THE STUDIO 54 EFFECT
BY SAM AGULNICK AND CAROLINE TULLY
BY SAM AGULNICK AND CAROLINE TULLY
Studio 54 was more than just a venue. It was an aesthetic, a vision - an expression of trailblazing fashion, creativity, and sexual awakening. Started by two Syracuse University alumni, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the extravagant club revolutionized 1970s New York City nightlife. The club was nothing short of exclusive: A-list celebrities flocked to the club nightly donning luxurious, eye-catching outfits. With a guest list filled months before the club's opening, Studio 54 made over $7 million in its first year. Rubell stated that only the mafia was raking in money akin to Studio 54 at the time. The saying "the people make the place" rang especially true to Studio 54, with Roy "Halston" Frowick unarguably assisting in its rise to historical fame.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wearing a Halston pillbox hat at President Kennedy's inauguration pinpoints Halston's significant start of fame in 1961. He went on to become the head milliner at Bergdorf Goodman and later debuted his luxury line, Halston Ltd., at his Madison Avenue store full of ready-to-wear women's clothing. Meanwhile, the Halston Originals brand was sold across department stores nationwide, with prices ranging from $150 to over $1000, and by 1983, Halston Enterprises was bringing in an average of $150 million annually.
Halston revolutionized 1970s fashion. He did not merely create fashion trends; he manufactured an entire aesthetic filled with disco charm. Halston's designs toed the minimalism line but stayed true to the glam of the 70s era: jewel colors, feathers, and flowing fabrics were essential to his style. His "Halstonettes," models Halston regularly traveled with and dressed, wore his designs from head to toe, showcasing how his designs looked great on women of all ethnicities.
The 70s in general signified the increased liberation of both the gay community and the explicit sexuality of women. Halston capitalized on this by spearheading unisex and androgynous styles. Bell-bottoms and platform boots were staples for women and men alike, exemplifying how androgyny defined disco style. He was one of the first designers to create a whole unisex fashion line with everything from argyle sweaters to leather jackets and fur coats - pieces that did not conform to either gender identity.
The combination of the flexibility of masculinity with the reclamation of the female body allowed the androgynous style to flourish, particularly in the community of Studio 54. This is where the irony of Studio 54 lies; you had to have clout to get in, yet once inside its exclusive gates, partygoers were allowed to roam free and be their authentic, outrageous selves. As the infamous stories of Studio 54 circulated, its influence expanded exponentially.
Fashion icons Diana Ross, Cher, Liza Minnelli, Anjelica Huston, and Bianca Jagger, donned Halston's designs helping to curate the iconic Studio 54 look - one filled with glitz and glam. 70s celebrities were consistently spotted in Halston's over-the-top, bedazzled outfits that often caught the media's attention because they were not afraid to turn heads or make headlines. The flowy and delicately glittered fabrics found in Halston's party wardrobes are a testament to the disco era's carefree spirit and lively nature.
Halston eventually sold his brand to Norton Simon Inc. for about $9 million, but he remained the principal designer. However, in 1984, he was fired from the company and lost the right to sell clothes under his name after a controversial decision to design a ready-to-wear collection with JC Penny. Despite this failure, Halston’s decision to collaborate with JC Penny was ahead of his time and designers such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren went on to follow in Halston’s footsteps successfully. Nevertheless, Halston's fashion empire still influences fashion trends and remains relevant, with the Halston brand generating an estimated $19 million per year.
The disco era paved the way for many trends, including halter tops, plunging V necks, and backless dresses, which have all made a comeback in today's party couture. The idea of playfulness in fashion holds in modern times; from flare pants to go-go boots, 70s style has seen a significant revival. Large retail corporations, such as Dolls Kill, I.AM.GIA, and Urban Outfitters, have stocked their sites with flared pants and sexy, cutout tops. Steven Madden's Cypress black platform boot, a shoe reminiscent of go-go boots, is currently the brand's best-selling shoe, exemplifying how Studio 54 fashion remains contemporary.
Studio 54 was not without its fair share of scandals, and the scandalous styles seen in the club suggest the captivating and, at times, raving party scene. However, its daring reputation was the key to its relevance. It's the dare, the risk-taking, the outrageousness that pulls people in and leaves them wanting more. The flirtatious fashion found at these parties did the same.
Although Studio 54's doors closed and disco queens no longer dominated the dancefloor, the revival of 70s fashion honors the era's high-spirited and courageous essence. Sure, our feet get tired, the music fades out, and the party ends - but fashion never dies.