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Iowa History Daily: April 23 - Roy Halston Frowick

Iowa History Daily: On April 23, 1932, internationally renowned fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick (Halston) was born in Des Moines, Iowa. A minimalist known for clear designs featuring cashmere and ultrasuede, Halston’s redefined fashion during the disco craze of the 1970s.

As a child in Iowa’s capital city, Halston exhibited an interest in sewing at an early age. His grandmother taught him to sew, and he often created hats or altered clothing for other family members. By 1952, Halston enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and started working as a window dresser before opening his own custom hat business. A hit with celebrities including Fran Allison, Kim Novak, and Hedda Hopper, Halston started to gain a reputation for innovative design. When a “Chicago Daily News” story featured his hats, he built on the momentum to open “The Boulevard Salon” on North Michigan Avenue and started to go by only ‘Halston.’

Halston’s popularity skyrocketed after he designed the pillbox hat worn by Jacqueline Kennedy to JFK’s presidential inauguration in 1961, leading “Newsweek” to dub him “the premier fashion designer in all of America.” At the top, Halston started to move beyond hats to design clothing with the help of Texas millionaire Estelle Marsh. A store on Madison Avenue opened in 1968, and a ready-to-wear clothing line called ‘Halston Limited’ launched in 1969.

Notable for eliminating frivolity from designs, Halston also grew to popularity with various female celebrities by offering innovatively designed pants. “Pants give women the freedom to move around they’ve never had before,” he said. “Pants will be with us for many years to come - probably forever if you can make that statement in fashion.”A staple with the Studio 54 crowd, Halston’s popularity translated to commercial success to the tune of an estimated $30 million during the early 1970s. He sold his line to Norton Simon in 1973 for $16 million, and further capitalized to the tune of a reported $1 billion with J.C. Penney in 1983.

In 1988, Halston tested positive for HIV. He died on March 26, 1990 of Kaposi’s sarcoma at the California Pacific Medical Center. Halston’s innovative style continues to inspire today, including recent documentaries, a tribute at Lincoln Center put together by his good friend Liza Minnelli, and a 2021 Netflix miniseries titled “Halston.” #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaODT #IowaHistoryCalendar


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