In Netflix’s latest release, Ewan McGregor stars as famed American fashion designer Halston, a gay New York-based milliner whose popularity skyrockets when First Lady Jackie Kennedy is seen in one of his designs. In the following decade, hats are out and so is the designer, who is now forced to stretch his talent to couture and band together a group of talented misfits to save the Halston name. McGregor is joined by a stellar cast, with Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli, Bill Pullman as businessman David Mahoney, and Kelly Bishop as fashion publicist and legend of the industry, Eleanor Lambert.
The opening gets off to a rocky start, immediately showing milestones in the the fashion icon’s career without building any momentum. However, by the middle of the first episode, the plot stabilises and the show sets its tone as stylised, slightly self-indulgent and melodramatic – the perfect recipe for a Netflix show about American fashion, and exactly what one expects from creator Ryan Murphy.
The first two episodes chronicle Halston’s success with his ultrasuede designs, his close friendship with Minnelli and his competition with the likes of Oscar De La Renta and Anne Klein, as they all exhibit designs at a charity show in Versailles. There is a fantastic Scorsese-esque meeting scene in a Paris airport, portraying the designers as different mob gangs, just as fearful, but better dressed..
However, behind the sequins, cocktails and nightclubs, viewers see that Halston is a lonely, troubled and isolated man, pushing away those who seem to genuinely love him, choosing instead sex and drugs down dark alleys. Murphy has shone at portraying a dual plot – what is seen on the surface and what can actually be unearthed through effective characterisation and unexpected narrative development – and Halston is no different.
What this show confirms more than anything else is that Ewan McGregor is one of the most versatile actors working today. It is very common for straight actors to play gay characters as overly flamboyant or camp, especially when they are as eccentric as a genius fashion designer, but McGregor is masterful, knowing when he can loosen the façade and when he needs to dial it back. There are only five episodes, but enough to showcase this lead actor’s enthralling performance.
An absolute must-see, whether it’s just for the clothes and the glamour, or to see McGregor in one of his most exciting roles to date.
Halston is released on Netflix on 14th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Halston here: