We don’t use the word ‘showbiz’ enough any more when describing knockout style. Cascading ruffle gowns, acres of fringing and dinner-plate-sized sunglasses fire our most elementary fashion synapses. Showbiz style is the fashion world’s sickly dessert course—the one buried under a waterfall of toxic-hued sauces, which arrives embedded with sparklers after a procession to its own theme song, and has the whole restaurant craning their necks to see what on earth just passed by.
‘Showbiz’ should be overtly decadent to the point of cliche—you must categorically not be able to look away. Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace (complete with heart-shaped swimming pool)? That was showbiz. Elizabeth Taylor’s jewellery arsenal? For sure. Hyper-Gwynethness? Kind of.
Larger-than-life style is everywhere and nowhere in 2021. If Instagram is to be believed (don’t), everyone is going about their business in opera gloves and thong bikinis. But we’re probably not. That is most likely why Netflix’s Halston—a dazzling five-part biopic from Ryan Murphy, which tells the high-octane life story of Roy Halston Frowick (played by Ewan McGregor)—feels so necessary.
With members of Halston’s family questioning the factual correctness of the show, we’ll stick to indisputable truths. Halston was extremely showbiz, as were the ‘Halstonettes’—a nocturnal collective of ultra-talented women (including Elizabeth Taylor, Cher, Elsa Peretti and Liza Minnelli) who were party pals at the height of the Studio 54 era. In Murphy’s rendering, American actor Krysta Rodriguez shines as the hair-flicking, high-kicking, EGOT-winning Minnelli. It makes for compulsive viewing.
The star, who was born into the Hollywood hubbub (her parents were actor Judy Garland and film director Vincente Minnelli), has enjoyed a hard-earned prodigious career in musical theatre spanning more than seven decades. At just 19, she scooped the 1965 Best Actress Tony for her Broadway debut in Flora the Red Menace, timely recognition of her effervescent talent and grit determination.
Dance was a backbone of her performance, hence the workaday uniform of a black polo neck and pencil-cut trousers or leggings (note the Mary Janes). The signature, zero-fuss pixie cut was enthused with the same no-nonsense spirit (her hair reportedly had to be hacked off after a piece of chewing gum became entangled in it). The look stuck and, after winning the Best Actress Academy Award at the 1973 Oscars for her role in Bob Fosse’s Cabaret (1972), became her hallmark.
Looking back now at photographs of the star during those heady days, the electricity that powered Liza Minnelli and her scene-stealing style is infectious. Showbiz Liza wore double-breasted suiting and men’s ties, floor-sweeping shearling coats for airport transits and blouses with enormous fluted sleeves. In many of the photos she’s deep in conversation, entirely unaware that there’s even a camera at all, or mid-flight on the dancefloor. There are jazz hands, too many cigarettes to count and palm-frond-esque eyelashes. You get a distinct feeling that showbiz Liza is that friend—the one who lends you their most fabulous clothes, insists you’re not too tired to come out and sings at full volume in the Uber. Oh Liza, we could all use a little more showbiz right now, couldn’t we?
Halston is now streaming on Netflix.