How Halston’s set designer recreated Studio 54
“The 1970s can get a bad rap,” says Mark Ricker, production designer for the new Netflix limited series. Halston, “But there was a very chic, sophisticated, and textured sense of style back then that we really tried to recreate – and I think we succeeded.”
They had to be, considering how impact the series – which stars Ewan McGregor as a creator whose story takes place against a backdrop of disco-era excess – depends on how it looks. Places such as Halston’s Upper East Side Townhouse, Palace of Versailles, and Studio 54 were all needed, and getting them perfectly was integral to the show’s success.
Some of the places that Halston used are exactly what they appear, while others are a work of design magic. The designer’s Montauk complex, for example, has been recreated elsewhere on Long Island, a former Ralph Lauren office suite in Midtown has been converted into apartments for Liza Minnelli and Calvin Klein, and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Boathouse has replaced the lobby. ‘a Parisian hotel. Even Halston’s beloved orchids, which appear throughout the series, weren’t exactly what they seemed: “We used the same orchids everywhere,” says Ricker. Fortunately, orchids can be brilliantly faked. We spent money on them, but we used them everywhere. “
Putting this puzzle together is part of what made Halston attractive to the designer, who previously worked on projects including Ma Rainey’s black background and Coastal elites. “When the project was presented to me, I was interested for all the obvious reasons,” says Ricker. “I was a precise moment in a period that I had not done, and with emblematic places that I wanted to do well.” How did he do it? We find out below.
To represent Halston’s legendary offices at Manhattan’s Olympic Tower, the series hoped to film in the current building. But since Halston’s offices were the only ones in the building with double-height ceilings, it became apparent that filming on location wasn’t the best option.
“The Olympic tower was so specific and we’re building it like a soundstage,” says Ricker. “Halston’s office, where his corner office was located, was what we had the most photos of, so we replicated it.”
The room included furniture inspired by rooms seen in period photos and videos, and to locate the space, miniature versions of the spiers of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were built to be seen through the windows behind Halston’s office. “The real places were so fantastic,” says Ricker, “that we really wanted to create them with precision.”
The town house
The townhouse designed by Paul Rudolph of Halston is located at 101 East 63rd Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and, on screen, hosts some of the show’s most important moments. But getting a minimal and luxurious space required a bit of ingenuity.
“I thought we were going to shoot in the townhouse because it was a usable place for a long time,” says Ricker, “but I believe Tom Ford bought it in the meantime and it wasn’t available. for us. Then I assumed we would build it on stage, but there wasn’t the space to do something that scale. It was a far-reaching act; I thought, how the hell are we going to find a place that makes sense for this? “
Fortunately, a scout for the show found a private home in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook that matched the bill. “I saw pictures and I said, ‘Take me there, immediately,’” says Ricker. “It didn’t look like the Townhouse in any way, but it had the proper bones so that if they could close the deal, we could bring the details of Halston’s House into the location.” It’s not an exact copy – those who know House Rudolph will know the difference – but I don’t think anyone looking at it will question the choices we made.
The Palace of Versailles
One of HalstonThe most dramatic episodes take place in a very recognizable place: the Palace of Versailles, where a now legendary fashion show took place in 1973 pitting American designers against their French contemporaries. At first, the series envisioned filming in the palace, but the options a little closer to home are the ones that ended up on screen.
“We were originally talking about going to Versailles, and I was definitely on board for that, but then someone suggested this old, grand 1920s cinema palace to me in Jersey City,” says Ricker. “It is in the hall of this theater that we ended up creating the auditorium where the spectacle of the Battle of Versailles took place. We built the stage there, and then we went to Music Hall in Tarrytown, and all of the staging took place there. Also in the mix: a mansion in Yonkers with a French chateau feel that replaced the open-air stages. “These pitches all cut together have created something fantastic,” says Ricker. “Half of my job was convincing producers that there were no other options.”
While the building housed the legendary nightclub is still standing – it currently houses a Broadway theater – the production used other New York nightclubs to stand up when the actual venue was unavailable.
The main dance floor and DJ booth were filmed in Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom, the basement scenes were filmed on a sound stage, and the exteriors were filmed in the Irving Plaza concert hall adjacent to Union Square. And if certain elements of the nightclub scenes seem familiar to eagle-eyed viewers, well, there’s a reason. “The entire red carpet was transported from our sets on the Olympic Tower to the Hammerstein Ballroom to film the scenes at Studio 54,” says Ricker. “Anytime you can use things more than once and it makes sense, you do it.”
And for the series’ other hot spots? Monkey Bar, the club’s fast food spot in Midtown, has been transformed into a cabaret for Liza Minnelli’s nightclub act. “The scene where we first meet Liza was shot at the Monkey Bar,” says Ricker. “We covered all the murals because they were distracting, and then we created a scene where the steps are; it really was the only place she could perform, so the whole team had to go through the curtain and walk across the stage. We had to move the drums whenever someone had to come in or out.
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