Costume Designer Jeriana San Juan Talks about Her Work in Netflix’s Miniseries “Halston”

Image courtesy of Netflix

In his prime, Roy Halston Frowick was among the pantheon of America’s fashion design talent. The famed American designer, whose life was tragically cut short by AIDS, was arguably the “people’s designer” of his generation. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Halston would rise through the ranks of the fashion industry to become renowned with a name that is still revered to this day.

Halston’s story once again appears on screen in a new biopic miniseries on Netflix. Respectfully titled “Halston,”  this miniseries stars Ewan McGregor and is produced by critically acclaimed television producer Ryan Murphy.

Image courtesy of IMDB

No film about a legendary fashion icon can be complete without impeccable detail to the garments used in the production. Jeriana San Juan, the brilliant mind behind the wardrobe in this miniseries. Fashion Reverie simply had to find out how she recreated this era of fashion history.

Fashion Reverie: How did you become involved with the Halston miniseries?

Jeriana San Juan: I had an initial meeting with the director Daniel Minahan. I had worked with the line producer of Halston in the past, and she gave me a whisper about the project when it was early in production. She’s a friend and collaborator of mine, and she thought I’d be a perfect fit to costume the series. Daniel and I share such a mutual love for Halston’s work and his creativity as an artist. We had a common goal in creating this show, and it was a match made in heaven.

FR: Aside from the obvious Halston fashion shows and those direct references, were there other places you draw inspiration from for the costumes?

Jeriana San Juan:  To draw inspiration for the costumes, I really wanted to highlight as much contrast between Halston’s aesthetic and the rest of the fashion landscape. I wanted to highlight how modern he was in his aesthetic and how minimalism along with very close attention to construction, detail, and fabric was the key to his success. Halston’s idea of centering glamour around comfort was revolutionary at that time. It was something that really changed the face of fashion. I have such a deep respect for it. He really had a respect for women by making women feel free in their clothes.

I wanted to show the contrast between that and what someone like Givenchy or Yves Saint Laurent were doing simultaneously. Halston’s clothes still look so contemporary and modern today, even more so, and arguably futuristic for the time period in which they were presented.

FR: What period does the miniseries reflect?

Jeriana San Juan: The show starts off in the early 1960s and takes the audiences through the arc of Halston’s career starting with his work as a milliner at Bergdorf Goodman. It takes us to his death in the ‘80s.


FR: That obviously required a large breadth of costumes trying to encapsulate three different decades of dress.

Jeriana San Juan: There was not only a difference in finding a specific note for Halston and his own creative journey, but the tone had to be set for every different decade, including the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. I really had to sink my teeth into what trends were driving the fashion scene during those times.

FR: As you were working on costuming the miniseries, did you interview any current designers who had worked with Halston, like Ralph Rucci or Naeem Khan? Did you reach out to any of the “Halstonettes”, his former models?

Jeriana San Juan: Yes, it was important that I do this story as accurately and authentically as possible. I went to anyone who had firsthand connections with Halston, as well as Toray International, the developers of Ultrasuede, and I met a guy who worked with Halston to develop the Ultrasuede collection. I went to Chris Royer, who was a former house model and creative collaborator of his. I went to her house and went through all of the clothes Halston made for her and samples that were given to her from the showroom.

I had extensive conversations with Sassy Johnson, who was the former head of his women’s wear division for made-to-order of Halston’s company. Sassy originally started off as his personal secretary and had tons of stories to tell me about Halston. She gave me great insight on not only her personal photos, but what went on at Olympic Tower, how Halston would walk into a room, and the details about his shoes and sunglasses, as well as how the other assistants were dressed in the work room. Naeem Khan had a great meeting with me at his studio. He told me wonderful stories about Halston, and I even worked with Naeem to recreate one of the beading patterns on a dress that is featured in the film that Naeem’s father had created for Halston.

FR: Toward the last few years of Halston’s life, although his name was still on his fashion line, there was someone else designing the collections. How did you create costumes around that and what were those challenges?

Jeriana San Juan: The most important thing to me was to celebrate Halston’s work and Roy Halston Frowick’s immense creativity and artistry. I wanted to be as accurate as possible in bringing those clothes to life. After we meet Halston at that point in the story, John David Ridge had was designing most of the garments at Halston Limited. That’s when I took more creative license. I found a few pieces that are featured in the show that were John David Ridge-designed, Halston pieces. I took a lot more creative license to help dramatically play toward the story and the swing of the ‘80s and the “Dynasty” era. There definitely starts to be a bit more creative license taken at the very end of the story and Halston’s departure from his brand.

FR: How do we see the fashion evolve throughout the series? Halston goes from an  unknown fashion designer to fashion star, so through the clothes how to you capture that transition?  

Jeriana San Juan: I was able to speak to a gentleman from Bergdorf Goodman who was a milliner that worked alongside Halston. He was featured in Halston’s documentary on CNN. He said that Halston was always Halston in his mind. There is some level of Halston inhabiting his existence and how he dressed, even prior to the quintessential black turtleneck and black trouser. There is a lot leading up to that to clue us into Halston’s interest in modern thinking and wanting to create vibrant youthful looks. He himself was dressing with ‘70s trends before the 1970s trends occurred. I definitely tried to play toward him always being ahead of his time in any decade.


FR: What do you think was the most defining thing about Halston’s style that we see in the series?

Jeriana San Juan: The most defining thing about Halston and his clothing is the way he made women feel. That’s my takeaway from everyone I spoke to who had firsthand connections to Halston. He was so charming and funny, and he had such an impact on people. In my role as costume designer for the show, that thought was always in the back of my mind. I wanted to not only present Halston’s clothes well, but pay them justice, and honor the people who helped me in researching for the miniseries.

FR: Who was the toughest character to costume?

Jeriana San Juan: Joe Eula! He was the creative director at Halston for ten years, and there was so little documentation of him. I tried to use fashion classics on him, focusing on things that felt sartorial, but unfussy and worldly. Joe Eula was also a fashion illustrator and artist who worked with fashion designers all over the world, but he had humble roots and a very New York story. How do you dress a worldly character, who is also incredibly artistic, but is a confidante for everyone from Andy Warhol to Yves Saint Laurent? There are not many photographs of him, but Joe is mentioned all over Andy Warhol’s diary book. I had to invent someone who was creating their own thing and persona.

FR: What was the greatest costume piece you think you did in the series?

Jeriana San Juan: You’re asking me to toot my own horn or pick a favorite child. That’s a hard one, because there are moments of the show designed like an orchestra, like the scene where they recreate the Battle of Versailles.

FR: Wait, so we see the Battle of Versailles (a fashion event in Paris to raise money for the restoration of Versailles) in the series?

Jeriana San Juan: Yes.

FR: What was it like costuming that scene?

Jeriana San Juan: It was tremendous and a very big task. Doing Versailles was a real study in editing because it had to be very clear about what Bill Blass was doing versus Stephen Burrows versus Anne Klein versus Halston in a matter of minutes. To do that, I really had to edit down the concepts, and the color palette, textures, and fabrics they were working in. I also had to build a cohesive collection that felt inspired by each designer.

FR: I know Ryan is very collaborative with the creative teams from set to costume design. Was that the case for this series, or was that not possible because of COVID-19?

Jeriana San Juan: Initially, I did share my moodboards with Ryan and his producing partner Alexis. I was given a little bit more license creatively, and after that initial pass, the director, Daniel Minahan, really took hold of this project and made it his baby. This project is so great because of Dan and his guidance on cultivating a unique voice between costume design, set, and actors. All of the elements came together through him.


FR: If you could go back in time and have one Halston look for yourself, what would it be?

Jeriana San Juan: I crave so many. What I’d want is an entire closet full of Elsa Peretti jewelry. After doing this show, I respect Halston as an artist on a whole new level. He really was a revolutionary thinker. Fashion was so democratic in his eyes and celebrated all women. He had a whole tapestry of different ethnicities of women and women of all sizes. We used the word inclusivity now, but he was inclusive early on. Halston wanted women to wear clothes with a freedom of movement.

Netflix’s “Halston” premieres on May 14. The cast includes Ewan McGregor, Rory Culkin, Rebecca Dayan, Sullivan Jones, David Pittu, Krysta Rodriguez, Gian Franco Rodriguez, Bill Pullman, Kelly Bishop, and Maxim Swinton.

— Kristopher Fraser

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