After Roy Halston Frowicker died in San Francisco in 1990, the obituaries where cautious, muted, a little salty. Maybe it was because he’d lost his business, maybe it was because of the louche lifestyle, or maybe it was just because of the cruelty of fashion: by 1990, Halston was just so last decade.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that, in fact, America’s first super-star fashion designer was a creative genius. He was a groundbreaking, liberating, life-enhancing prince of fashion world. In the 1970s, Halston was American haute couture.
Halston said clothes should be practical, glamorous, functional and spare — according to fashion maven Marylou Luther. True to his own beliefs, his designs, especially from the mid-70s are incredible feats of minimalist textile engineering. Among his most glorious tricks, he created dresses that had just one or two seams, cut on the bias, so that they clung and swirled, showing off the body beneath the fabric. His friend Liza Minnelli said: “His clothes just danced with you.” He was famous for soft drapes in cashmere, silk or chiffon, hot pants, Ultrasuede, kaftans and disco. He made cunningly simple clothes that anyone could wear, that never “wore the wearer”.
One of his models in the recent documentary, Halston, talks about him just kneeling on the floor with a length of cloth and cutting, then pinning the dress straight on. This sureness with scissors is right there in the conjunction of the chart ruler Mars (sharpness) and Mercury (dexterity) in Aries, that most direct sign. Indeed, Mars which rules everything that cuts is empowered in Aries.
Scorpio often turns up in fashionista charts: it’s that critical perfectionist eye, which is so useful and so cruel. Halston liked to wear a sort of uniform too — usually a black turtle neck, very Scorpio.
Like Jay Gatsby, Halston came from an ordinary midwestern background (Saturn on the IC in Aquarius, the sign of the common people), and became a prince in New York (Jupiter on the MC in Leo). The astrology is so clear, and this tension between the common and the magnificent is a repeating pattern in his life.
Jupiter in Leo in the 10th — Halston had a lot of famous friends, and those famous friends wore his clothes, hung out at his studio and made his front row the hottest on the New York fashion scene. At the same time, he wanted to clothe “every woman in America” — certainly an Aquarian notion.
Although he was the public prince (Jupiter, the face and driving genius of his brand, he put together a great team which formed the foundation of his business (Saturn on the MC again).
Jupiter is a planet of popularity, fame, expansion, but Neptune and Venus are the real fashion planets. You can see that natally, Neptune in perfectionist Virgo is quite prominent in the House of Career. It makes a tight trine to the Taurus Sun and quincunx to Saturn on the MC. Taurus is one of the Venus-ruled signs, of course, and you find quite a few famous designers with Taurus Sun.
The transits of Neptune were important to Halston’s career too. When Neptune reached 0° Scorpio in 1955, he began in fashion. And as the Great Illusionist traversed his first house his own star rose in the world of fashion. When it crossed into Libra — and his second house of earnings — Halston began to make serious money out of the business of fashion.
And for many that is one reason he will be remembered. He was the first real American name brand designer. In 1973, he sold the rights to that name in what seemed like a good deal at the time. He got the princely sum of $12m, and stayed on as a designer. With substantial financial backing, he gained enormous creative freedom, and the licensing agreements he made broke new ground for the business.
The 70s — the decade of Pluto in luxury-loving Libra and Neptune in wild Sagittarius — belonged to Halston. Neptune in Sagittarius brought in those leggy, free fashions, which Halston’s Sagittarius Moon instinctively understood. Under Halston’s flowing clothes, you could wear nothing at all, and you could dance all night at Studio 54. He was making tons of money from clothes, accessories, perfume. He was famous — papped surrounded by the Halstonettes, a willowy bouquet of models, or with his celebrity friends, Andy Warhol, Liz Taylor or Liza. Like a true Taurean, he bought himself an extraordinarily beautiful house. In his orchid-filled studio, Halston was at the centre of the most hedonistic decade in a bankrupt New York City.
And then like Gatsby, it all went too far for Halston. That Jupiter in Leo over-reached, that Taurus Sun over-indulged. Those secret vices of Venus in the 8th house became addictions. He started to become more famous for his partying than his talent. Halston moved into a mirrored, glass high-rise in 1979, the year of his fourth Jupiter Return.
The 70s crashed into the 1980s in spectacular style with a conjunction of Saturn and Pluto in Scorpio. AIDS arrived and took a scythe to the world of fashion and beauty and fun. It truly was the end of an era.
And that conjunction, in 1983, hit Halston himself like a series of punches in the solar plexus. As Pluto went back and forth over his Ascendant, opposing his generous seventh house Sun, and Saturn travelled through his first house, his name was stolen, his company was sold repeatedly away from his control — and his high end reputation was damaged after a lucrative deal with downmarket JC Penney. The latter deal would be totally normal these days but was considered tacky in 1983.
This loss of power and identity theft are real dangers with this type of Pluto transit. On October 15, 1984, Halston walked out the magical, mirrored tower — a manifestation of Neptune (mirrors, fashion, imagination) in the 10th (a hight place, a place of work) — a place that had seemed like a dream made real but which turned out to be a trap — and never returned.
Worse, by 1988, he found that he had the virus.
Despite all the glamour, the celebrity friends, the drugs, the rentboys, the terrible beauty of his life in New York, when it came to the end (Saturn on the IC), Halston returned to the family to die.
And then his work went completely out of fashion for years and years. Part of the problem may be that his clothes only come alive when they are worn by a living, breathing woman, so they don’t work in museum exhibits. But in the year of his first posthumous Saturn Return, Halston is back — in the shape of Ewan McGregor who is starring in a miniseries Simply Halston coming out some time in 2021 on Netflix.