Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston


Last Sunday afternoon I went to see Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston at the very apt surroundings of the mid-century modern Curzon Mayfair. Apparently it was director Whitney Smith's intention that you would “...come away from the film wanting a glass of champagne.” What it actually did was make me want to throw a glass of champagne in Smith's face, for his constant, egotistical appearances on screen ruin for me what would otherwise be an excellent film. Who is Whitney Smith? This is his first documentary, and sadly it shows as he brings an irritating air of amateurism to proceedings as he blunders across the screen. Smith seems to fancy himself as an integral tool of the film, changing his appearance with different garish suits and retro facial hair in every scene. Interviewing key figures of the time, he is underprepared, such as talking to AndrĂ© Leon Talley and interrupting him to profess that he doesn't know who Diane Vreeland is, amongst other gaffes. Despite this, access to plenty of key figures in Halston's life means that we get to hear many interesting anecdotes about the designer by virtue of the interviewee's personalities but no thanks to Smith's clunky interview technique. There's also plenty of spectacular archive footage, particularly of Halston's home and his Olympic Tower offices, and contemporary shots of the spaces (not so different, as it turns out - with his former town house now owned by Gunter Sachs and full of photographs of the Studio 54 era). What this film will do is give you a taste for his style if you didn't have it already and more of an understanding of just how pioneering Halston was - from his cutting techniques (often straight into the fabric freehand with scissors) to his use of branding and licensing, and his sense of fun and inclusivity that was lacking from many other fashion houses of the time. Ultrasuede is definitely worth seeing, but only for the story of Halston, not the story of Whitney Smith, which ultimately adds nothing to this film.

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