I had the pleasure of sitting down with the fashion illustrator for Halston, Nancy Stone. Nancy shared with me numerous stories of her time working with the renowned designer and I found every bit of it interesting.
Brianna: So, to start off can you tell us, how did you get started in this business?
Nancy: I attended Parsons School of Design and focused on Illustration and photography. The “hand” and taste level that is required to draw fashion illustration was something that I wanted to get really good at. I was just fascinated by sophisticated fashion images, particularly those captured by the great photographers and illustrators of the 1960's, 1970's and early 1980's. I was always a big observer of how people put themselves together to present themselves to the world.
Brianna: I completely agree with you that there is something fascinating about how people put themselves together on a day-to-day basis and how they choose how the world will see them. It was really the inspired feeling you felt from the fashions that led you down this career path. You said that you worked for Halston in the 80s, towards the end of his career. Can you speak on what it was like working for him, what you did?
Nancy: I did small scale watercolor and pencil sketches of the seasonal fashion lines and also the “made to order” pieces. I also helped to design and draw the “Halston for Garolini” shoe designs. Sometimes I worked on print designs for fabrics, but not often.
Brianna: Very cool, it sounds like you had a very diverse range of areas you worked in during your time working for Halston. Speaking of sketching and drawing, I know that you made the sketches for the clothes Halston would create for Jackie Onassis. I can’t even imagine how fascinating that must’ve been. Can you talk about that?
Nancy: I received a black and white sketch from Halston with a swatch of fabric to be translated into a small full color illustration of the client wearing the suggested garment design. The sewing workroom also received a copy of the sketch.
That Made to Order (MTO) client would then approve the design (often from the little sketch) to be made in the workroom for her. The workroom had customized forms for many of the private client's figures to fit the clothes on while in construction. (Those forms existed if they were someone who ordered MTO from Halston on a regular basis. ) That way the client only had to come into the Olympic Tower for a final fitting.
Many of these woman traveled often and needed specific pieces for events or just wanted extremely luxurious “loungewear.” All from the best cashmere, etc. of course.
Brianna: Wow, so in addition to having an extremely exclusive client list you also got to essentially create the fashions that so much of the world would be seeing. You and Halston I know worked very closely and you mentioned that he even gave you a dress to wear to your sister’s wedding. Can you tell us a little but about that?
Nancy: The dress had been made for an actress and was hanging around in the sample room so I asked to borrow it. He said that I could keep it. We had lots of clothes hanging around in the design offices just waiting to be borrowed.
One kind of personal thing that I did do often was to write on Birthday cakes for him. I would get a call from the cook in the kitchen to come write “Happy Birthday,” to whomever in icing, “from Halston.” Since I was the staff artist I got called in to do it. Halston always had cakes made in the Olympic Tower kitchen to be sent to friends on their Birthdays. It was a nice touch.
He liked to remind people that “he was as American as apple pie” and from the Midwest and this homemade cake thing seemed to remind people of that.
Brianna: I think that is so interesting, I can imagine that working for a designer such as Halston was no easy feat as he was so in demand. You brought up the olympic tower, I know that’s where the offices were, can you talk about what it was like working there?
Nancy: Halston's offices took up about two thirds of the 21st floor in the Olympic Tower. I would say that the workroom comprised approx. one third of that floor space. There were about 12 people on staff, all of European background, for cutting, sewing, fitting, even cleaning etc. There were big, long tables throughout the room and the finest sewing machines were used for the many tasks involved in the creations.
There was also a fabric room run by someone whose job was to deal with the suppliers and orders plus the organization of all the fabrics. He was a fairly young guy and was super knowledgeable about his fabrics and where to source them.
Brianna: The work space alone sounds extravagant, I’m sure it was like a fashion oasis in the middle of Manhattan. Now, can you share what Halston’s personality was like and what it was like working for him—a designer of such note?
Nancy: Halston could be a little scary because he had such a huge presence. He demanded perfection and could insult those working for him if he didn't think they were up to the task or had made a mistake. Of course, the demands on him were overwhelming because he didn't delegate the creative process to anyone else when it came to his designs. He had a short fuse at that time. He liked talking about his famous friends. That usually came at the end of the day if you stayed a bit later to work on something with him.
Brianna: I can imagine that it was daunting and intimidating working for Halston, especially considering his reputation. Towards the end of our conversation we discussed how the fashion industry has really evolved and changed over the years and that it is nothing like what it was twenty, thirty years ago. To wrap up, can you comment on some of the biggest changes you feel have occurred since you first started working in it?
Nancy: Quality of workmanship. The notion that a person should buy “forever pieces” in the best possible fabrics. Quality not quantity. Also the idea of a “uniform” type of approach to dressing. When you learn what looks good on you, stick with it.
Brianna: Words of wisdom. Nancy, thank you so much for sharing with us what it was like to work with such a well known and applauded designer.