On Display

‘Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede’: A Decades-Long Friendship (Photos)

Halston and Warhol both pioneered a quintessentially American, no-frills, and unabashedly commercial pop style that continues to influence art and design today.

Ron Galella/WireImage

Courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

'Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede'

A new exhibition at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh looks at the personal and professional relationship between fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick (aka Halston) and pop artist Andy Warhol. Not only did the two admire each other’s work, but they also both pioneered a quintessentially American, no-frills, and unabashedly commercial pop style that continues to influence art and design today. 

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston

Pillbox Hat

Halston began his career in fashion as a milliner, designing inventive, stylish hats for ladies who lunch at Bergdorf Goodman. But he achieved fame when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy appeared on television wearing one of his creations, a pink pillbox hat (an iconic image that Warhol would later reproduce for his Jackie series). Suddenly, magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar were clamoring to feature Halston’s headgear on their covers, and the wunderkind was able to parlay his success into a clothing line.

Evening Ensemble Dress in Silk Chiffon

By the time Halston launched his own label in 1968, his signature style was already fully formed: easy, luxurious clothes that mixed sportswear basics with couture-worthy fabrics, ancient dress forms with pop-culture references. (Think tie-dyed pajamas, draped Grecian gowns in silk jersey, loose, shimmering caftans, and floor-length knit cashmere dresses and coats.) Halston’s garments looked deceptively simple—such as this flowing, one-shoulder red silk chiffon number—but actually required expert manipulation of fabric and a rigorous understanding of the female form.

Courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

Evening Dress Based on Warhol's 'Flower' Painting

Halston, like Warhol, sought to transcend the limitations of his métier. He blurred the lines between high and low, culture and commerce, and fashion and art. He, with Warhol’s help, made runway shows into happenings; turned the designer into a celebrity; and transformed works of art such as Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Warhol's “Flowers” into fashion.

Irving Solero

Ultrasuede

Similar to Warhol’s creation of his Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes, Halston loved to elevate the banal into something glamorous. In 1972, he reinvigorated the stale shirtdress by refashioning it in Ultrasuede, a new synthetic fabric that replicated suede or leather but that could be easily washed and cared for. Halston first learned about the fabric from Japanese designer Issey Miyake, whose supposedly waterproof Ultrasuede jacket impressed Halston so much, he made a line of raincoats out of them. Unfortunately, it turned out the fabric didn’t repel water so much as absorb it, but no matter. Halston’s second attempt at using the fabric would turn out to be the most coveted fashion item in the country. 

Andy Warhol Time Capsule 471, 1980-1983

Halston and Warhol both loved pop culture and had a knack for self-promotion. After seeing a spot on Entertainment Tonight in which Miss Piggy buys a Halston wedding dress for her upcoming nuptials, the designer sent a note to Jim Henson, with a sample of Halston skin care products to help with Kermit’s complexion for the big day. Jim Henson was so delighted that he sent Halston back a trove of Muppet paraphernalia, which the designer in turn gave to Warhol for the artist’s birthday.  

Halston, Clouds Evening Dress, 1982-1983

Even when he did add adornment to his designs, Halston prized simplicity and elegance above all else. The designer hired Japanese textile designer Reiko Sudo to hand-paint cloud shapes on silk, which Halston reproduced with iridescent sequins.