In 1974, at the height of his influence, the legendary fashion designer Halston purchased a dramatic, Paul Rudolph-designed party pad at 101 E. 63rd St. With its two-story bamboo filled greenhouse, double-height ceilings, roof terrace, sunken living room and catwalks overlooking all the action, it was the spot for disco-era debauchery. Today, it can’t sell.
“Going to his house with all the movie stars hanging out on the gray couches, it was so private and glamorous,” iconic fashion model Pat Cleveland, 68, told The Post. “There was always music playing, Rigaud candles burning and orchids everywhere.”
Born Roy Halston Frowick in 1932 in Des Moines, Iowa, Halston exploded onto New York’s fashion scene from the millinery department at Bergdorf Goodman. In 1961, he designed the pillbox hat that Jacqueline Kennedy wore to the presidential inauguration, cementing his reputation as the “It” designer for fashionable ladies. He soon began creating couture and ready-to-wear fashions for celebrity clients such as Babe Paley, Anjelica Huston, Gene Tierney, Lauren Bacall, Margaux Hemingway and Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol called his runway shows “the art form of the ’70s.”
“His simple elegant designs are timeless. He reached back to antiquity for inspiration,” said Halston’s beloved niece, Lesley Frowick, who is the director of the fashion icon’s archives. “He knew how to flatter the female body.”
In 1973, Halston signed over his booming fashion empire for roughly $12 million to billionaire Norton Simon’s corporation, where he continued to design on a massive salary and with a cut of the profits. The following year, he scooped up “101” — as the four-story Upper East Side townhouse came to be known among the 1970s jet set — and established a venue to celebrate his success.
“It was such a party house. It was laid out completely for entertainment. He really preferred to entertain at home,” said Frowick.
Cleveland described that period of time with Halston as “the limo life.” “He draped us in diamonds and dressed us in silk and chiffon,” said the model, who was part of the designer’s entourage, called the “Halstonettes.” “They were always putting money in boxes and giving it to everyone.”
The opening of Studio 54 in 1977 only stoked the fires of excess. “101 was the clubhouse for the Studio 54 crowd,” said Steven Gaines, author of the book “Simply Halston,” which is being developed into a feature film. He first met the designer through Warhol at a Gerard Malanga poetry reading, and compared spending time with the man to getting licked by a cat: At first it feels good, but then it begins to scratch.
“It was one of the most reckless, anything-goes moments in history,” said Gaines, whose book chronicles Halston’s exploits — from sex with male prostitutes (whom he’d serve steak as foreplay) to watching a Moroccan sex show that featured bestiality. “Being trash was venerated. The trashier you could be, the more you could get laid, the more drugs you could take.”
Dressed in drag, Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell handed out quaaludes. Halston’s on-again-off-again partner, artist Victor Hugo, led man-on-man orgies late into the night — and Warhol enjoyed photographing from the sidelines.
“Victor had the keys to the safe with the cocaine,” said publicist R. Couri Hay, who claimed to have had a brief affair with Halston as a 17-year-old after meeting him at Bergdorf Goodman while buying a Panama hat.
“He looked at me like I was a really yummy ice cream cone. It took a year before I succumbed and slept with him,” said Hay, who traveled with the designer through Europe. “Halston said I was the only white boy he ever loved.”
Warhol wrote in his diaries of an evening where Liza Minnelli and Martin Scorsese rang the doorbell at 101 and asked Halston for “every drug you’ve got.” He gave Minnelli “a bottle of coke, a few sticks of marijuana, a Valium [and] four quaaludes.”
On a different evening at 101, Warhol recalled a dramatic falling out between Halston and Tiffany & Co. designer Elsa Peretti. After dining on caviar, potatoes and cocaine, the two quarreled and Peretti tossed her black sable into the fire, which was kept roaring year-round. The fur had been a Christmas gift from Halston.
The avant-garde design of the property added to the edgy atmosphere.
“There was no railing on the stairs at the house,” said Frowick. “And when you got up to the mezzanine, there was a little shelf where people could sit. But there was no railing. It was unsafe — Champagne and no rails. But that was the thrill of it: to be on the edge of an extreme experience.”
The extremes gave way to tragedy. In 1988, Halston tested positive for the AIDS virus. He died two years later in San Francisco.
Shortly before his death, Halston sold the house to Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat, and Gunter Sachs, a playboy, photographer and one-time husband to Brigitte Bardot. The duo paid $5 million and shared the place as a party spot, according to one of the listing brokers, Leslie Hirsch with Engel & Völkers. Agnelli eventually sold his stake in the property to Sachs, whose estate owns the house today.
In 2011,not long after Sach’s death, his estate put the townhouse on the market, asking $38.5 million. His party house has been on the market for the past seven years and is now listed at $24 million.
“It’s like selling a piece of art,” Hirsch said of the unique four-bedroom abode. “It has to appeal to the right buyer, someone who can appreciate the architecture and history. It’s not your typical Upper East Side townhouse.”
And, with so much competition from super-tall skyscrapers on Central Park South and new construction downtown, selling even a traditional townhouse is an uphill battle.
“The Upper East Side is one of the softest luxury markets in the city right now,” said appraiser Jonathan Miller, of Miller Samuel.
But for the right buyer, the property is really something. Frowick recalled first visiting her uncle’s home as a high-schooler in 1975 and living there throughout the 1980s.
“The house was breathtaking,” she said. “It was like walking up to the rim of the Grand Canyon.”