Weekend Binge

We need to talk about the fabulousness of ‘Halston’

HALSTON (L to R) EWAN MCGREGOR as HALSTON, DAVID PITTU as JOE EULA, and REBECCA DAYAN as ELSA PERETTI in episode 104 of HALSTON Cr. ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/NETFLIX © 2021

Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every Friday, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.

The Fashionable: Halston

We’re still oh-so-slightly obsessed with this new Netflix series, a chronicle of the life of the single-named fashion designer–the first American to break into the world of international fashion.  Halston became a household name in the 1970s for his eccentric designs and use of celebrity models (particularly Liza Minnelli) in his runway shows, not to mention a fixture at New York’s Studio 54. Yet, by the mid-80s, Halston would lose his fashion empire and the use of his name. By the time of his death in 1990, his work had already faded into obscurity.

In the series, produced by Ryan Murphy & Christine Vachon, Ewan McGregor portrays Halston as a genius, volatile man haunted by his own shame. The performance ranks among McGregor’s best, which say something. The supporting cast, including Gian Franco Rodriguez and Rebecca Dayan as Halston’s boyfriend Victor Hugo and his longtime muse/design collaborator Elsa Peretti, respectively, also deliver fine work, though the real showstopper, is actress Krysta Rodriguez who steps into the iconic role of Liza Minnelli.

Playing someone like Liza–a woman notorious for her larger-than-life personality and many parodies over the years--presents a minefield for an actor. Rodriguez pulls off the miraculous feat of making Liza seem both human and familiar, even while channeling some of her most famous musical moments. This ain’t a drag performance or an imitation, folks. It’s a magnificent, Emmy-worthy turn for Rodriguez, who seems poised to become a star in her own right.

Halston focuses more on the title designer’s struggles with fame, drugs, and showmanship, rather than his genius (something that made the 2019 documentary Halston so stellar). In a sense, we expected as much: Ryan Murphy’s work tends to veer more towards the soapy than the educational, and a didactic history lesson doesn’t exactly lend itself to scripted drama. What the show does do–more so than the documentary–is dive into how Halston’s self-image and internalized homophobia contributed to his volatile temper and personal life. Certain elements of Halston’s self-destruction begin to make sense knowing how he struggled with abuse and self-loathing.

At just five episodes, Halston moves at a rapid pace without feeling superficial or disjointed. That’s lucky, since the show–loaded with style, queer history, and terrific performances–is also addictive as Hell. That makes it perfect for a Weekend Binge, and one to welcome pride month to boot.

Streams on Netflix.