Designer wants you to look your best

Bradley Bayou, guest on 'View,' steps in to revive Halston name

January 26, 2003|By Booth Moore | Booth Moore,Special to the Sun

Most people who recognize the name Bradley Bayou probably know him for his daytime TV persona: He's a regular guest on the estrogen-fueled kaffeeklatsch known as The View on ABC. On Lifetime, he rescues the aesthetically challenged in a show called Operation Style.

But he is also a fashion designer, and recently he was named creative director for the American fashion house Halston, which might be just the thing the long-suffering brand needs.

Then again, it might be yet another futile attempt to rescue Halston from licensing obscurity.

Bayou follows a long list of designers who have tried unsuccessfully over the last four years to resuscitate the Halston name (Kevan Hall and Randolph Duke, among others), leading some to wonder if the effort is even worth it. Others are optimistic.

"The name is still valid," said Joan Kaner, Neiman Marcus fashion director. "It's like a lot of names that have lain fallow. ... If they get the right person in there and allow them to do their thing, it could be important."

Bayou, 46, who moved to Los Angeles from New York six years ago, is known as a dressmaker for clients who can drop $1,500 and more on a garment. He has a boutique and a nearby design studio, where the Halston line will be produced next fall.

His roster of customers includes Halle Berry, Geena Davis and Oprah Winfrey.

Fame and its flip side

One thing Bayou has in common with Halston is a surfeit of charisma. Halston started his design career as a milliner, creating Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' famed pillbox hat. Later, he became known for simple, modern clothes with clean lines -- notably caftans and Ultra-suede shirt dresses -- and for late nights at Studio 54 with Liza Minnelli, Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and others.

One of the first celebrity-designers, he ushered in the era in which fashion success depends as much on personality as talent.

In the 1970s and '80s, Halston, who was among the first designers to recognize the potential of licensing, signed myriad agreements for products including eyeglasses, towels, luggage, uniforms for the Girl Scouts, a clothing line for J.C. Penney and perfume. As his business was bought by successively larger companies, the pressure for profit grew.

Unable to control the licenses and plagued by rumors of drug use, Halston was effectively paid not to design by the companies that owned his name. Until his death in 1990, Halston struggled in vain to buy back his own name.

Like Halston, Bayou's design philosophy is decidedly democratic. He is fond of saying, "I just want to make people look and feel better." A bodybuilder with a hulking, 6-foot 3-inch frame, he cuts a mean figure in tight black Comme des Garcons pants, a Calvin Klein T-shirt and shiny Prada shoes. And despite his rather imposing appearance, he's all Texas teddy-bear charm, as eager to ask questions as to answer them.

Born Bradley Bayoud, he never had formal fashion training, but his mother, Joan, owned several fashion boutiques in Dallas, and as a child he accompanied her on buying trips to Europe.

Although he never met Halston, he did come close -- within a few feet to be exact. "In 1978, my ex-wife and I went to Studio 54. Halston was sitting there in a booth with Liza Minnelli and the Rolling Stones. I was completely flabbergasted," Bayou said recently over lunch at Morton's. "We went and sat behind the booth and pretended like we were a part of his entourage. It was so cool."

Career-wise, Bayou has had more lives than a cat. He started out in Dallas as a real estate developer with a wife and two young children. In 1988, he divorced, moved to Los Angeles to become a painter and even had a few gallery shows.

He fell into fashion in 1989 after seeing a segment on MTV's House of Style about vests being a new trend. Thinking he could do better than what he saw on the show, he marched down to the Salvation Army, bought several men's tuxedo vests for $1.50 each and hand-painted them with acrylics. A friend took Bayou's creations to a buyer at Fred Segal, the trend-setting L.A. store, which placed an order on the spot. Soon, orders followed from Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York.

Guessing that the vests would be a passing fad, he began making painted and beaded gowns in 1990. The dresses sold quickly, and Bayou launched a full collection for the 1990 fall / winter season.

After several pieces landed in the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, he moved there and began showing during New York Fashion Week.

Getting a few TV ideas

Although he continued to receive orders from Barneys and Saks, his financial backer pulled out in 1996, he said. Bayou closed his showroom doors and packed his bags for L.A.

He opened his shop, and legendary L.A. designer James Galanos, who retired in 1998, brought him clients. (The two were introduced by Bayou's sister, Laura Hunt, who married into the famous Texas family. Bayou employs several seamstresses and pattern makers who once worked for Galanos.)

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