Trapped in luxury, Halston slid down the slippery slope from J.C. Penney to luggage, sunglasses, bedsheets, whatever until, finally, it was taken from him entirely, thanks to a combination of corporate takeovers, bad behavior and one major misunderstanding: his belief that the name and the designer could not be parted.
He was, of course, wrong — as a number of other designers have learned since then. As with his clothes, Halston was ahead of the game when he went corporate. Even his mistakes got repeated.
Indeed, a brief and incomplete list of designers who followed Halston and likewise lost control of their trademark includes Hervé Léger, who attempted an unsuccessful comeback as Hervé Leroux; Roland Mouret, who briefly became RM2 before finally buying back his trademark; and John Galliano, who currently designs for Maison Margiela while another man creates John Galliano. (Martin Margiela, the founder of Maison Margiela, is himself puttering around in Belgium.)
Today every designer is expected to have multiple brand extensions; limited-edition collaborations with mass brands are a prized commodity; and the conglomeratization of fashion is taken for granted — at least by those who aspire to any kind of global scale.
The impossible choice that faced Halston and led to his downfall (or at least facilitated it) is the same one that still faces most designers. If they want to get big and compete, they need a backer — be part of a big fashion group, join another kind of conglomerate, go with private equity or risk being an individual’s plaything.
The sacrifice is independence, control and, often, the ability to say no. If they are happy staying small and artisanal, they can do it their way, but they don’t have the same impact or opportunities.