When Daniel Day Lewis was preparing for Phantom Thread, he studied 1940s and 1950s designers and their work. He took up sewing and he studied everything, as he always did for his roles. He became obsessed with a vintage Balenciaga dress and he spent weeks or months trying to reverse engineer it, using his wife as a model. He even visited the Balenciaga archives to study the construction of the dress and all of that. I bring this up because Ewan McGregor is playing Halston, the famous designer from the 1970s and ‘80s. Ewan also had to do similar research for the role, including learning how to sew by hand and by machine. He had to learn how to pin and tailor and drape and he had to learn how to look like he’d been doing it for decades.
On most film and TV productions, a costume designer is primarily responsible for creating all the outfits seen onscreen. But while crafting the wardrobe for Netflix’s “Halston,” Jeriana San Juan also pulled double duty as tutor, teaching Ewan McGregor how to convincingly sew, drape and pin so he could do the ’70s fashion legend justice.
“I sent a sewing machine to his hotel room so that he could practice in his free time — he requested it, I didn’t force it on him! — but I just loved how interested he really was in being able to do it correctly,” San Juan told Page Six Style. That gift certainly wound up coming in handy when the Ryan Murphy show’s production shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sending the entire cast into quarantine. “Halfway through [the shutdown], he sent me an image of some amazing trousers he had made. I was almost in tears,” the New York-based costume designer recalled. “My student had graduated on his own.”
To help the 50-year-old Scottish actor nail what she calls “the design choreography” once filming resumed, San Juan built designated “rehearsal time” into each of their fittings, so that he could watch her at work and then mimic those exact moves.
“There is a muscle memory thing that is really hard to replicate when you’re talking about a designer or a tailor who works with pins and scissors and measuring tapes all the time; that he really had to learn,” San Juan explained. “And he honestly did not get that much time, because he was in every scene!”
Adding to the challenge was the fact that Halston’s effortlessly sexy bias-cut gowns and flowing caftans were actually a major technical feat. “That level of sophisticated simplicity is a really hard thing to capture,” the costume designer said of the late fashion great’s work. “He’s sort of sculpting fabric in a way that is very difficult. These ‘simple’ clothes are quite complicated in their construction.”
San Juan also said something which fascinated me, which was something like 90% of the “Halston clothing” you see on the screen had to be made from scratch, because Halston’s archives were dismantled decades ago. The production was able to borrow some pieces from collectors and other costumers, but basically they just had to recreate so much of what’s seen.
As for Ewan learning how to sew… I’m a throwback, but I believe all boys and girls should know some sewing basics. I would imagine that Ewan had the patience and, frankly, the natural talent and eye, to be able to pick up Halston-level sewing skills. Still, to my knowledge, Daniel Day Lewis is the only one who successfully reverse engineered a vintage Balenciaga, so DDL gets the win.
Photos courtesy of Netflix.
I think Ewan is still gorgeous.
Indeed. Great hair. Love his accent and love, love his performances.
Agreed! Knowing his personal life does not interfere with my enjoyment of seeing him on screen at all. In fact, I’m going to put Big Fish on later today !
He is such a delight on the screen too. So charismatic and fun.
Me too. Had a crush on him since Moulin Rouge. And I don’t even care about his messy personal life because he seems to keep it pretty quiet and is a complete professional on set.
I taught myself to sew a few years ago and it’s harder than you think to make outfits for adults that are not tents. Fitting someone is not easy without any training. I have made myself a few dresses and I am only now getting the hang of tailoring them to my specific body (I am short and petite, but curvy on bottom with a small waist). I have thrown away a couple of projects that I couldn’t get to work. All that is to say that I believe the costume designer when she says the Halston looks are harder to create than they look. Good for Ewan for putting in the work to appreciate how much skill his character’s profession required.
It doesn’t surprise me that Ewan immersed himself into the role like that.
My mom and grandmother had epic sewing talents. My sister inherited them, I did not. My boys had to take sewing class in middle school and they didn’t seem to have any special talent for it either. I admire people who can make fashion, it’s endlessly fascinating to me, sort of like a spectator sport for me, lol.
My Mom can sew and knit, and she never taught me. I always low key resent her for that. Then one day had the audacity to ask why I couldn’t sew since every women in her family can. And I snapped back “because you never taught me anything in life”. Her lame response “oh yeah”.
If you can sew I bow to you. I’m really looking forward to this series. I love how the creative mind works and changes the world of fashion.
My family used to make fun of me all the time for not being able to cook even though they never taught me. Then one day my sister pointed out that it’s not that I can’t cook, it’s that I don’t cook. Spoiler alert: I taught myself cooking after that.
My mom always liked to brag about her sewing skills, but never taught any of her three daughters how to set up a machine or read a pattern. I eventually taught myself at close to 40! There is such a great on-line sewing community and lots of cities now have sewing schools and clubs. It’s tricky at first but every piece i’ve made gets better and better.
I have been lucky enough to own some of these vintage Halston pieces. I envy whoever got to plunder those archives!
The dresses are magical- they drape the body in such a flattering way and are not high maintenance. One appreciates where it influenced Tom Ford decades later.
WOW! That is so great @KinChicago that you have some vintage Halston!!!!!!!! What treasures. I love that you appreciate their construction so much and that you link Halston to Tom Ford!!!!! I am a fan of both designers and of design history in general.
My sewing skills a pretty rudimentary, I can make curtains and hem pants and replace a zipper, but they really came in handy last year when we couldn’t get masks or elastic anywhere. I was so glad for my sewing machine and little craft bin where I had stashed elastic. I cut up my cotton tea towels and was able to make masks for myself and send one to each of my family members as well. Everyone really should have some basic knowledge of sewing!
Can’t wait to see this, I still to this day have no idea what ultra suede is, but do remember Halston ads from my childhood after he sold his name to JC Penney. Found out about the decadence and decline later. McGregor looks a lot like him.
I’ve just finished watching the first episode. As I got deeper into the episode, I could see Ewan’s brilliance in inhabiting this role. He’s such an amazing actor.
Wow binge watched it all this weekend, as a fashion designer who works in a large studio, can’t wait to get into the office in the morning to unpack all that deliciousness.
Ewan does camp sooo well