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American Fashion Designer Dies of AIDS Complications

March 28, 1990 GMT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Halston, the designer who created the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy made chic and whose star-studded circle of friends included Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli, has died of AIDS-related cancer. He was 57.

He died in his sleep at Pacific Presbyterian Medical Center Monday night. His brother, Robert Frowick, said Tuesday that Halston had suffered from AIDS for the last 18 months and died of a related cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Halston asked his family to auction an all-black Rolls-Royce ″dream car″ he bought for more than $200,000 last year and to donate the proceeds to AIDS research, Frowick told a news conference at the hospital attended by his brother, Donald, and sister, Susan Watkins.

Halston spent some of his final days touring the California coastline, especially Big Sur, in the Rolls-Royce, Frowick said.

Known worldwide for his simple and sexy creations, Halston designed clothes for such celebrities as Lauren Bacall, Minnelli and Bianca Jagger. Bacall dubbed him ″Halstie Baby,″ and once ordered 75 outfits priced at $200 to $1,000 each.

Through his work he became friends with Warhol and other celebrities, including model Marissa Berenson.

The top-rated designer was responsible for the pillbox hat that Mrs. Kennedy wore at her husband’s presidential inauguration in 1961. The hats became popular with millions of women.

He later pioneered the use of Ultrasuede, a synthetic fabric much like suede.

″The Halston label on a dress or perfume tells a woman that what she’s buying will be recognized as ’right,‴ Vogue magazine once said, ″that it’s more than just stylish, it’s in good taste.″

Born Roy Halston Frowick on April 23, 1932, in Des Moines, Iowa, he attended Indiana University and the Chicago Art Institute. Said to have been fascinated with his grandmother’s hats as a child, he began making hats while still in college.

His first client was Fran Allison of ″Kukla, Fran and Ollie,″ and within months he was creating hats for Kim Novak, Hedda Hopper, Deborah Kerr and Shirley Booth.

He moved to New York City in 1957, working in Lily Dache’s hat division. The next year, he went to work for Bergdorf Goodman department store as a milliner, and later began designing Bergdorf’s ready-to-wear fashions. He opened his own couture house in 1968.


″He was temperamental, spoiled, always threatening to quit,″ Andrew Goodman, Bergdorf’s president, said in 1973. ″But we indulged him because he was so talented.″

Halston added a ready-to-wear range, called Halston International, in 1970, and Halston Originals in 1972.

But Halston’s position at the pinnacle of the fashion industry began to slip dramatically in 1973, when he signed a $16 million deal with Norton Simon Inc. for his ready-to-wear line, his couture operation and the Halston trademark.

The agreement let Norton Simon use the Halston name for products the designer didn’t design, and Halston couldn’t use his name on any product without Norton Simon’s permission.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. approached Norton Simon with the idea of a line of inexpensive Halston clothes to be sold exclusively in the moderate-price department stores, and Halston agreed. That deal was signed in 1982.

Shortly after that, Bergdorf Goodman announced it would no longer sell Halston clothes because of the association with Penney’s. Adding to the designer’s woes, Norton Simon was acquired at the same time in a takeover with the Esmark Inc. conglomerate, which in turn was taken over by the Beatrice companies.

To cut costs, Beatrice eliminated Halston’s limousines, dismissed much of his staff and disassembled his company.

Revlon Group Inc. in New York bought the Halston name in December 1986. They used it on a popular fragrance line, called simply, ″Halston.″

″We are all deeply saddened by Halston’s death,″ said Ronald Perelman, Revlon’s chairman of the board. ″He was an American leader of design and style who helped to define his entire era. He will be sorely missed.″

Halston won Coty fashion awards in 1962 and 1969, and was elected to the fashion Hall of Fame in 1974.

Halston had effectively retired by the fall of 1988 and was diagnosed with the AIDS virus about a year ago, Frowick said at the news conference. The designer moved to California in December.

″There really isn’t much to celebrate,″ he was quoted as saying when asked about his increasingly sedate lifestyle. ″People are always asking, ‘What happened? How are you?’

″It can be very difficult,″ he said. ″I have no answer.″

After he was hospitalized, his family brought him gourmet meals approved by his doctor, his brother said. Halston enjoyed a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay area from his hospital room, which was filled with orchids and other flowers.

″He was quite lucid up until the last few days,″ Frowick said. ″ ... When he was alert, he was extremely alert and he had very strong mental faculties that never left him.″

Frowick described his brother as ″an extremely elegant man ... that’s the way he tried to go through his final stages, too.″

In a statement issued earlier in the day, Frowick said the family ″mourns the loss of a magnificent and deeply respected brother and friend.″

″We thank all those from around the world who have been communicating thoughtful wishes to him. America has lost a true patriot and its greatest designer, one of the greatest designers in the world.″

A memorial service is planned Friday at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Halston’s body will be cremated.