There was a time when you said “American Collections”, one immediately thought of iconic American fashion greats who changed the way we dressed: Beene, Norell, Cashin, McCardell, Donald Brooks, Norma Kamali, Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Halston. The fascination with Roy Halston Frowick never seems to end. “Simply Halston,” a limited Netflix series starring Ewan McGregor in the title role, is slated for later this year. Nancy North won’t appear in this, but the former model and Halstonette is in the 2019 HBO documentary “Halston”.
Nancy says the portrayal of this talented but flawed man is mainly accurate, but because so many people who could have been interviewed are no longer with us, there are “holes” in his story. Ms. North describes Halston as “a complicated man”. “He had exquisite taste and a great vision. Halston had several sides and I saw them all..”
Nancy and her late husband, Bill Dugan, were part of Halson’s inner circle. By all accounts, there was never a dull moment. Ms. North studied design and merchandising at Pratt Institute, where she met her future husband. After graduation, they both landed in New York. It was the early 70’s. Nancy was hired by Wilhelmina and did a lot of runway work. She also modeled for Antonio Lopez. Bill worked for Norman Norell, who recognized his talent and encouraged him to design.
The couple met Halston through Berry Berenson. Bill and Nancy were frequent house guests at his home in Fire Island. Eventually, Halston asked Nancy to be in one of his shows. Nancy says that Halston’s simplistic ultra-modern designs (there were no zippers, and you could easily pull them over your head) really suited her. Upon seeing Bill’s sketches, Halston hired Bill to be his Executive Design Assistant. Bill was very loyal to Halston and contributed many ideas each season, says Nancy, who has a document signed by Halston attesting to that fact.
Highlights of that heady time include traveling to Paris with Halston for the revolutionary 1973 “Battle of Versailles” fashion show and an “extraordinary” trip to China with Halston, Bill, the Halstonettes, and famed photographer Hiro in 1980. Halston was the first American designer to be invited. He and his entourage were guests of the Chinese government. Nancy recalls that the Chinese were still in Mao outfits. There was no market yet, and no clientele, but they staged a fashion show. NBC was there to film it all. They stayed in guest houses in Shanghai and Beijing as there were no hotels.
Nancy recounts many of the intoxicating parties held at Halston’s atelier atop the Olympic Tower and at his legendary 63rd street townhouse in the ’70s and ’80s (it is currently Tom Ford’s residence). She says the music was continually blaring, the Mouton Cadet was flowing, and you could smell the gardenias. Halston insisted on “unmessy” finger food from Glorious Food caterers. There were floating Siamese fighting fish placed in Baccarat goblets.
Liz Taylor, Martha Graham, Andy Warhol, Elsa Peretti, and Liza Minelli were perpetual guests. One night in 1977, Liza, who was filming “New York New York,” arrived with Robert de Niro, Harvey Keitel, and Christopher Walken. The actors were ‘trolling’ for models, and the models were flirting back.
Halston’s townhouse was also the setting for a party the designer threw in honor of Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner’s wedding anniversary. Nancy says the night was “electric”. The couple toasted one another, and then John admonished Liz not to eat the cake because her weight was up. She retorted with a “Don’t you know who I am” kind of response, and the guests were gasping but loved the whole experience. Nancy remembers the evening as if it were yesterday.
Another moment that stands out for Ms. North is when Peter Beard, Halston’s next-door neighbor in Montauk, flew into a rage at the designer’s house because Victor Hugo had painted his feet red and walked all over Peter’s favorite rocks, permanently ruining them. Thus, Halston had to hire a sandblaster to remove the damage. Hugo was a Venezuelan-born American artist, window dresser, and Halston’s partner.
When Halston was forced to leave his business in 1984, Halston gave Bill about 300 of his original working sketches. He also gave him permission to use them any way he wanted. Nancy says she still has about 200 of them. Bill and Nancy had their own ideas about what they wanted to do, and the couple opened a fashion house called W.S. Dugan Inc. They had a salon between 5th and 6th Avenue and also sold to Bergdorf’s, Saks, and select speciality stores. Some of their made-to-order clients were former Halston clients.
Bill passed away about 11 years ago. Nancy was disinterested in continuing the business without him. She moved from New York to Florida, eventually relocating to the beautiful, picturesque town of San Miguel de Allende, located in the far eastern part of Guanajuato, Mexico. With its Baroque/Neoclassical colonial structures, striking street murals, and perfect year-round weather, no wonder it has gained a reputation for attracting tourists, writers, musicians, and artists from all walks of life. Nancy, who speaks a little Spanish, is part of a small but growing ex-pat community living alongside the locals. And speaking of music, Nancy took up singing eight years ago.
Nancy connected with former New Yorker and fellow ex-pat Carol Troy (who, among other things, co-wrote the classic fashion book “Cheap Chic” with Caterine Milinare). They bonded over shared interests and thought it would be fun to put together a bi-monthly magazine about style, fashion, and art found in San Miguel.
The first issue of Laika Style Magazine, laikastyle.com which launched last month, focuses on protecting the environment and sustainability. The cover, shot in Mexico City, features a model sitting in a Tesla electric car. FYI, “Laika” is the name of the dog that flew in the Russian Sputnik, officially the first female space explorer.
Even though the pandemic is complicating everything, Nancy and Carol hope to build their readership, get to know their Mexican community better, travel to undiscovered locations, and work with local artisans.
*Nancy is a subscriber to Lookonline since 2011.