Filmmaker Whitney Sudler-Smith on Wearing Wigs & Searching for Halston

One of the greatest moments from the 2010 documentary Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston is when Liza Minnelli tells director Whitney Sudler-Smith that Halston always used to say that "you gotta fuck ’em up" in order to keep an audience on their feet. The legendary singer goes on to advise Sudler-Smith that when it comes to making the rest of the film, "fuck the gossip" and find the solid stuff. Watching Minnelli sit back and curse like a sailor as she reminisced about her dear friend Roy Halston Frowick set the tone for this unconventional doc on the iconic designer that defined disco fashion in the ’70s. 

While the doc was heavily focused on the life and times of the late iconic designer, there was one other character in the film that we couldn’t help but be distracted by, besides the straight-shooting Minnelli: the director. Sudler-Smith brings a sense of offbeat hilarity to the information-heavy doc by pushing interviewee Andre Leon Talley’s buttons, rolling up to historical sites in tricked-out cars, and wearing an array of ridiculous wigs. Here, the filmmaker talks us through his Ultrasuede journey and just why he wanted to "bring a little Borat into things."

What was the process of finding individuals to interview for this project?
The process was very tricky: you called and emailed friends of friends, contacted agents, managers, publicists, and hoped for the best. For example, a friend of Dennis Basso, the furrier, is very close to Liza Minnelli, so he asked her to do it. Once we got Liza and people heard that this was a legitimate production, it got a bit easier. Andre Leon Talley, a close friend, was also instrumental. Besides [Halston’s one-time muse] Elsa Peretti, there were a few others we would have liked to speak with who declined to participate.

If you had the chance, what would you ask Peretti?
I’d ask her about the whole creative process of being Halston’s muse. When did it come about and how exactly did she inspire him? Of course, we tried everything to get her to sit down for an interview, but unfortunately it never happened.

What would you have asked Halston if he were alive today?
I want to know if he knew just how much he touched everyone and if he understood how much that he achieved. I really don’t think he knew towards the end.


The designer with a few "Halstonettes." Photo by Roxanne Lowit.

When did your obsession with Halston begin?
I think the fact that Halston was so revolutionary was what first got me interested. We started shooting this about four years ago. Halston was the first superstar American designer and his story is compelling in that it’s this Shakespearean rise and fall with an incredible historical backdrop.

What designers today are heavily influenced by Halston’s aesthetic?
You can see his minimalist influence in many designers’ work today, like in Michael Kors’ sleek furs and trouser suits, Derek Lam’s columns, and Marc Jacobs’ entire 2010 spring line.

If you had 30 minutes left in the documentary, what would you have added?
We had over 160 hours of footage that included tons of fantastic interviews and comments we couldn’t fit in. Everything out of artist Chris Makos’ mouth was genius—he really deserves a whole movie to himself.

What’s the story behind your various wigs in the film?
As the film is a bit of a surrealist pastiche and unconventional, I wanted to mix it up and provide some comic relief to an already pretty heavy story. My character is a bit of a Dante, taking you through the nine rings with ridiculous ’70s-style outfits and silly hair. I wanted to bring a little Borat into things.

Photos: Courtesy of Whitney Sudler-Smith

How To Figure Out If You’re Dating the Kid of a Celebrity

Right before Christmas I met a boy in a bar. He was tall, adorable, and we immediately started chatting about music. Before the night came to an end, we exchanged information and he took my phone to add me as a friend on Facebook. When I noticed his last name, one that isn’t very common, I laughed and jokingly asked if he was the son of the celebrity with the same last name. His response was abrupt and strange: “No. I fucking hate that guy.” Um, OK.

The celebrity in question would not evoke such a response from anyone. Unless, of course, they knew him intimately and, for a fact, that he’s absolute shit. His on-air persona, although sometimes aloof and douchy, does not make one hate him. It just doesn’t. It was when I asked him what his dad did a couple weeks later that I was able to know for sure. Even then he didn’t say who his dad was; it was just obvious at that point. Maybe he doesn’t know that his father is pretty much a legend in our generation, or maybe he just doesn’t give a fuck.

I let it go. I don’t care who is father is; it has zero effect on how I feel about him. But some people do care about this shit. True star-fuckers, if they can’t score the celebrity, will take the offspring if they can.

As someone who has more than a few friends who have found themselves dating the kids or step-kids of celebrities, unless the kid is a show-off asshole, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly from where the person came. The only time the truth comes out is when you show up for a family dinner and find yourself across from say, Michael Douglas, and you’re forced to play it cool. Michael Douglas was in Romancing the Stone! You can’t be cool around that!

So, how do you know? Whether it’s for family dinner preparation or because you’re a greedy, gold-digging fame whore, there are five easy ways to figure it all out. Because sometimes Google can fail you in these circumstances, especially when you’re dealing with a family that does everything within their power to keep their lives private. (Oh, the famous and their I’m-so-special ways!)

“I fucking hate that guy.” The last name is a dead giveaway, especially if it’s not common. And if you do what I did and jokingly ask if there’s any relation, not thinking for one second there actually is, and the response is something aggressive out of left field, then, well, you’ve got yourself a celebrity’s kid.

Mannerism dissection. A lot of suspicion can be put to bed if you pay attention to mannerisms. Let’s say you’re dating Jack Nicholson’s kid. Now we all know Jack is known for his eyebrows and that Joker-like, crazy grin (even sans Batman make-up), so a lot of questions can be answered if you focus on these details. You’re not staring; you’re appreciating the similarities.

Mild detective skills. If you don’t know what the hell people are talking about when they mention Benson and Stabler, then you need to watch some episodes of Law & Order to truly grasp this maneuver. Where does this person live that you’re dating? Do they just happen to go on a family vacation the same time [celebrity name] was spotted by the paparazzi at the same place? Is their dad “working” at some concert the exact dates that such-and such-band is playing Coachella?

Is their life one of privilege? In NYC, the privileged are a pretty frequent lot. But there’s also a big difference between the privileged and the very privileged. Does this person in question have things in their apartment that others would kill for—like random photos of his mom at Studio 54 with Halston? Did Nirvana play his twelfth birthday? Can he get you into Per Se tonight at 8 PM no problem?

Straight up insult the celebrity in question. Even if the kid is on the outs with their celebrity parents, they won’t put up with someone else talking shit about their mom or dad. Case in point, as proven by a friend of mine: “I was going on and on about how much of a fucking asshole [celebrity name] is. I was criticizing his movies, his style and even his hair, finally D—snapped and exclaimed, ‘that’s my fucking dad! So keep your opinions to yourself.’ I knew it was just a matter of time before he’d have to give up the goods. And his dad does have bad hair.”

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Images of Tom Ford’s SS11 Collection Debut

Tom Ford’s SS11 collection made some headlines when it premiered at New York Fashion Week back in September. But not because of the clothes. With his return from a serious hiatus from women’s wear, Ford made a statement against the over-saturation of a collection before its launch, and the immediacy with which fashion followers have become accustomed to satisfying their sartorial appetites. Instead of offering designs right off the runway, or allowing cameras backstage to simultaneously broadcast his comeback presentation across the globe, Ford kept his crowd small and his press coverage nearly obsolete (save for a few blurry camera phone photos captured by the New York Times‘ Cathy Horyn). But now, finally, the wait is over. Vogue‘s December issue is loaded with images of Ford’s glamorous SS11 collection, which evokes Halston during his heyday.

Hemlines grace just below the knee when they’re not touching the floor, while blazers and blouses leave little to the imagination thanks to their plunging necklines. And forget minimalism. Ford throws modesty out the window, opting for sequins, sumptuous leather, fringe, and leopard prints instead. It’s a bold look that only Ford could help return to fashion’s forefront. And while the ’70s silhouette has been gathering steam all Fall, thanks to its audaciousness, Ford’s rendition will feel decidedly fresh come Spring.

Heritage Brings Halston Back From the Ashes

It’s been over a year since Halston Heritage launched and I think we can officially say Halston. Is. Back! I know they’ve been saying it every few years, but I think it’s really going to stick this time. Up until recently, Halston’s previous “comebacks” had mostly appealed to the over-40 crowd. Now offered at trendy boutiques right next to young, hip designers, Halston’s Heritage line (launched in 2009) has successfully expanded into the 20-something zone.

With “tuxedo-style” tailoring, draped fabrics, one-shoulder constructions, studded dresses, and lame jumpsuits, the Heritage line is a throwback to Studio 54 with a modern, youthful twist.

Sarah Jessica Parker for Halston, Amy Winehouse for Fred Perry

Just over a year ago rumors swirled that tabloid fixture and trainwreck Amy Winehouse was launching a clothing line. She was overhead blabbing about a collaboration with Fred Perry at a few holiday parties, but in the months following no official word was released, consigning the chatter to typical Winehouse psychobabble. Well, it turns out Winehouse is indeed designing clothes for Perry, and Women’s Wear Daily has already scored images. Set to hit stores in October, the line is predominantly pink and black and includes “a girlish twinset; slim, thigh-skimming pencil skirts; capri pants, a mini bowling dress, and Fred Perry’s signature polo shirts (‘collars are most definitely raised,’ the press release effused),” says WWD.

Don’t expect any popped collars or pink argyle over at Sarah Jessica Parker’s premiere collection for Halston’s Heritage line. Rather, the lower-priced line (sister to Marios Schwab’s collection for Halston proper), SJP’s collection “is sticking with a more literal interpretation of Halston’s 1970s style, so there is a lot of draped jersey and more than one jumpsuit,” says Racked NY. Dresses (just debuted at Net-A-Porter) fall in the $350-500 range, which is by no means unattainable for the hordes of Sex and the City fans looking to drop dollars on anything SJP- or Halston-related. After all, it’s a known fact that more than one SJP/Halston Heritage frock found its way onto the SATC2 set. And with handbags priced at $195 to $420, all this affordable designer garb is bound to be a sizable boost for the Weinstein-backed brand which has suffered both in terms of identity and financial stability in recent seasons.

Sarah Jessica Parker To Follow in Lilo’s Footsteps

One of the most controversial hirings in recent fashion history was Lindsay Lohan being brought on board as artistic consultant at Ungaro. The move led to the resignation of Esteban Cortazar,then designer at the high-fashion house, and countless scathing critiques come the starlet’s premiere collection presentation at fashion week this past fall. (Rumor has it Lilo’s employment may have incited the subsequent departure of Ungaro’s CEO as well.) Despite all the hubbub, it seems Halston is following suit. Sarah Jessica Parker may soon take up a similar post for that brand.

Having hit its heyday during the ’70s club era, Halston is looking to reinvigorate interest by hiring a celebrity adviser. Halston is rumored to be “courting her to become its new ambassador,” says Vogue UK. “A source close to the label claimed today that Parker may assume a creative role at the revived house.”

Granted, Parker has experience in design – her low-priced label Bitten was carried at Steve & Barry’s until it went bankrupt, but her brand made fewer waves than La Lohan’s 6126. Celebrity consultants are definitely nothing new– Chanel, for one, employs Leigh Lezark and fellow ‘it’ girls to test out products before they are finalized–but granting actresses official posts at high-fashion labels? Hasn’t the lesson of Lohan taught Halston anything?

UPDATE: WWD has confirmed that Sarah Jessica Parker will join Halston Heritage’s line; “she is expected to take an active design role, possibly even that of creative director.”

Industry Insiders: The Halston Board’s Favorite Places

In our continuing quest to track down the wining, dining, and merchandising habits of the well-known and well-to-do, we were alerted to an upcoming New York holiday sale from designer Halston. Details, in case you’re wondering: the sale involves up to 75% off various species of womenswear, shoes, and bags, and it runs Friday, December 12 (9 a.m. to 7 p.m.); Saturday, December 13 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.); and Sunday, December 14 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.). And the scene is 96 Spring Street (Broadway & Mercer), with cash and credit accepted. But beyond hawking their wares, what do the actual Halstonians enjoy doing around town? We put the question to Bonnie Takhar (Halston president and CEO), Tamara Mellon (Halston boardmember and founder of Jimmy Choo), and none other than Harvey Weinstein (also a Halston boardmember and incidentally of the Weinstein Company).

Favorite Hotel: The Mercer. It’s a block away from the Halston office. Takhar stays there when in NYC, and Takhar, Mellon, and Weinstein meet there to discuss biz.

Favorite Restaurant (Lunch): Downtown Cipriani. Once again, only a few blocks from the Halston office. Generous servings always.

Favorite Restaurant (Dinner): Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Best in seafood, an the buzzy atmosphere promotes conversation.

Favorite Bar: The Eldridge. Halston had the private aftershow party for the Spring 2009 collection here in September. Takhar and Mellon will head down to the Eldridge after late nights in the office; great music and drinks make it a great place to unwind.

Favorite Shops: Jeffrey New York (contemporary cool collections), What Goes Around Comes Around (a vintage feast), Bergdorf Goodman (uptown, upscale luxury).