked or who I was and what I liked. Till one day, I just stopped giving a flying fuck. I’ve always done it. I made hats to lift my mother’s spirits.” 

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There is a flashback to his time in Evansville as a young boy with his mother, saying, “You are far too special for this place.” At the end of the flashback, Halston says, “I left Indiana as soon as I could. First to Chicago and then here. Made myself out of nothing.” Writers Ian Brennan, Ryan Murphy, and Ted Malawer are perfectly matching dialogue with future events. With this time only being in the first episode, we get a sense of what is to come. As women in America stopped wearing hats, Halston decides to venture out to new endeavors, and later episodes will reveal that he tried anything and everything he could. He first tries his hand at dresses but found that the audience was entirely displeased with his results, and yet, his spirits were not crushed. “Nobody understood them,” Halston says. 

With a wonderful music performance depicting the difference between Lisa with an “s” and Liza with a “z,” we meet Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez), who will forever be Halston’s best friend. With a few exchanges of words, Halston says to Liza, “I think you need a new look,” and Liza could not agree more. “I don’t want to be just Judy Garland’s daughter,” Liza says. From this point on, the two would stick with each other until the very end. 

Looking for more models for Halston’s new endeavors in the creation of dresses, he hires Elsa Peretti (Rebecca Dayan) and Joel Schumacher (Rory Culkin). With the limited budget he is given for his business, Halston has an obsession with Orchids and buys hundreds of them for “inspiration.” The introduction of drugs in the series comes from Halston finding Joel doing drugs in the bathroom because of stress and anxiety. “I don’t belong here, do I?” Joel asks. “Left our families, been rejected one way or another. Bunch of queers and freaks and girls who haven’t grown up yet.” Halston replies.

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Halston makes the deal that he will relieve Joel’s stress as long as he no longer participates in drugs, to which Joel agrees. Halston’s first success comes from a psychedelic, groovy fabric print Joel made from his kitchen. “One socialite to change everything. If I can get my designs on the one right person, I can get them on every woman in America,” Halston says. And with that line of dialogue, he meets Babe Paley (Regina Schneider), who will change his world with the events in episode two. 

Throughout the series and coming from Indiana, I saw that Halston was nothing similar to his roots, and Ed pointed this out as he says, “You’re from Indiana. It’s like you’re imitating somebody.” Halston’s accent is nothing of the midwest nor his style, with his slicked-back hair, black outfit, and shades to match. The series drops handfuls of high-fashion names such as Ralph Lauren, formerly known as Ralph Lifshitz, before changing his last name. Balenciaga, whom Halston refers to quite often as the leading competitor he is battling against. Coco Chanel, Givenchy, Dior, and many more luxurious fashion brands. 

Episode Two: Versailles

Episode Description: “Halston considers a fateful business deal and meets a charismatic escort while struggling with old insecurities ahead of a historic fashion show.”

With women in America wearing Halston’s dresses on the streets, Halston quickly climbs up on the industry chain. This entire episode focuses on the life change that came from his incredible success with the historic fashion show called Battle of Versailles. Halston gets Liza to perform at the show to which she enthusiastically agrees as she would do anything he ever needed. With Halston’s promiscuous relationship with male lovers, he is introduced to drugs, but nowhere near the severity, he will reach in later episodes. 

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Halston and his team are put in the crummiest room at the fashion show compared to the other designers. The show even tries to ruin his debut by switching his spots in the line-up, messing with his original plan with Liza. It’s blatantly obvious that all of the other designers are out for Halston’s blood and do not want him at the fashion show. “Yves Saint Laurent, you know what that bitch says about you?”

With all of the odds stacked against him, Liza throws some sense into the man who empowers him to create an entire collection at the speed of light. With glitter and elegant, flowing lines of silk, the whole audience and the world are in awe of his creations. This collection, in particular, is the single event that changed Halston’s life forever, but with success comes the ultimate failure. Halston ends up selling his trademark and, more specifically, his name to David Mahoney (Bill Pullman). The selling of his name will be the downfall of Halston’s legacy for the rest of his life. 

Only in the second episode, Ewan McGregor is showing himself to be incredibly witty, intelligent, and an overall loveable man. The fashion and glamour throughout this episode, in particular, is bone-chillingly stunning as lines of fabric fill the screen. 

Episode Three: The Sweet Smell of Success

Episode Description: “Creating a new perfume turns into a fraught and emotional venture for Halston, whose love life grows increasingly entangled with his expanding empire.”

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Compared to other episodes, this one, mainly, felt lacking as its primary focus was on Halston’s fragrance creation and success. In the beginning, Liza gets married, which disappoints Halston a bit as he feels he is losing his best friend. David Mahoney wants Halston to think about putting merchandise in department stores, to which he becomes exceptionally distasteful against. The creation of his perfume brings out many past emotions from his childhood as he works alongside perfume and scent genius Adele (Vera Farmiga), who only makes an appearance in this episode alone. With some connections to his past with soap, tobacco, and his love for Orchids, the perfume becomes a raging success with its underlying musk scent that most female fragrances had not had until that point.

From then, Halston begins to make practically anything he can to make a profit. From luggage, rugs, aircraft company merchandise, suits, umbrellas, sunglasses, anything, and everything Halston could make he made. Halston also meets Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez), who quickly becomes the negative part of Halston’s life. With the fast introduction to drugs, male prostitutes, and home videos, all of these events will come crashing down in future episodes. Compared to the other episodes, this one falls short in-depth and instead fits itself as a filler bridge to the last two episodes. 

Episode Four: The Party’s Over

Episode Description: “Halston’s nights of excess at Studio 54 and days fueled by cocaine take a toll as he suffers ruptured friendships, stiff competition, and a sudden loss.”

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In short, episode four is the slow but rapid downfall of everything that has occurred thus far in Halston’s career. In the start, Halson has fame, fortune, sex, and cocaine, but by the end, it is slowly ruining him. Halston begins to go through cocaine like it is nothing but the air he breathes. Liza passes out on the dance floor at a party, which was ruled as exhaustion, but it’s considered to have been caused by drugs. At the same party, a girl tried to get into the party through the air vent and got stuck and died wearing Calvin Klein.

The death of this girl occurred and was forgotten about in the same moment, which was odd to have included it in the first place and not have finished the story of her death. Calvin Klein, however, will be referred to incredibly often as Halston’s arch-nemesis. David Mahoney tells Halston that jeans are trendy as Calvin Klein is having massive success with them and requests that Halston consider making jeans. Halston could not be more displeased with that idea and refuses that is until six months later agrees, but everyone knows fashion moves fast. David tells Halston that the window to make jeans was out, and he had waited too long. 

When Halston starts getting dinner flown in on private planes or spending $200,000 on a plane ticket, his fortune is obvious, but his use of it is mind-boggling. Unfortunately, Halston’s mother dies, and he attends her funeral, another detail that falls short. The connection between the audience and his mother was not made, so the pain of her death was not deep. Although, Ewan McGregor’s scream of agony and pain that comes after finding out the news is worth the short event.

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Liza decides to go to rehab as she explains that she doesn’t want to go down the same path as her mom, Judy Garland. Krysta Rodriguez, who plays Liza, is entirely fabulous, rich, and fierce with her kindness and understanding in every situation confronting her. Liza asks Halston to go to rehab with her, but he explains that he can stop using drugs by himself. The most unfortunate event from this episode is when David got outbid by one dollar for Halston, the fashion brand, so Carl Epstein (Jason Kravits) now owns it. 

Episode Five: Critics

Episode Description: “With his career in a nosedive and his personal life a mess, Halston receives an artistic lifeline from an old friend before embarking on a last journey.”

The year is now 1984, and Halston has lost his spark. Reviews hate his collections, nobody likes the new owner Carl, and Victor is blackmailing Halston with exposing his home videos with male prostitutes. Everything is going entirely bad for Halston, and with the previous success in past episodes, it starts to feel simply diminishing. Halston is diagnosed with AIDS but decides to tell everyone that he has liver cancer. Again, with only five episodes, it feels that some compelling moments in Halston’s life are being shortened into a small sequence of visuals that do not explain all that occurred. 

With the news of his inevitable death, his wish to create is being brought to a close. “You are not Halston anymore. They are.” Halston cannot make anything without someone else owning it because his name is no longer his and hasn’t been for a long time. 

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Halston: “I did sell my name. We’re given one name, Joe. Just one. And that’s all we have while we’re on the earth. And it’s all we leave behind us when we’re gone. I wasn’t precious enough with mine. And I sold it cheap. I didn’t even think twice about it.”

Joe Eula: “Hundreds of millions of dollars ain’t cheap, Halston.”

Halston: “But it is, Joe. You know how I know? I’d spend twice that to get it back.” 

When Halston debuts a collection for a theater performance as his final creation, all of the reviews are in love with his show, and the way Halston reacts to the great news swells your heart. Throughout the series, he continuously says that the reviews don’t matter, but it is more than clear that there was a part in him that always cared. The NY Times says, “The costumes by Halston will have the world wondering whether the man should have made his career in the theater rather than on the runway. The stretch-fabric design is sensual, innovative, and upon reflection, uniquely brave. Perhaps even a high-point of a long and illustrious career.”

Halston is completely emotional after hearing this but says, “Well, reviews don’t matter.” But with his hidden reaction, we know, in fact, it was the perfect ending to a short-lived legacy after coming from a rough childhood. When Halston’s health is rapidly declining, he decides to sell his home and travel alongside the coast. “You promise me that this isn’t the end?” an emotional Liza asks. But, indeed, it was the end for him. 

Driver: “Where to?”

Halston: “Anywhere. Let’s just drive.”

And with Ewan McGregor’s stunning stare at the ocean horizon admiring the blue, the end has come for Halston’s legacy. These final words appear on the screen. “Victor Hugo died in 1993. Elsa Peretti was one of the most influential jewelry designers of the 20th century. She died in 2021. Joe Eula continued to illustrate fashion design. He died in 2004. Liza Minnelli is still a legend, alive and well. Halston spent the last 18 months of his life driving the Pacific Coast. He died in San Francisco in 1990. He never got his name back.”

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Admiring all five episodes, I found that the true beauty was within the dialogue and Ewan McGregor’s performance as the fashion icon. His delivery of the beautiful lines that told the true-life story of a man who made himself from nothing was breathtaking, to say the least. McGregor continues to amaze me with his capabilities of ranging his characters into directions I never deemed possible. As an Indiana resident, it is with great pride that Halston was born and raised here even more so, inspired and continues to inspire people out there who think it is not possible to work alongside the biggest names when you come from a small town in the middle of nowhere. 

Where To Watch ‘Halston’ 

‘Halston’ released on May 14, 2021, available to watch exclusively on Netflix with a subscription. 

Where To Find The Stars

Expected on June 18, 2021, Ewan McGregor can next be seen in Jimmy Giannopoulos’ ‘The Birthday Cake’ alongside Val Kilmer, Lorraine Bracco, and more. As said on IMDb about ‘The Birthday Cake,’ “On the 10th anniversary of his father’s death, Giovanni reluctantly accepts the task of bringing a cake to the home of his uncle, a mob boss, for a celebration. Just two hours into the night, Gio’s life is forever changed.”

Krysta Rodriquez can next be seen in Daryl Getman’s short film ‘Double Exposure’ alongside Robin de Jesus, Van Hughes, and more. As said on IMDb about ‘Double Exposure,’ “Adrift and removed from reality, a photographer discovers she has the editing tools to reroute her life.”

Expected soon, Rebecca Dayan can next be seen in Erick Ifergan’s ‘Sept Anges’ alongside Josef Ganz. As said on IMDb about ‘Sept Anges,’ “An artist yearns for the woman he loves, his muse, who wants nothing more than to disappear from the world. Nothing – not even love – can save her.”

Bill Pullman can be seen in new episodes of Derek Simonds’ ‘The Sinner’ alongside Dohn Norwood, Adam LeFevre, and more. As said on IMDb about ‘The Sinner,’ “Anthology series that examines how and why ordinary people commit brutal crimes.”

By Isabella Brownlee

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