Halston’s Niece Remembers the Fashion Icon

As co-curator of a new exhibit at The Andy Warhol Museum — Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede — Lesley Frowick has impeccable insight; she’s the designer’s niece. “This exhibit sort of fell into my lap on a research meeting at The Warhol,” she tells Hint. “I was looking for photographs to include in my book [on Halston], as Warhol’s camera was ubiquitous at events and Halston’s home.”

Before long she found herself in a curatorial role, reassessing the professional relationship and the personal camaraderie between the designer and the pop artist, who, in his 1979 book, described Halston as the “first All-American fashion designer.” For all intents and purposes, they were thick as thieves and their seductive spheres of influence overlapped considerably. To begin with, Halston collected Warhol, which he showcased in his Manhattan townhouse and his vacation home on Montauk, Long Island, which he also rented from the artist. Halston, meanwhile, was portrayed in several of Warhol’s pieces. And of course they were both leading lights of New York’s heady nightlife. “They were both very driven and both visionaries,” recalls Frowick. “They both came from solid, somewhat humble family beginnings, but were propelled by an inner drive to search for the stars.”

When it opens on May 18, the exhibit will include 40 or so of Halston’s signature dresses and accessories, including his signature Ultrasuede shirtdress and, from his early days as a milliner, the instantly iconic pale-pink pillbox hat he designed for Jackie Kennedy that she wore to her husband’s inauguration in 1961 and that features in a Warhol silkscreen. These are juxtaposed with paintings, photographs, and videos from the Warhol archives. Other highlights of the show are a 1972 floral dress by Halston based on Warhol’s 1964 Flower paintings and, as Frowick cites, Warhol’s Martha Graham serigraphs, in addition to items from the Coty Award “happening,” a performance in 1972 that brought Halstonettes and Superstars together for the first time.

Perhaps no designer is as synonymous with the jetset disco-glam of the 1970s than Halston (born Roy Halston Frowick). But while the gifted social butterfly palled around with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, and Lauren Hutton, among other fresh-faced Halstonettes, Frowick remembers a calmer, avuncular spirit underneath the “external bravado.” “He was actually shy. We spent many weekends in Montauk together, exploring the property, fixing meals together, and dreaming by the seaside. He was so funny, the best uncle one could ask for. We also shared the same birthday, so we bonded over our stubborn Taurean nature.”

The two friends and comrades died within three years of each other, Warhol in 1987 and Halston in 1990, from AIDS-related Kaposi’s sarcoma. And while the Weinstein Company attempted to revive the label several years ago (Frowick, tellingly, has no comment on that), the lasting image of Halston remains, for many people, on Studio 54’s glittering dance floor. Given that the two artists have been exhaustively studied and scrutinized since their passing, it’s hard to imagine there being anything particularly eye-opening left to discover. Still, Frowick said she was surprised to find “Andy’s extensive Halston shoe collection.”

Wrapping up, she recounts, “I love my uncle so very much and have worked tirelessly out of my love for him on this show and my book [October 2014, Rizzoli]. He was such a loving, generous force in my life — this is the least I can do to honor his memory. When it came down to it he was really just a shy kid from the Midwest who had a vision for his time and who happened to have the key elements — good looks, charisma and impeccable taste — to make it all work.”

Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede, May 18 – August 24, 2014, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania