American Hustle is a smart film about wealth and deception and scattershot yearning, and it's set in 1978, so the year's many fashion enchantments suffuse all scenes: the man-perms, the horse-bit pendants, the disco sparkles, the bouncing gold chains, the perpetual braless-ness. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson pulled inspiration from the era's superstars, including Diane von Furstenberg and Yves Saint Laurent, and he collaborated with Halston staff, who granted him access to the company's vaults. "There's little bits of Halston sprinkled throughout the whole movie," Wilkinson told Emily Zemler for Elle. Amy Adams's character, Sydney, even wears a couple authentic pieces—a silky apricot-colored blouse and a chocolate-brown leather wrap dress. Both garments' necklines are split to her waist, enabling a partial spilling-out of boobs.
To really bring the razzle-dazzle in one scene, Sydney's hair is crimped into a frothy mound, and she wears a plunging gown with silver sequins. The look recalls the stage costumes Halston created for Liza Minnelli, back when he caked her dresses in shimmering beads. The effect was intended to offset her profuse sweatiness: "Well, you're shiny, so you might as well be shiny all over," Minnelli says Halston told her, in the documentary Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, which you should watch right now if you want to see more luxury retro fashions.
Ultrasuede is loaded with them, and they look gorgeous—though it's hard to grasp their real value, because director Whitney Smith grazes over Halston's technical skills. We come to understand Halston was an expert at bias-cut constructions, but that's as detailed as it gets, and what seems more important to Smith is that Halston was famous as fuck, and tons of celebrities loved him.
Halston's story ends tragically. AIDS-related complications took his life in 1990, and in the handful of years before then, everything had gone completely wrong. At the height of his career, Halston sold his name to J.C. Penney, which cheapened his image, so Bergdorf Goodman dropped him, and then the Penney collections were failing, but Halston couldn't recover, yet he couldn't start over, either. Footage from the '70s and early '80s shows happier times, when Halston worked hard and sold well, and the world gave him everything he wanted, including his haute-minimalist Manhattan town house, his champagne-and-cocaine-and-caviar parties, his mirrored sunglasses, and his glamorous cameo on The Love Boat.