In the opening frames of the trailer for Netflix’s Halston – the hotly-anticipated limited Ryan Murphy series released on 14 May 2021 – Ewan McGregor, in the role of titan American fashion designer Halston, stares in dark shadows from the 18 ft tall floor-to-ceiling windows of his majestic 21st floor office in Manhattan, and surveys the twinkling lights of the nighttime New York city skyline.

It’s the late 1970s, and the Iowa-born designer has risen from the midwestern milliner who created Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1961 presidential inauguration pill-box hat, to a decadent doyenne of the New York fashion scene, partying to excess with Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent at Studio 54, and creating elegant elemental designs, like ‘Ultrasuede’ shirtdresses and colourful kaftans, for his ‘Halstonettes’, which included Bianca Jagger, Elsa Peretti and Liza Minnelli. He’s also taken on a sprawling 12,000 sq ft office in the looming Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue, where Halston Enterprises was based, an empire that formulated from 1973 when Halston sold his namesake to Norton Simon Inc, that included not only fashion, but fragrance, make-up and bedding.

Andy Warhol 1976 contact sheet featuring Halston and Bianca Jagger

Detail from Contact Sheet [Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Halston, Diane de Beauvau, Bethann Hardison in the back of a limousine], 1976, by Andy Warhol, gelatin silver print. Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Ultimately, Halston’s expansion was his downfall. A 1983 licensing deal with affordable retailer JC Penny was a commercial and critical fail, and a year later, Halston was even banned from designing for his own company. ‘What more is there to build?’ portentously asks Ed Austin, Halston’s former boutique manager and lover, at the closure of Netflix’s Halston trailer. 

As Netflix’s Halston arrives on the small screen – its scenes swathed in sequins, shining with spotlights and sprinkled with cocaine – we take a closer look at the architectural locations that were symbolic of the designer’s fame, fortune and much lamented downfall.

Netflix’s Halston: mapping the limited series’ standout locations

Palace of Versailles

Netflix’s Halston production still of the Palace of Versailles fashion show

Netflix’s Halston production still of Liza Minnelli at the Palace of Versailles fashion show

Images courtesy of Netflix

In 1973, five American designers bought a sportswear-centric and ease-fulled attitude to the upper echelons of Parisian couture, when they they presented competing catwalk collections alongside five French behemoths: Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro and Marc Bohan. Halston was one of the five US designers who bought an A-list energy to proceedings, presenting alongside Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows. 

Halston’s catwalk segment? Think fluid sequin gowns that revealed shocking splices of skin as a spotlight illuminated models individually, plus a performance from Liza Minelli, who sang an adaptation of Bonjour, Paris sporting trousers and a polo neck. The event, or ‘Battle’ as it is fondly referred to today, was a major milestone in American culture with designers bringing a liberated and multicultural perspective to the perceived French fustiness of fashion.

Olympic Tower

Netflix’s Halston production still of Halston in his Olympic Tower office

Netflix’s Halston production still of Halston in his Olympic Tower office

Images courtesy of Netflix

Fifth Avenue’s glass-fronted 51-storey Olympic Tower was completed in 1976, and designed by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the architects behind some of the tallest buildings in the world, including Willis Tower (1973), One World Trade Centre (2014) and today, Burj Kahlifa. Halston Enterprises moved into the 21st floor of the building in 1978 after a nine month renovation, designed in collaboration with architects Gruzen & Partners, with the 12,000 sq ft space rumoured to only rival the size of Yves Saint Laurnet’s establishment. Its interior was swathed in cherry red paint and dizzying walls of mirror, and populated with Tiffany furnishings designed by Elsa Peretti. The enormous space featured alongside Halston’s office, a host of fitting and conference rooms, and was also frequently transformed into a catwalk for hot-ticket fashion shows.

Studio 54

Netflix’s Halston production still of Halston outside Studio 54’s entrance

Netflix’s Halston polaroid shot of Halston inside Studio 54

Images courtesy of Netflix

An iconic venue that needs no introduction: the 1974-founded nightclub launched by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, which lasted a mere three years, and was a bacchanal bolthole for Halston and his exuberant entourage. Cue Halston throwing Bianca Jagger a star-studded birthday party in 1977 (and that mythical story of her entering the club on a white horse), or partying with Liza Minnelli and Andy Warhol the same year, as the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve and 4000 kg of glitter was released onto revellers on the dance floor. Few people ever made it through the mythical walls of Studio 54, with its bouncers operating a notoriously inpenetrable door policy, as partyers pushed against its velvet ropes on West 54th Street. Warhol wrote in his 1979 book, Andy Warhol’s Exposures: ‘Studio 54 is a dictatorship at the door, but a democracy on the dance floor.’ §