Can Halston Be Halston Without Halston?

Ken Downing
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

About one month after Ken Downing’s appointment as creative director of Halston, I sat down with Ken in his Xcel Brands offices to interview him for my article, Ken Downing’s ‘American Dream’: Make Halston Great Again, August 21, 2022.

Ken, who was hired to be the voice and the face of Halston and oversee the label’s creative direction, said he felt like he was the “custodian of a great American name, a great American brand, and we can’t ignore him.” Downing’s aim was to bring “magic and excitement” to the brand, bring it back to where it was and use it as a launch pad to unite the different divisions.”

Halston Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Ombre Leopard Glazed Tuxedo and Trousers
Photo by Greg Sorensen

Last week, Ken invited me to walk through the resort 2023 and spring 2024 collections, which he said had gotten a great response from retailers and that he was also picking up new stores (independent boutiques).

As I caught up with Ken at his expansive Halston showroom located on the far west side of the garment center, I kept in mind his original promise that there would be a “whiff of Halston within the clothes (the words sensuous, languid, and sinewy kept coming up) while remaining adamant that this would not about a “retro launch.”

Halston Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Sequined Roy Dress
Photo by Greg Sorensen

Assuredly, there was a “whiff” in the dip-dyed ombre cashmere caftans and floor-length cashmere cardigans and kimonos, the liquid and dip-dyed lames, the shirt dresses, the floaty bias cut evening gowns, and the hand-draped jersey dresses. Downing immediately tells me that the theme of the collection is “I Am Halston!” and he goes on to explain that the idea is that anyone who puts the clothes on can become their own Halston. Ken points to the sequined “Roy” dress, a “big crowd pleaser” priced at $523 retail. I’d say there’s more than a “whiff of Halston” in this one, lol.

Halston Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Ombre Cashmere Kimono,
Photo by Greg Sorensen

Ken emphasizes that this is a “premium luxury collection” that retails from about $390 – $1200. While Downing could not confirm which stores will definitively carry the line until market weekend ends later this week, he met with Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks, and Nordstrom during resort market week, who told Ken that they are looking for “more premium” things. Naturally, this encouraged Ken to add “more superlative things.”

“I wanted a light lean into the man, not a deep dive into the archives… I wanted the sensibility of him and the earmarks of what he was about, but I didn’t want it to look like the clothes from yesterday.”

Ken Downing
Halston Spring 2024
Photo by Greg Sorensen

Halston was, of course, known for his disco-era clothes, and that razzle-dazzle effect is clearly what Ken is emphasizing here. While Studio 54 no longer exists, there are weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, galas, celebrations, and red carpets. Ken added trains to gowns to create more drama. Ken is creating a “collector’s closet for celebrity stylists and “notables.”

Halston Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Gena Jacket and Avi Pan in Ombre Sequin,
Photo by Greg Sorensen

I can see some celebrity stylists wanting to nab some pieces, including a show-stopping jacket and trousers in ombre flame sequins perfect for the Grammy Awards. There is no question that the emphasis is on special occasion wear, and there is virtually no daywear to speak of. Ken promises more daywear for fall. He is already talking about camel and gold.

Halston Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Imari Gowns in white and black poplin,
Photo by Greg Sorensen

The most daywear part of the collection is a group of maxi shirtdresses in crisp cotton poplin. They are cut like a man’s shirt with side seam pockets and side slits, and the French cuffs had a bit of diamante jewelry.

Halston Resort 2023
Photo by Greg Sorensen

One shirt from Resort 2023 is cut like a traditional man’s shirt in front, with a dramatic cape back that reaches the floor. It is shown with wide-legged pants in liquid silver lame jersey. Another item that looks “now” is the olive sequined and cotton canvas trench shown with matching trousers. For the record, Ken is not just a “creative director”; he is designing the line along with another designer and an assistant. All three create sketches for the mood board.

“We want it to be Halston, but we want to be on trend as well.”

Ken Downing
Halston Resort 2023
Photo by Greg Sorensen

Halston was always unquestionably ahead of his time. He wanted his clothes to fit a wide range of women, and he wanted his clothes to be accessible, which seems to be the goal for Ken as well. While Ken’s loyal clientele is the mother of the bride or groom, the mother of the bat/bar mitzvah, or the woman who sits on a board and is organizing a gala, Ken is also going after the “cool girl,” which he hopes to court with his oversized cargo pants, racer back t-shirt and airy anorak in powder chiffon.

Halston Resort 2023 Sequin Mini and Cashmere Caftan,
Photo by Greg Sorensen

While a few items don’t reflect the Halston aesthetic, the collection certainly brings back the spirit of Halston, and there are a few standout pieces. In addition to the chic, understated daywear that defined Halston, what’s missing is the man himself.

Halston Spring 2024 Ready-to-Wear Lanie Dress in Crepe,
Photo by Greg Sorensen

Notwithstanding Ken’s proven track record in luxury fashion, his obvious talents, his commitment and passion for this project, the backing he has from Xcel brands, even a certain uncanny resemblance he shares with Halston, the main issue is whether it is possible to revive a brand that is so tied to an individual who is so tied to a particular culture and time. Especially when that individual is a legendary superstar designer who put American fashion on the map and whose style defined an era. That era is past.

Since Halston’s passing in 1990, the storied 70’s label has undergone countless incarnations. The designers futilely tried to resuscitate the brand: Randolph Duke, Kevan Hall, Bradley Bayou, Marco Zanini, and Marios Schwab. Zanini lasted only two months.

There are so many instances in the U.S. where it didn’t work: Anne Klein, Bill Blass, and Geoffrey Beene are just a few of them. Does the name Halston mean enough to ignite the fire that seduces the customer? The 2019 Halston documentary and 2021 Netflix series brought awareness of the designer to a generation who probably knew nothing about him before, creating buzz and excitement.

As Ken put it one year ago, “the mass population is talking about Halston again.” But this is 2023 and the attention span of the “mass population,” especially the young, means they’ve moved on.

Latest Comments:

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

  1. I hope the Nextflix series is enough to reignite the label — most of my students at FIT didn’t know who Halston was, which is pretty unforgivable for people pursuing a design career.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.