Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston


There’s a good film to be made about Halston, the dashing man who went from Iowa-born milliner to revered fashion designer to self-popularizing entrepreneur to AIDS-era casualty, but dear Lord, Ultrasuede is not it. The doc comes on like a bio but is really just a ghastly vanity affair for one Whitney Smith, the son of a socialite who, despite minimal credits to his name, feels entitled to make Halston’s story his own. With zero knowledge of fashion and proudly informed by only a vague notion of the designer’s jet-setting coolness, Smith can’t get beyond his own hard-on for the ’70s—get ready for more tired, grimy stories of Studio 54—to engage with what’s compelling about his subject. It’s only in passing and in between self-parodic shots of Smith cruising around in an old Trans Am that we learn anything about the designer’s biography, his professional trajectory, even his first name. Granted access to such fashion luminaries as Stephen Burrows, Naeem Khan, and Diane von Fürstenberg, Smith is more interested in peacocking his own dismal sartorial sense—he’s on camera for every interview, often sporting his own sub-Spurlockian ‘stache—than finding out how Halston recalibrated American glamour and why he tried, well before top designers targeted Target, to bring high fashion to the masses. Sitting across from Halston’s dear friend and muse, Smith makes even Liza Minnelli seem less delusional by comparison.