'Halston': Joel Schumacher Shares Memories of Working With the Late Fashion Designer

Richard Gummere/New York Post Archives/NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
Halston’s original team (clockwise from left): Joel Schumacher, the designer, Joanne Creveling and Frances Stein.

Director Frédéric Tcheng's documentary, which makes its Tribeca Film Festival debut April 28, focuses on the end of the designer's career, including a nasty corporate takeover and his tragic death from AIDS in 1990.

In Halston, director Frédéric Tcheng (Dior and I) focuses on the end of the fashion designer's career: a story of overreach, a nasty corporate takeover, and his tragic death from AIDS in 1990. But there was much more to his story. “Halston was one of the first to put movie stars at the end of the runway to create a photo-op, long before there was a Giorgio Armani working with Cate Blanchett,” says Tcheng. “And he dressed several people for the Oscars like Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor at a time when not many designers had a focus on Hollywood.”

But in the buoyant early days, as Halston launched his label in 1968, young Hollywood director-to- be Joel Schumacher was working by his side as his creative alter ego. With Halston making its Tribeca Film Festival debut April 28 after premiering at Sundance earlier this year, Schumacher (Total Recall, Phone Booth) shares memories with THR.

Are you the person in the doc who knew him the earliest?

I met him when he was the superstar hat designer at Bergdorf Goodman. [Halston put Jackie Kennedy in her pillbox.] It was on Fire Island in the '60s. I was on scholarship at Parsons in interior design and I ran into a friend on the beach and he asked me if I wanted to come over to meet his boyfriend who was sharing a house with Halston. I knew who he was — everybody knew who he was. And we were friends from then on.

Were you guys part of the counterculture then?

We were friends with Andy [Warhol] and Edie Sedgwick. Everyone was doing something creative. And we were all doing drugs. If you managed to survive the '60s, you realized one day you were just a drug addict and not a peace-loving soul anymore.

In the documentary, you say Halston asked you to clean up your act and come to work with him when he decided to open his own business.

The beginning of anything is very exciting. And there were only four of us. Frances Stein had worked at Glamour, and I remember her bringing in fabrics and she had all these contacts. A woman named Joanne Creveling did the accounting, the business, the PR, the advertising — well there wasn't a lot of advertising in those days. But she was that person that everyone came to. And then there was Halston and me. But I really don't think that Halston needed us at all. It was his vision and of course it was an overnight success.

After helping open his business, you went to Hollywood.

But we always stayed connected. I was doing costumes for $200 a week and dreaming of being a director. Halston was enormously helpful. My first movie was Joan Didion's Play It as It Lays. There were affluent people in it who needed expensive clothes. Halston sent me samples and did that for three of the movies I did costumes on. And he really looked like a movie star, right? He was so gracious and charming and had such beautiful manners. He spoke beautifully. He smoked beautifully. And he was also a very generous person to his friends and very loyal. 

For people who don't really know about Halston, what would you like them to remember about him?

If you look at photographs of Halston, of his life, it might seem to people that maybe he was arrogant and full of himself. Well, we all have a touch of that. What I remember was, he was kind. He was one of the most loving, kindest friends I've ever had.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.