What Halston's Mistakes Can Teach Designers About the Fashion Business

We've already given you a brief synopsis of Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, Whitney Sudler-Smith's documentary about the life of the legendary 1970s
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We've already given you a brief synopsis of Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, Whitney Sudler-Smith's documentary about the life of the legendary 1970s
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We've already given you a brief synopsis of Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, Whitney Sudler-Smith's documentary about the life of the legendary 1970s designer. It premiered on Friday night at New York's Tribeca Film Festival.

But we'd also like to address some of the business lessons culled from the film. If you're a young designer eager to launch your own label or you're just interested in how the industry works, Halston's triumphs and failures will teach you a few things:

1. Don't Sell the Rights to Your Name. Halston, like many before and after him, sold the rights to his name when he sold his company to Norton Simon Industries in 1973. This is a time when fashion brands were obsessed with making a quick buck off of licensing deals, even more so than today. You could find everything from cheap Christian Dior slippers to Pierre Cardin cigarettes. Unfortunately, Halston didn't own the rights to his name, so he had no control over how Norton Simon used it, especially after he was fired by the company in the early '80s.

2. More Money Doesn't Always Equal Greater Success. It seems less controversial today--we've got Karl and H&M, Gaultier and Target--but back then when Halston teamed up with JC Penney to design an affordable fashion line, the idea was somewhat scandalous.

Halston's deal was a whopping $1 billion for six years of collections. Today, high profile designers usually earn about $1 million for a one-off collection. (Emerging designers are offered no more than $200,000, and usually much less.) While it was a groundbreaking idea, it wasn't properly executed, and the line was discontinued before the six years were even over. While we must applaud Halston for his foresight, there's also a lesson in here: One wrong move can damage the business forever. Think about your overall brand strategy before you consider the dollar sign next to the deal.

3. Education is Key. If you're going to start your own label, you're bound to make mistakes, but the better educated you are about how the business works, the better off you'll be. Halston made decisions without thinking them through. Because of that, the label remains unstable (although its latest incarnation makes us hopeful). Protecting your name and your livelihood should be just as important as becoming rich and famous.