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July 30 2014

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A Conversation With Halston’s New Man

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Ask Marios Schwab for the picture that comes to mind when he thinks of Halston, and he’ll admit that he reaches for the same mental snapshot we all do: Bianca Jagger, in a draped black dress, entering Studio 54 on a white horse. Unlike the rest of us, however, Schwab has the chance to conjure a new vision of Halston, one scrambled out of the brand’s sexy, seventies-heyday DNA but updated in Schwab’s own image. Last week, it was announced that the London-based Schwab would be taking the reins at Halston, a label that’s seen its share of troubles since Roy Halston Frowick exited the stage. Since 1983, the Halston legacy has been entrusted to more than a half-dozen designers, with fitful success. The previous designer, Marco Zanini, lasted only two seasons. Schwab has a rather formidable challenge before him as he seeks to turn the ship around. And the Greek-Austrian designer will be upping the ante for himself by continuing to design his eponymous label, which launched in 2005 and earned him the Best New Designer prize at the British Fashion Awards in 2006 and the prestigious Swiss Textiles Award in 2007. Here, Schwab talks to Style.com about moving into the house that Roy built.

Congratulations! I’m sure a lot of people are crawling out the woodwork to say that. Are you feeling overwhelmed?

I’m happy. Overwhelmed…not as much. This was quite a lengthy process, with Halston, so I’ve had a lot of opportunity to settle my nerves.

What were you nervous about?

Well, this was my second or third time in talks with a house, and we’re living in such a weird time, I was skeptical that the Halston people would go with a relatively young, relatively conceptual designer. And as the discussions went on, you know, I also had time to start asking myself those questions, like, is this what I want? Is it the right time for me to do this? I mean, it’s always been a dream of mine to work in America, and Halston in particular, that brand is so special for me, but I had to think it all through.

Obviously, you decided to grab the brass ring…

I know you can’t achieve everything at once, but I have a very good understanding of what Halston was all about, and my vision for the brand came to me so easily and so naturally, I felt that I shouldn’t hesitate.

It’s interesting that you say your vision for Halston came very naturally, because I think that when the news of your selection broke, a lot of people were puzzled. Myself included—I mean, there’s a body-consciousness in common, between you and Halston, and a definite thread of influence, but I always think of Marios Schwab having a very architectural point of view, and Halston being this fluid, drape-y thing.

It would be a little bit weird to ask a designer who is exactly like Halston to design Halston, don’t you think? I mean, I don’t think Halston, if he were alive today, would be doing the seventies in 2009, you know? And anyway, there’s so much more potential for an interesting result if the designer is versatile. From the perspective of the label, I think they wanted someone who understood the DNA of the brand and shared something of it, but who could bring a new idea.

What do you see yourself sharing with Halston?

A love of the feminine. And also, a sculptural approach to design—in his case, it was about doing something very soft and, yes, fluid, but his silhouettes are quite statuesque. And the way he cut his clothes has been a huge influence on me. Like, he did this dress, one panel, cut on bias, rotating around the body…It’s hard to achieve a garment that seems so perfectly pure. I want to find a new way of presenting that.

What do you have in mind?

Well, I’m not going to say too much, but in essence, I’d like to find a new way of designing for the woman who loved Halston. His clothes were ultra-luxe, they were a fantasy of fashion, and yet they were also really timeless and universal. To see Bianca Jagger wearing Halston and Pat Cleveland wearing Halston is to see two very different outcomes of one iconic look. He didn’t try to complicate the personality of the woman wearing his clothes; he used simplicity as a way of highlighting her individuality. That part of his heritage is central for me.

What was your first exposure to Halston?

I think it was the perfume and cosmetics my mom had. She had this lovely collection of Halston lipstick, in cases designed by Elsa Peretti.

Halston’s collaborations with Peretti are another big part of the brand heritage. Is that something you’d like to revive?

I think it would be great to work with a jewelry designer—I mean, what Halston and Elsa had was magical, and I’d love to find someone I could communicate with in the same way.

Your first Halston collection is due for Fall ’10. In the meantime, you’re continuing to design your own label. How is that going to work?

I’m keeping my label in London and moving to New York in the fall. I think it’s important to base myself in the city, because there’s a unique energy in New York that I want to be able to draw from, but of course I’ll be back and forth quite a bit. I’m lucky, because my team in London, we’ve been together for a long time, so I can count on them to keep things moving while I’m away. And I’m lucky in general, because I get to move between two great metropolises and work on two very different projects that are exciting for me. It’s going to be a challenge, I know. But I’m not scared yet.

Photo: Courtesy of Halston

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