Ultrasuede - SideReel Review
Director Whitney Sudler-Smith was openly (and obviously) inspired to make Ultrasuede -- a documentary about iconic ‘70s designer Halston -- because of his own idyllic love for disco-era fashion and its most influential figure. But while this level of reverence on the part of inexperienced filmmakers often leads to amateurish tributes, Sudler-Smith never falls prey to this pitfall. On the contrary, the sheer range of topics that Sudler-Smith investigates in his analysis of Halston makes the film too interesting to dismiss. The narrative flows easily from discussions about Halston’s innovative take on fabric, cut, and creative tone to insights about his personal and social lives. Even if you go into the movie with reservations about the director’s choice to wear feathered hair and aviator sunglasses during most of his interviews, somewhere between the broad scope of appearances by Halston’s peers and progenies and the copious amount of original footage and photographs featured in the film, you realize that Sudler-Smith has done his homework -- and earned the right to a little self-indulgence.
Besides, he includes so much footage of himself being corrected and snipped at by his subject’s closest friends and colleagues, he must have had a little self-deprecation in mind. Perhaps his impressive slew of interviewees could sense the fanboy in Sudler-Smith and didn’t want him to paint the larger-than-life figure as nothing more than a Studio 54 impresario, but clearly this was never a real danger. We’re talking about the man who dressed Jackie Kennedy and was the creator of the pillbox hat! Not to mention the originator of those shirtwaist, bias-cut dresses that have become not just hallmarks of ’70s style, but hallmarks of the classic women’s wardrobe. The multitude of angles that the doc takes on each facet of Halston (including his place in the 54 scene) is engrossing; he was clearly a brilliant designer with an uncanny talent for both fashion and chic marketing. It’s no wonder the film is able to draw on everything from images of the 1973 Versailles Fashion Show (where Halston was the first American designer to break through in Europe) to relevant moments from The Love Boat.
And of course, it doesn’t hurt that Sudler-Smith seeks out and interviews any and all relevant personages. He speaks to designers (Diane Von Furstenberg, Stephen Burrows, Ralph Rucci), journalists (André Leon Talley, Glenn O’Brien, Bob Colacello), Halston’s models (Pat Cleveland, Anjelica Houston), close friends (Liza Minnelli, Adam and Andy Rapoport), unexpected celebrities who came into his sphere (Nile Rodgers, Billy Joel), and even business associates -- from the VP who ran his perfume division to the man he ordered his orchids from. What’s amazing is that every single person interviewed has something interesting to say about the subject (the orchid man sold him upwards of $100,000 worth of flowers a year). It becomes clear throughout the movie that you don’t have to be a fanboy or fashionista to appreciate the story of such a smart, flawed, fabulous man.