It was a labor of love to tell the life story of Halston in a five-hour limited series. Director Daniel Minahan wanted to make a show as stylish and enduring as the legendary fashion designer.
“We decided right from the get-go that we should take our cues for everything from the man himself,” Minahan says. “It’s a story about a creative genius and a person who is a world creator. So we needed to recreate that world as exactingly as possible... that influenced everything from which costumes we selected and recreated, to the interiors, to the cinematography.”
Minahan, who directed every episode of the Netflix show starring Ewan McGregor as the influential designer, is one of the most distinguished names working in TV today. Not only has he directed episodes of Game of Thrones, True Blood, Six Feet Under, and Deadwood, but he won an Emmy for executive producing American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace and was nominated for another for directing Deadwood: The Movie.
With Halston, he had the chance to do a much more personal project. Minahan grew up in the Connecticut suburbs and as a kid was fascinated with the world of 1970s New York and its luminaries, including Andy Warhol, Steve Rubell, and of course, Halston.
“Halston, for me, was sort of like an inspiration,” he says. “He was this mysterious character who is known to be a creative genius and very successful at his work, and created beautiful things. And as a gay kid, that was an important sort of person to see.”
When Minahan learned more about Halston as an adult, he became even more fascinated. He remembers reading a 1987 New York Times article about him, “The Prisoner of Seventh Avenue” by Lisa Belkin, and then later, the book Simply Halston by Steven Gaines. Then, 20 years ago, he started working on an idea for a Halston movie. While that never came to fruition, a few years ago he was approached by producer Christine Vachon about retooling the idea as a limited series.
In this format, Minahan was able to spread Halston’s story out and give it room to breathe, thus giving the late artist his due. And he was able to honor the artistic process as well.
“Whenever you see your creative process on-screen, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, they got it so wrong.’ It’s really important to me to get this right,” Minahan says about trying to authentically capture Halston’s methods. “And I grew up in New York with friends who were in design and hung out in workrooms, and been backstage at fashion shows. So I had a sense of the texture of it. And then, between our remarkable costume designer, Jeriana San Juan, and our research, we figured out how workrooms are structured. So we spent a lot of time in there learning how to handle things, how to pan, how to cut, and how to smoke while doing it all. And we just all really devoted ourselves to making it as authentic as we could.”
But in the end, it’s all about Halston. “At the center of it there’s a creative genius who really affected the culture and everything from the way we dress even today to the way people are fascinated with marketing and branding themselves,” he says. “How much are you willing to compromise yourself to get what you want? How much are you willing to sell yourself?”
Halston was “the first influencer,” Minahan asserts. “I think he was one of the first people to recognize that and to really explore it. He was a brilliant self-promoter, and he parlayed that into branding his name and marketing it. And I think there’s a lot to be learned from that. He’s also the first person to have it stripped away and be erased like this.”
“I think a lot of people are really engaged in this conversation right now, and I think it’s really relevant,” he says, referring to social media and the rise of personal brand-building. “And I think it’s told in the most entertaining way, but I hope people take that away with them.”