NEW YORK, NY -- Specialist Peter Costanzo speaks with Nancy North about her remarkable life as a Halston model and discusses her collection of original artwork, photographs and design.
Q – How did you meet Halston and begin modeling for him?
A – I became friends with Berry Berenson and Loulou de la Falaise through a mutual friend and the Warhol Factory. One night in 1971, Berry invited Bill and I to his loft apartment on Second Avenue and 57th Street for a small dinner. There we met Halston, ever so jovial, and Joe Eula. We shared a lot of laughs – I was immediately taken with both gentlemen and hoped it would not be my last encounter with either of them. Luckily, it was not. Over time, as Bill and I built a more intimate relationship with the designer, we received invitations to Halston’s rented home on Fire Island and opportunities to work with the designer.
Q – What experiences did you have because of your relationship with Halston?
A – Through the years I was modeling for Halston, I experienced national tours, shows in the United States, and international trips. We traveled around the world in 1980 – first to Los Angeles, then Tokyo, Japan, and finishing in China. We also spent many weekends in Montauk, Long Island, at the house owned by Andy Warhol that Halston rented for many years, always sighing, “I wish Andy would sell me this house.”
Q – Please tell us about your trip to China with Halston in 1980.
A – That was an extraordinary experience. China’s Director of Mercantile invited us. There were no formal hotels then, so we stayed at government guest houses the whole trip. We visited three cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Suchow. Shanghai still featured remnants of the British Empire – somewhat in decline – its buildings and street lanterns. It was magical. Suchow was the silk city – we visited workrooms with artisans creating needlepoint designs with silk thread onto fabric. We also saw the silkworms spin silk. There was not yet a market for designer clothes in China. The tailors and dressmakers there were fascinated by our clothes and inspected them inside and out.
Part of our entourage was the celebrated photographer known as Hiro, who was born in Japan but raised in China. Lot 156 in the sale is a large group of black and white images from that trip taken by Hiro. Halston relied on him to record events with his camera and as a guide.
Q – Please tell us about the Battle of Versailles from your perspective.
A – I was one of a group of American models booked for that famous trip to Versailles in 1973. The hostess of the event was Madame de Rothschild. She ensured guests from around the world attended including Princess Grace of Monaco, Jacqueline de Ribes, Wallis Simpson, and Dewey Sukarno.
I showed clothes for four American designers: Halston, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta. They played from the Silver Connection, which gave the models confidence. And, of course, we had Liza.
France created elaborate floats and backdrops. Nureyev, Gigi Jean Marie, Capucine, and Josephine Baker on one of the most elaborate floats ever seen, and Pierre Cardin constructed a rocket ship as a backdrop. These staged backgrounds overpowered the clothes, so American designers were the most successful despite many snafus and some tantrums. Even the French threw up their programs and shouted, “Les Americains c’est formidable.”
There were adjunct events besides Versailles. Gerald van der Kamp, the museum curator, invited us to dinner after rehearsals. The evening before the fashion show, David Mahoney, CEO of Norton Simon, underwrote a dinner at Maxim's for guests and the Halston entourage. I found myself singing impromptu with the band that evening to a rendition of Richard Rogers “Isn't it Romantic.”
We were tired but happy.
Q – How did you come to possess the fashion drawings in your collection?
A – When Halston was dismissed from his business, he advised Bill to go forward with his own thing and carry on the Halston philosophy. He distributed the sketches to Bill, and they came into my hands after Bill's death.
Q – How did you meet fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez?
A – That wonderful chronicler of fashion, Bill Cunningham, took me to his tiny apartment in Carnegie Hall in the early 1970s. We met at a fashion event in Central Park, and I exclaimed how much I admired Antonio Lopez. He lived next to him, so he said, "C'mon muffin, I'll take you to him.”
We knocked on Antonio's door. He was living with his partner and business partner Juan Ramos. They both answered and warmly welcomed us, dressed in our then-favorite menswear designer, Jean de Noyer, who also had a shop on the Upper East Side. We bonded quickly, and Juan was more than delighted to show us books and documents of their work up to that point. Before I left, Antonio asked me to pose for him. We all became working friends after that.
Through Antonio and Juan, I traveled to Paris and hung out with them and a young Karl Lagerfeld while he was working for Chloe. Before I knew it, I had a French agent and was modeling with French Vogue. Our Parisian entourage included Donna Jordan, Pat Cleveland, Karl, and me. We had some wonderful assignments with Karl in Berlin and Amsterdam, too.
Juan and Antonio were very dedicated workers and loved helping their models get work and connections. Juan, Antonio, and Karl were very generous people.
Q – Tell us about Elsa Peretti.
A – Before Bill and I worked for Halston, he invited us to a fashion show at his atelier on 68th street. We saw the first jersey dresses and tie-dyed silk chiffon prints there. Just gorgeous!
Halson worked with glamazon models like the late great Naomi Sims (draped in white silk jersey), Marina Schiano, and Elsa Peretti. Elsa came out with her head bowed in a black fedora. Backstage, I congratulated her on her wonderful presence. She shrugged her shoulders and exclaimed in her lyrical voice, “But Nancy, I bowed my head because I was so scared!” It was a time of models with great personalities – these women had unique styles. Elsa had that Warhol style that embraced the unpredictable yet fascinating.
After we left Halston, Elsa became our best client. She said, "I need clothes for myself. I need clothes for presentations." So, we both benefited from each other. We traveled to her homes in Barcelona, Rome, and her enchanting village in Sant Martí Vell, Spain. We shared much laughter, collaboration, and fun!
We had a great photoshoot for Australian Vogue at the village, joined by her friends Ricardo Bofill, Ricky Quesada, Nancy, Warrick Pilcher, and, always, new sets of dogs. First, there were Akitas, then King Charles Spaniels. Animals were important to Elsa.
Sometimes we overlapped with members of the Tiffany team. A Tiffany employee noted that Elsa’s jewelry was the collection customers most wanted to touch. Of her flat silver bracelets, she said, “It looks like wearing a slice of silver.” Through many years, Elsa graciously bestowed upon me pieces from her collection.
Q – How did you spend the holidays in those years?
A – Bill and I spent several Christmas Eves with DD.Ryan, Victor Rojas, Halston and Andy Warhol over at 101 East 63rd Street. We loved it! We were inundated with wonderful Christmas gifts a la Halston and Andy.
One Christmas, I was given a purple 4-ply cashmere jumpsuit with matching stole. I squealed with delight! Bill received an envelope. Andy arrived with studio V.I.P. signed art pieces. The year before, he gave each of us a signed 22x11 inch painting of poinsettias. In 1978, Halston had many boxes of Halston-brand items beautifully wrapped under his Christmas tree, which was decorated with white lights – talk about minimal! He had them wrapped in case he had unexpected visitors over the holidays.
Steve Rubell from Studio 54 joined us once and took advantage of the wrapped presents. I saw him leaving carrying a tray of them – he said, “Nancy, I need these for people I don’t have time to go shopping for!” (As if I was in any place to judge.) When I think back on it, when you think of all the nights Halston and I were given entry into that coveted discotheque, it seemed fair enough!
Auction December 7, 2022 at 10am
Exhibition Dec 3 - 5
Featured in the December 7 auction are original artwork, photographs and design from the Collection of Halstonette Nancy North.