Ultrasuede: In Search Of Halston Is Fashion’s Latest (Disappointing) Film

There has been no dearth of fashion documentaries in the past few years, and the most recent entry in the increasingly crowded space is Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston.

Roy Halston‘s colorful life was practically made for the big screen. His beautiful clothes are just a part of the Halston mythology. The designer was a Studio 54 staple, had glamorous friends who he entertained in his amazing apartment, and was considered the king of New York nightlife in the ’70s. He’s a one-namer, for goodness’ sake! And his downfall was nearly as spectacular as his rise; it involved too many drugs, a secret AIDS diagnosis, and disastrous business decisions. Halston’s story is one that could tell itself via archive clips, old photos, and present-day interviews. If only.

Filmmaker Whitney Sudler-Smith has no connection to Halston, other than holding a sincere fascination with the deceased design legend. As such, it’s unclear why he inserted so much of himself into the movie. His presence in the film is often cringe-inducing, especially when he decides to sport a bleached blonde ‘do, ’70s porn moustache, and aviators (inside!). He drives around town in a Trans Am. It’s cheesy, it’s distracting, and it makes little sense.

Worse yet, Sudler-Smith shows his incompetence as an interviewer by refusing to edit out the awkward moments before, after, and during chats with the likes of Liza Minelli, Billy Joel, Diane von Furstenberg, and more. Andre Leon Talley appears genuinely frustrated with him, and even asks him to stop interrupting mid-interview. This type of loose editing ultimately detracts heavily from the story Sudler-Smith tries to tell. Interestingly, the idea of making the director a character apparently came from Halston muse Pat Cleveland. This was a suggestion best left untouched.

Halston was a visionary. Not only were his evening gowns unparalleled, he was willing to cast a wide net. He entered the then-closed world of fragrance, he designed airline uniforms. In fact, it was his line for JCPenny that many credit with his professional death. These are interesting things! However, it’s also quite interesting to learn what has happened to the Halston brand in recent years. Filming for the documentary was completed years ago, a fact made evident by the marked lack of information on the most recent incarnation of the brand, Halston Heritage. A simple title card at the end explaining the company’s current state would go a long way to make the film feel less dated.

This all begs the question: is the film worth seeing? Yes. And no. We don’t know if we’d spend the money on Video On Demand (on which it will be released Dec. 26) or on a movie theater ticket come February, but it’s worth a view on Netflix Instant when it inevitably becomes available. Just try to ignore the porn ‘stache.

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