It's no easy feat to depict any real-life figure with one-to-one accuracy, particularly one who looms as large in the imagination as the mononymous Halston. One considered the be-all-end-all of American fashion, the legendary designer lived fast and hard, seamlessly oscillating between high society and disco while dressing the First Lady and cavorting with Warhol and Bianca Jagger at Studio 54.
It makes perfect sense then that Halston, who was a huge pop culture presence through the '60s, '70s, and '80s, would become the subject for a prestige biopic project just as beauty and fashion trends from years past also are gaining popularity. Halston, the Netflix miniseries helmed by Ryan Murphy and starring Ewan McGregor, takes a sweeping look at the designer's life and the colorful characters who populated it.
Patricia Regan and Michelle Johnson, the series' hair and makeup heads respectfully, were more than up for the task of giving these real celebrities new life for the hit show. The challenges that come with depictions are many, from the extensive biographical research required to the pressures of faithfully recreating sensitive moments and scenes. But, as they'd be the first to tell you, Johnson and Regan are more than game.
Ahead, get an inside look at what it really took to create Halston: the on-set memories, the techniques, the struggles, and the most important part of Liza Minnelli's look.
What drew you to this project?
Patricia Regan: "The draw was the opportunity of contributing to telling the story of Halston’s genius and working with our director, Dan Minahan."
Michelle Johnson: "I love fashion and at a young age was influenced by Halston, Norma Kamali, and Karl Lagerfeld to name a few. I even had Halston perfume in that iconic bottle."
What's your creative process like?
PR: "I did very extensive research: reading up on all I could find via various publications and studying the many looks of the individual characters. I watched documentaries and interviews—any footage I could find. Then I sat down and revisited my early days in New York and recalled meeting Halston in the early ’80s while being a student at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, where I studied on a two-year scholarship. Halston was larger than life, he had a most beautiful presence and his charm would light up the room instantly."
MJ: "I love to research. I have books, magazines, and even a society page from a newspaper from 1918. The Internet is always a great source of information. However, you have to be careful of websites like Pinterest in which the content has been 'pinned' and 're-pinned' without dates and other valid information. Therefore, there are mistakes like Edwardian hairstyles on a board of Victorian hairstyles."
Does that process differ at all when it comes to design for original characters vs. biographic portrayals?
PR: "My goal is to always find the essence of each character, in this case biographical. My approach is the same."
MJ: "There are two types of portrayals when it comes to film and television: The first of which is more prosthetics and wigs because you want the characters to be physically as accurate as possible. The second, which is just as challenging, is to use wigs and makeup as a tool to help the actor resemble the character. In the case of Halston, it was the latter, at least for the Hair Department.
"For instance, if you look at photos of Halston at Studio 54 you will see sometimes the hair on the nape of his neck would curl up from the dancing and partying. But, sometimes that is distracting on a screen. I feel keeping Ewan’s hair tidier was a good choice and it reflects Halston’s obsession with his idea of perfection."
The series spans multiple decades—how do you transition characters through the years with hair and makeup?
PR: "I follow my research closely."
MJ: "Television moves much quicker than film, so you also have to make decisions on how to make the characters look like they’re aging, or at least have a different hairstyle for a different period without taking too much time. Often, you can re-style the wig, add extensions, change wigs, restyle [the actor's] own hair.
"Liza [Minelli's character] had many wigs that were fairly easy to change. Elsa [Peretti's] wigs were very short, and Rebecca [Dayan] had shoulder-length hair that had to be wrapped tightly underneath. We made a very versatile toupé for the character of Joe Eula. So even though his hair was short, we could change the style."
Do you have any favorite memories from set?
PR: "The recreation of the battle at Versailles was my favorite. And of course, for my own nostalgia, the Martha Graham Dance Company performance."
MJ: "Some of my favorite memories on-set were the delight, humor, and ease with which Ewan works. He had a great rapport with every actor. They all had so much fun. One of my mom’s all-time favorite entertainers is Liza Minnelli. I grew up dancing so I thoroughly enjoyed watching Krysta [Rodriguez] and the other dancers perform. I feel Krysta really captured the essence and sheer joy of performing that Liza has."
Let's zoom in a little on Krysta Rodriguez as Liza Minnelli and her very glamorous (and iconic) look. How did you bring that real-life character to the show?
PR: "I followed all the wonderful photos available of Liza, it was great fun to find and build lashes for the various scenes. Krysta was exquisite to collaborate with. She is a true gem."
MJ: "We had four wigs for Krysta who played Liza. I predominantly used two. Liza Minnelli had such thick hair, bangs/fringe, and styles that framed her face so it was easier to upkeep. The most important thing to me is that the hair on her nape hugged her neck—and that the hair really moved when she danced."
Can you break down some techniques used to bring the Elsa Peretti portrayal to life?
PR: "Elsa’s makeup was executed by Margot Boccia. Margot and I discussed all the nuances as we moved through all chapters and would refer to our research diligently. Eyebrow shapes and smudged eyeliner were the most significant. From there, the recreation of Elsa was a collaboration between Rebecca Dayan and Margot Boccia."
Was there any character, in particular, you most enjoyed creating looks for?
PR: "I loved recreating the ballerina of the French portion of Versailles in 1973. Each and every character was special to me, I spent a lot of time studying faces and merging actors into our characters. I loved creating Eleanor Lambert with the lovely Kelly Bishop. Certainly creating Liza with Krysta and Halston with Ewan will always shine in my eyes."