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Fashion designer Halston’s niece shares details about her famous uncle

There’s a lot of buzz building about “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede,” a new exhibit at the Mint Museum Uptown featuring 40 of fashion designer Halston’s creations with a selection of paintings, photographs and videos by artist Andy Warhol that explores the creativity and friendship of the two legends. It opens March 7.

On March 6, the Mint Museum Auxiliary is hosting a party from 8 p.m. to midnight filled with dancing in a Studio 54/Warhol Factory setting and a sneak peek at the Mint Museum’s exhibit “Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede” before it opens the next day. Attire is “Anything Goes at Studio 54.” Tickets are $125 and reservations must be made by March 3. Details: www.mintmuseumauxiliary.org.

And on March 8, Halston’s niece, Lesley Frowick, will give a talk at the museum from 3 to 4 p.m. It’s free with museum admission. Details: www.mintmuseum.org.

For insight into why so many of us are still obsessed with Halston and Warhol, and why they’re still relevant in America circa 2015, I talked with Frowick who now works for National Geographic in Washington and is the author of the 2014 book “Halston: Inventing American Fashion.”

In next week’s Style section, you’ll see the story, but Frowick had so many fascinating things to say I wanted to share all of the interview. Her father and Halston were brothers, and Lesley and her uncle had a special bond because they shared the same birth date, April 23. Her father was a diplomat so her upbringing was already interesting before her uncle invited her to live with him in New York City after she graduated from college.

I truly could have talked to her for hours because she’s so gracious and intelligent, and her stories are wonderful.

I also found this wonderful video that Halston commissioned in 1981 that’s a fascinating glimpse into his work ethic, creativity and his candid observations. It’s long (21 minutes), but it’s worth watching. I was struck how animated the models were on his runway to show off how beautifully Halston’s clothes moved. And it made me nostalgic for his truly wonderful cosmetics line with its chic Elsa Peretti-designed packaging.

Here are excerpts from my interview with Lesley:

Her first trip to Studio 54

"The first time I went was with Halston and Andy. It was when it first opened in 1977. It was exciting to be there. It was a great party. I loved to disco dance. I walked in on Halston’s arm. It was crazy outside with all the hubbub. But once you got in there things settled down and weren't as terrifying. But I was terrified getting out of the limo. Halston told me to just look at the right and smile, look to the left and smile, and just walk on through."

The idea behind the exhibit

In 1983 Halston asked her to bear witness to his life and his way of working. He gave her his personal archives in case she ever wanted to write a book. As she did research for the book, she noted how Andy and Halston had parallels: They were both from Small Town, USA, they rose to the top of the heap in NYC, they were innovators and broke new ground, and they understood the business side of what their art. And they were friends. When she spoke with Eric Shiner at the Warhol museum about the parallels he saw them too and the idea for the exhibit was born. "I've found that whenever I've reached out to people from Halston's life, whether it was a friend or colleague, I get an immediate response," she said. A lot of that is because he had such a generous personality. He did so many things for so many different people and they want to honor it."

Living with Halston

She had lived overseas while her father was a diplomat. When she graduated from college, Halston asked her to come live with him in New York. "I was always very close to my father so I enjoyed the family warmth of living with Halston," she said. "He was my pillar of strength, he gave me guidance, and because he didn't have children he delighted in my presence. He was the greatest uncle anyone could wish for. He wanted me dressed in his gowns. He wanted me beside him when he entertained. It was incredible and I went along with it. I knew I was privileged, but I wasn't paying enough attention. I wish I had taken more notes. He had an incredible eye. He’s one of the reasons I became a photographer and what I learned from him was instrumental. In hindsight, I realize what an incredible experience it was to live in his orbit. “

The public’s obsession with Studio 54

“Halston and Studio 54 have been connected together, but it was only a brief part of his life. The original Studio 54 was open for only two years. I think people love that era because of the glamour and the glitz. It was a new social movement and there was a freedom among women. But Halston had already shown his Midas touch way before the Studio 54 days. People want to latch on to the mystic of Halston but it was a point of time in history and it's gone, but it does live on. There were decadent elements to the era, but it was also incredibly productive.”

Ultrasuede

“He was innovative in using new materials. He put Ultrasuede on the map. There are a lot of Ultrasuede pieces in the exhibit. They're from Halston Heritage, the current owners. They have a large holding of vintage Halston. I went to the facility in L.A. and was allowed to to borrow a lot of the Ultrasuede pieces.”

The Versailles showdown

“He put American fashion on the map. In 1973 there was the Versailles showdown and the Americans won. It was the first time Americans were being noticed in fashion and they came into their own. He organized the Versailles presentation to make it more than just a fashion show. Liza Minnelli sang. He pulled in his friends who were society ladies to model because they were tall and beautiful. Liza Minnelli and I still exchange Christmas cards. "

Halston’s love for America

She says Halston was an incredible patriot. “Many people don’t know he was an Eagle Scout. At the house in Montauk he rented from Andy, there was a flag pole and every morning he had a ceremony and raised the flag, even if he was the only one there. He came from the heartland of America and was raised by a warm, loving, stable and patriotic family. He loved his country and was very proud to be an American. He was so honored to be invited to Versailles and to show what Americans could do. That's also why he wanted to design the U.S. Olympic uniforms. And why he did the JC Penney license, which he was crucified for. But he wanted to dress American women and wanted them to be in the latest styles. "

Her Halston collection

"He gave me all these beautiful, long cashmere gowns.They were so luxurious but so wearable. He wanted to take high fashion and make it easy and elegant."

What he would have loved, and hated, about 2015

“What he would have loved about America in 2015 is the technology. He would have used it to promote his brand and himself as a designer. He was a very organized person and he would have used it to simplify his work process. I think he would have liked women to be a little more elegant as a general rule, but overall, he wouldn't have hated anything in current trends. Except maybe tattoos. He wasn't a tattoo person."

Halston Heritage

“Ben Malca is the current CEO of Halston Heritage and he cares a lot about it. He understands how important Halston was in terms of fashion. The designer, Maria Mazelis, is a lovely lady. She wants to honor Halston every year. She always has a nod to his collections whether it's a color or a silhouette.”

Her thoughts on Andy Warhol

"My impression of Andy is that he was a nice, quiet man. He was modest. He would go to Mass every day. I thought it was funny that this kooky, famous artist was spiritually disciplined enough to go to mass every day. He liked to tease people and he had a funny, nasally voice. He lived near Halston and would go over over there often for parties and get-togethers. The ones I witnessed were not these wild, crazy decadent parties. They were parties for talented musicians and artists, or birthday parties or other celebrations. as a result of it. Andy hardly ever went to Montauk because he hated the sun. The one time I saw him there he had a hat, umbrella, a long sleeve shirt and zinc oxide all over his face. I learned later he had a condition that he could not be in the sun in at all. Andy was at Halston's house a few days before he passed away. He was complaining of a pain (gallbladder) and little did anyone know that he would die as a result of it.”

Halston’s legacy

"I loved my uncle so very much and I love that so many people thought of his life in a positive way. Not only was he this amazingly successful designer known for his Midas touch, but he was also a loving, generous, thoughtful and supportive friend. He was so busy in the moment producing stellar work that he would be honored and humbled to know that people still remember him. And he would be happy that the business is still alive. He used to always say, 'I'm just a dressmaker.' "

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