In terms of fashion, the 1970s was the decade of the American designer Halston (1932–1990). His designs were simple but elegant, and he favored flawlessly tailored classic cuts. His clothes could be worn year-round, during the day and evening. His dress designs eventually became so minimal that they even came without zippers and buttons. Halston's greatest fame came from his reputation as the designer of choice for celebrities. His clients included Elizabeth Taylor (1932–), Liza Minnelli (1946–), Andy Warhol (c. 1928–1987), Anjelica Huston (1951–), Bianca Jagger (1950–), Martha Graham (1894–1991), Barbara Walters (1931–), and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929–1994). He once observed, "You're only as good as the people you dress," according to his biographers Elaine Gross and Fred Rottman.
Born Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, Iowa, he enjoyed sewing and making hats as a child. After briefly attending Indiana University and the Chicago Art Institute, he worked as a window dresser while designing hats on the side. He also decided to take his middle name as his professional name. His hat designs soon proved popular, and in 1957 he opened his own store in Chicago, Illinois. Two years later he settled in New York and was employed as a hat designer at Bergdorf Goodman, a fashionable department store. He soon became nationally famous by designing the bone wool pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy, the incoming first lady, wore at the 1961 inauguration of her husband, John F. Kennedy (1917–1963). At the time the hats worn by women on formal occasions were intricately designed and featured an assortment of added-on items like fur, feathers, and even jewelry. Halston's pillbox was just the opposite; it was a straightforward, unadorned, minimal design. Its popularity helped to usher in shorter, simpler hairstyles for women.
In 1966 Halston created Bergdorf's first ready-to-wear collection. (Ready-to-wear refers to clothes can be worn right off the rack versus custom-made designs.) Two years later he launched his own fashion salon. His career peaked during the following decade and the Halston name was licensed to a range of products, including sheets, shoes, and an especially lucrative series of fragrances. He marketed a synthetic, or man-made, fabric that he called Ultrasuede: a supersoft, superfine material that had the look and feel of real suede but was far more durable. Ultrasuede was his fabric of choice for another of his innovations: the shirtdress, a dress designed to look like a shirt, complete with collar and buttons.
Before Halston, fashion shows were trade events that primarily catered to buyers from retail store chains. Halston had the idea to transform them into glittery extravaganzas, complete with flashing lights and popular music. Thanks to Halston's influence, the fashion show became a performance, similar to a rock concert or a big budget stage show.
Halston's celebrity clients also became his close friends. He was a regular at the most stylish New York parties and nightspots, usually dressed in a black cashmere turtleneck. However, Halston's power in the fashion industry began to wane in the late 1970s. He was unable to keep up with the constant demand for new designs, and he made a critical mistake by allowing his Halston label clothes to be sold at the middle-class retail chain J. C. Penney. This business decision drove away the celebrity consumers who once liked his exclusive clothes. Halston died of AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in 1990.