Fashion

You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real): Warhol, Halston and the Importance of Queer Friendship

Andy Warhol, Halston, 1974, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Andy Warhol, Halston, 1974, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

In Andy Warhol’s juicy The Andy Warhol Diaries, which details his extensive social life as well as, bizarrely, every cent he spent, seminal fashion designer Halston appears frequently within Warhol’s gossip-laden journals.

Warhol’s entry for Sunday March 12, 1978 describes attending sequined role model Liza Minnelli’s birthday party at Halston’s. As Warhol writes:

“Got up and went to church.
Liza’s Birthday party was at Halston’s spread in the Olympic Tower. Catherine was wearing her new Halston, a tight white one, and she looked really good with her hair up. The party wasn’t that great. It was missing people. Muhammad Ali never showed up and Liz Taylor didn’t either. But Carol Channing popped around the corner with Eartha Kitt who said she was dying to meet me, but then we didn’t have anything to say to each other. Melba Moore was there. It was a nice party, though, a live band. Jane Holzer and Bob Denison was there, and a couple of hustlers from Studio 54, who weren’t in black tie, they were in white jumpsuits. Liza was wearing a gold Halston and she got upset when Dr. Giller pulled down on it because she’d just been in the bathroom to fix it to stay up. It was a funny dress, open from the crotch down to the floor in a V. and the Halston crowd has a new accent, they’re now all talking in a tongue-tied lisp. It’s the new thing. And they all say [imitates] “pussycat.” I met David Mahoney who runs Norton Simon that bought Halston and Martha Graham took me into a corner and said she’d like to have tea with me. All the pretty girls were in Halstons” (116).

Examining the interconnected lives of these two creative forces, the Andy Warhol Museum’s current exhibition Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede makes the unquestionably important argument that Warhol and Halston’s close friendship, similar artistic sensibilities, and collaborations drove their respective art. Juxtaposing Halston’s beautiful designs with Warhol’s paintings and photographs, the exhibition, organized by the Warhol Museum and Halston’s niece Lesley Frowick, develops a new way to look at both the intersection of art and fashion, as well as inspirational queer friendships.

Halston, Evening ensemble dress, 1970, Silk chiffon, courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Halston, Evening ensemble dress, 1970, Silk chiffon, courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Now, I have to admit that I have always been partial to the punk, leather-bound, “death to disco” blank generation rather than the coke-fueled, disco fever dream 1970s, which I can’t help but associate with Halston’s designs. Though who doesn’t need a good spin to Sylvester every so often. Despite my wariness of disco dawns, even I understand that Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede is one of the most exciting fashion exhibitions in recent memory (*cough* pay attention Costume Institute).

Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Andy Warhol, Jackie, 1964, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

From their humble beginnings as Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh and Roy Halston Frowick in Des Moines, starting their careers as window dressers, Warhol and Halston made the queer migration to New York City, reinventing themselves in the process.

Halston, for Bergdorf Goodman, Pillbox Hat, early 1960s, © The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

Halston, for Bergdorf Goodman, Pillbox Hat, early 1960s, © The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation

While Warhol and Halston first met in the early 1960s, their friendship would not blossom until the 1970s. This certainly does not mean their creative interests were not the same. Pairing Warhol’s Jackie with Halston’s equally memorable pink pillbox that he made for Jackie Kennedy to wear at JFK’s inauguration, the exhibition depicts the similar aesthetic of these two men. Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede also includes the sexy and slightly Donnie Darko-esque bunny mask he designed for Candice Bergen to wear at Warhol’s favorite, Truman Capote’s decadent Black and White Ball.

Sidenote: Warhol used to semi-stalk Truman Capote when he first moved to New York. Who can blame him?

“Met Victor, went over to Halston’s store, it was really un-busy but then everything is so expensive that if they just sell one little hanky they can have dinner. While I was there Jackie O. came in and was whisked away to the third floor. Victor told me that she doesn’t buy much, just a few little things”—Warhol, diary entry on Tuesday December 21, 1976 (9)

While the early years of Warhol and Halston’s careers are certainly stunning, the exhibition hits its stride once the two men form their significant friendship and begin to collaborate after Warhol’s transition from the darker, drug-filled Silver Factory to his business art years.

From their duel sense of business, often erasing the divisions between high and low culture, to their interest in mass production such as Halston’s work with JC Penney to their fascination with celebrities and nightlife, Warhol and Halston’s similar aesthetics pushed each of their artistic productions further than perhaps they would have independently.

Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 471, 1980–83, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Andy Warhol, Time Capsule 471, 1980–83, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

As both artists (yes, I would qualify Halston as an artist) and gay men, Warhol and Halston’s friendship should be put into the context of queer kinship. Like many queer theorists have discussed, queer individuals often build alternative forms of kinship outside the nuclear family and the boundaries of normative relationships. For Warhol and Halston, their friendship, at least as viewed through the lens of the exhibition, appears to exceed normative friendships between men into a more artistically powerful and influential relationship. Beyond their work, their goofy inside jokes also shine through the exhibition, including the large quantity of hilariously tacky Muppets memorabilia Halston sent Warhol, which Warhol naturally put into one of his hoarder-esque Time Capsules.

Andy Warhol, Studio 54 Complimentary Drink Invitation, ca. 1978, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Andy Warhol, Studio 54 Complimentary Drink Invitation, ca. 1978, ©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Unsurprisingly, given my interest in nightlife, my favorite part of the exhibition was the section on Studio 54. Both regulars at the club, Halston and Warhol produced artwork and fashion related to this seminal disco den. The exhibition combines Warhol’s silkscreened paintings of Studio 54 drink tickets with Halston’s dresses, which were often worn by club goers such as Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger.  Not only a designer for the club set, Halston also organized the infamous party in which Bianca Jagger rode into the club on a white horse. Talk about an entrance, pussycat!

Halston, Evening dress with print based on Warhol’s Flowers painting 1964–72, Silk knit, courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Halston, Evening dress with print based on Warhol’s Flowers painting 1964–72, Silk knit, courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art

Not only friends with similar interests, Warhol and Halston also frequently collaborated including a gorgeous evening dress, shown in the exhibition, with a print of Warhol’s seminal Flowers paintings. In addition, Warhol painted portraits of Halston, as well as featured the designer in his first television show Fashion and his book Exposures.

Sadly and eerily, Warhol and Halston died only three years apart and yet, their friendship still exudes an unmistakable energy as experienced in the Warhol Museum. An innovative way to look at the duel trajectory of these artists’ output, Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede asserts the importance of creatively-productive and personally powerful queer friendships.

Transcending the boundaries of artist/muse, the definition of inspiration and collaboration, and finally, the admittedly misguided divisions between art and fashion, both Warhol and Halston’s friendship and the exhibition should exist as an example of how we should attempt to analyze the significance of certain artistic friendships and other forms of kinship. Why should we leave artists and designers personal lives out of art historical understanding? If these relationships were important to artists, particularly queer artists, let’s celebrate them.

“Halston showed me the birthday cake and it had money all over it and Halston was going to burn the money, but I said no, that everybody should get the money with a piece of cake when you cut it, so Halston made flowers out of the bills for on top of the cake, he really is clever”—Warhol, diary entry on Sunday April 1, 1979 (216).

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