Last Thursday evening Charles James: Portrait of Unreasonable Man: Fame, Fashion, Art, the new, definitive biography by Michèle Gerber Klein, was celebrated at Halston’s former townhouse designed by the great mid-century architect Paul Rudolf
The relationship between Charles James and Halston was long and complicated. In 1958 Page Zwecker, fashion editor of the Chicago Daily News, introduced the two designers. Charles was at the peak of his fame but his world was about to fall apart, Halston who was just starting out and instantly became Charles James’s acolyte and later that year moved to New York so he could make hats for Lilly Dache. who he had met through James. As Dache recalled: “Halston learned a great deal from Charles about designing and the world of style and probably other things -too”.
Charles James was grand and under his mentor’s influence Halston became even grander.
Then in 1970 Halston hired Charles — who was past his prime as a “fashion consultant engineer” for the Halston collections- The resulting collaboration received a glowing full-page review from Bernadine Morris in The NY Times. But as soon as the review was out Halston who according to Charles offered him $250 a week for the rest of his life to stop designing dumped Charles James.
In the ensuing years of Halston’s rise to fortune and vast fame Charles obsessively made of lists of designs Halston had stolen from him and in his last years described Halston to Couri Hay in tapes filmed by Anton Perish as “a middle of the road man who would be better as a buyer in a store or a stylist. He knows how to select good things, but his passion has been to put his name on it — the word plagiarism is correct.”
Many remembered their own experiences in the house years before. All marveled at the Paul Rudolph’s famous staircases and the fire place into which Elas Peretti famously, (in a fit of pique) flung the fur coat Halston gave her. The house was decorated with white orchids that were a Halston trade mark — -,another of the habits he assumed from Charles James.