“She wasn’t a newbie,” a friend of the actress pointed out. “Remember, her line for Steve & Barry’s, Bitten, was very successful.”
Bitten, which boasted fashionable frocks for under $20, was indeed one of the company’s most successful lines, though not successful enough to prevent Steve & Barry’s from declaring bankruptcy in 2008. “Steve & Barry’s used Sarah Jessica’s line to create value for their company,” the friend explained. “The clothing line went under not because it wasn’t doing well, but because the company overleveraged and took on too many stores without being able to sustain the business, and then the market crashed and the stores closed.” Ms. Parker “was not happy,” the friend added, “but when she signs onto something she is hands-on and doesn’t take her responsibilities lightly.”
A source close to Hilco told The Observer that Ms. Parker “had genuine passion for her work, but you can’t do both things—be a president of a clothing company and be an actress. She needed to focus on it. She didn’t have the management skills or the understanding of keeping price-points where they needed to be.”
One person who worked with Ms. Parker bristled at the suggestion that the actress wasn’t fully committed. “She showed up to the millionth degree and worked until the wee hours of the morning and on weekends,” the former Halston employee told The Observer. “And her designs were successful!” According to the source, Ms. Parker’s line, which was carried in 500 Nordstrom outlets, or “doors” as they’re called, and 99 Hudson Bays, brought in $25 million in wholesale revenue. “On paper, the company was making money,” the source added. “I don’t know what the margins were, but the wholesales were valid.”
“No way,” said the Hilco insider of the $25 million figure, adding, “Halston Heritage and Halston didn’t work. Not because of a lack of desire—Bonnie and Sarah and Hilco all wanted it to work—but they put more money into cream and cherries and not in the meat and potatoes. It took a lot a lot of money to start up that collection, most of which was spent on [Ms. Parker]. They should have licensed out handbags and shoes and all that! They didn’t.”
Still, as for Ms. Parker’s skills as a designer, the Hilco source praised her for having “a great sense of style and a great eye.”
In any case, even with the addition of Ms. Parker to the Halston team, the turmoil continued. Just six months after the actress joined the company, Ms. Takhar was unceremoniously dumped—pushed out, according to The New York Post, by a schizophrenic board. The decision reportedly left Ms. Parker in tears.
Ms. Parker and her representatives declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Whitney Sudler Smith, the 41-year-old son of socialite Patricia Altschul, had recently finished work on Ultrasuede, which is set to arrive in theaters in December. (The documentary is not to be confused with the long-planned biopic Simply Halston, with Alec Baldwin as Roy and Jane Krakowski as Liza, which seems to have fallen by the wayside.) Early on, Mr. Sudler Smith entered into negotiations with the design house about promotional tie-ins for the film. “At one point they wanted to work with me, to do some cross marketing, but it was difficult,” he said. “I don’t know if it was bad management, but there was a lot of turnover—everyone I was dealing with over there is now gone.”
After a year and a half, Ms. Parker too was on her way out. In July, she exercised an early-exit clause in her contract and ended her involvement with the company—abandoning, at least for the moment, her fashion industry ambitions. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Weinstein, Ms. Mellon and Mr. Schwab followed suit.
Adding to the confusion was the appearance on July 15 of a carefully worded press release issued by Hilco. “Harvey brought me into Halston as creative director,” it quoted Ms. Parker as saying. “With Harvey exiting and in sync with the company’s new direction, this feels like the right time for me to part ways with Halston.” This, despite the fact that Ms. Parker had been the first one out the door.
The same release quoted Mr. Weinstein as well, who explained that after flirting with a “diversified business model,” he had simply realized that he wanted to focus on entertainment.
A friend of Mr. Weinstein said of his departure, “He brought Sarah Jessica into the company, so it is only right that he would leave with her.” The friend added that Mr. Weinstein was “fed up” with the other board members. While Mr. Weinstein—whose one personal style has always been rumpled, to put it mildly—has taken some heat for dabbling in fashion, some say that if he had owned the company outright, things would have been different. “He and Georgina Chapman run Marchesa and it does very well,” the friend added.
In a sense, the label’s latest struggles are just one more chapter in a story that began way back in 1973, when Roy Halston himself sold the company to Norton Simon for $12 million in stock, becoming an employee, and eventually finding himself pushed out.
“Some of these iconic brands were not well maintained or cared for,” noted Paul Wilmot, the P.R. guru to fashion icons like Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein and Naeem Khan. “You need to invest. For women under the age of 30, these brands are irrelevant. In the meantime, the Alexander Wangs and the Proenza Schoulers loom up, and they’re relevant! How long can brand equity survive without having some successes?”
According to Christian Leone, who worked at Halston from 1999 to 2002, the revived brand has suffered a perception problem ever since Roy Halston was unceremoniously marched out of his Olympic Towers offices in 1984. “Halston created something sensational,” Mr. Leone said. After designing the famed pillbox hat Jackie Kennedy sported during J.F.K.’s inauguration, as head milliner for Bergdorf Goodman, Halston had struck out on his own with a ready-to-wear line. After his first collection brought no less a style arbiter than Babe Paley to his garment district showroom the next morning, a stream of fashionable ladies followed in her wake: Betty Ford, Lauren Bacall, Princess Grace, Barbara Walters and, of course, Elizabeth Taylor (when she was the furthest thing from a sample size imaginable).