FASHION : Halston : Made-to-Order Collection Reflects Spirit of the Familiar Name

The glass-and-mirror showroom with views of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Empire State Building looks much the same. So do the oxblood carpets and modular furniture. And the bouquets are as large and extravagant as always.

But Halston doesn't live here anymore. Or more precisely, work here, even though a collection of custom-made clothes with his name on the label was recently presented in the showroom.

The designer vacated the place some five years ago while in the midst of complicated legal negotiations about the Halston moniker.

Recently, Revlon Inc. purchased the Halston name and now, in an attempt to revive interest in the label for possible new licensing ventures, Revlon is presenting a 70-piece Halston made-to-order collection, still without Halston's involvement. Rumors are that the designer is in ill health.

The clothes are the work of a team including John David Ridge, the company's vice president of design services; Bert Keeter (he worked for Holly Harp as a designer in 1979 and also had his own label in Los Angeles for a time); Chris Royer, creative marketing director and director of accessories (and a former Halstonette, the nickname given to the models who did Halston's shows and personified his look in the '70s), and Salvatore Marano, who was the head tailor in Halston's workroom for years.

It's not surprising that such a team has come up with a collection that reflects the spirit of Halston's classic, spare and elegant designs--the bias-cut day and evening dresses, supple cashmeres, double-faced coats devoid of extraneous details and cowl-necked pajama ensembles that Halston's loyal, legendary client, the late Babe Paley, used to wear.

There is also lots of signature Halston red in the collection (he once posed for a People magazine cover with acolytes Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor both wearing red ensembles). And there is an Oriental simplicity to many designs accented with obi-like wrapped waists.

"We basically wanted to emphasize what Halston was about--his theories of exquisite fabrics and simple but also complicated cuts," Keeter says. "It's a very, very pared-down look with very subdued details and in the Halston classic colors, true colors like deep purple, fuchsia and fire-engine red."

Asked if any of Halston's old patterns were brought out of mothballs, Keeter says it wasn't necessary. "We have a pretty good idea of the look, and we wanted the collection to be younger and to go one step further."

Standout looks in the line, which sells for $1,500 to $20,000: the red silk and Angora dress draped across the bodice and with matching stole; the taupe cashmere day suit with long-point collar; the dazzling red-and-black hand-painted georgette dress with sequin embroidery, and for glamour girls, the black silk-satin coat lined in pink satin and edged in black fox over a bias-cut gown.

Halston once said: "What makes a designer famous is that his clothes are recognizable. They don't look like someone else's. That's what makes you famous--your signature."

The question now: Does the signature work when it's in someone else's handwriting?

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