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Profile / Kevan Hall

Kevan Who?

Although his appointment as Halston heir surprised the fashion world, the designer is beginning to make a name for himself.

July 09, 1999|BARBARA THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A year ago this month, when Los Angeles designer Kevan Hall was named the new top designer at Halston, the response was summed up by an incredulous Neiman Marcus executive who asked, "Who is Kevan Hall?"

The New York-centric fashion world was in a tizzy. Designer Randolph Duke, credited with reviving the Halston line, had left the company and sued for breach of contract. Hall was being described in the trade journals as "Duke's assistant" and outside the journals in even less flattering terms.

Women's Wear Daily reported the appointment as if it were a hot political scandal. Retailers and fashion aficionados were furious that the name of one of America's greatest designers, Halston, was once again in danger of being besmirched. After all, attempts before Duke to revive the once-glorious line had failed miserably.

Amid all the hand-wringing, Hall was given the seemingly impossible task of presenting a spring collection in a few short months.

Any doubts were hushed after Hall's November show and another in February. Soon after, his chic, simple gowns in neutral colors began appearing at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman in New York with price tags ranging from $2,000 to $7,000.

Hall may well be the designer to take Halston into the next millennium, offering luxurious style without the previous decades' excesses and indulgences.

"He's channeling Halston!" raved Andre Leon Talley, editor at large at Vogue.

*

Hall is admittedly anything but a clone of designer Halston. He grew up in Detroit, the youngest of three children to Angeline, a homemaker, and Curtis Hall, the owner of a construction and landscaping business. His brother, actor and director Vondie Curtis-Hall, plays Dr. Dennis Hancock on TV's "Chicago Hope." His sister, Sherry Hall, works at an interior design store in Detroit.

Since 1980, Hall has been married to his college sweetheart, Debbie, whom he met his first day at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles. They have two children--Asia, 9 and Evan, 4--and a "traditional house in the Valley." The Halls belong to West Angeles Church of God in Christ.

Halston spent many holiday weekends partying away in his beach house, rented from Andy Warhol. Most three-day weekends, Hall leaves his Manhattan apartment to fly home to his family to sit in the backyard and watch the kids swim. Jokes Debbie Hall, "To some people it would seem pretty boring."

Still, Kevan Hall is no backwater suburbanite who designs by fluke. His mother had a great love of fashion that she shared with her youngest child.

"We always shopped at Saks," he says. "I had a cashmere coat at age 7. Every Sunday, we were dressed for church, and I mean we were dressed."

Fashion was so much a part of his life that Hall remembers being incredibly moved as a teenager by the 1970s Ballet Russe collection of Yves Saint Laurent.

"It was the greatest collection of our time," he says.

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The grown-up Hall is still meticulous about his appearance, from his carefully manicured dreadlocks (two or three locks are highlighted) to his Cartier trinity wedding band.

When he meets for lunch, it's at the Ivy. When he goes vintage shopping for Halston, it's to Lily, a Beverly Hills collection shop that owns half a million museum-quality pieces.

Still, at the fundamental core of this aesthetic being is a solid family man. He admits over lunch his biggest ambition: to be the kind of father to his children that his dad was to him.

"My father is such a wonderful, wonderful man," Hall says, his soft voice softening even more. Curtis Hall's lesson to his children was: "Just focus. Live your life with integrity, and treat people with respect."

Hall regains his professional voice to state that another pressing goal is to make Halston once again an indispensable luxury brand. And he is quickly learning that this will require more than fine designs. This spring, he stayed too long at the Paris fabric shows instead of camping out in Hollywood to woo stars into wearing his gowns for the Academy Awards. The only high-profile woman he dressed was Hollywood producer and activist Irena Medavoy. "I'll do things differently this year," he says.

Hall is also trying to build a Halston archive because the business had been sold so many times that all samples and drawings have been lost.

A few weeks later, Hall says, "One of my ambitions, life ambitions, is to really make my place, to establish my place in fashion history."

Is that possible under the name of another man?

"Yes," Hall replies.

*

Hall is a 20-year veteran of the fashion business, having started as an assistant to L.A. sportswear designer Harriet Selwyn. For 11 years, he had his own business in Los Angeles, a line of evening wear called Kevan Hall Couture. His wife was his fit model and merchandising partner. The designer says, "I literally carried the collection on my back to stores in San Francisco."

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