Rebecca Dayan Embodies ’70s Model Muse Elsa Peretti in Netflix’s Halston

Halston Limited, Halston Luggage, Halston Perfume—the 1970s were all about Halston, the eponymous line, numerous licensing deals, and, of course, the visionary designer himself. Studio 54 was the place to be, and cocaine was the thing to do as Halston, a milliner whose career took off thanks to the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to JFK’s inauguration, pivoted to embrace the modern woman with both ready-to-wear and made-to-order fashion collections. 

Akin to Dior’s New Look of the 1940s, Halston embraced a streamlined silhouette with an emphasis on draping, luxury fabrics, and color that set the tone for sensual ’70s style. His rise and fall, particularly his tumultuous personal and professional relationships, are chronicled in the highly anticipated miniseries Halston, which debuts on Netflix today. Produced by Ryan Murphy of American Horror Story and Hollywood renown, this five-episode miniseries has the intense character development, biting dialogue, beautiful scenery, and, of course, gorgeous costumes that one has come to expect from the producer. However, much like the man himself, Ewan McGregor’s Halston triumphs due in large part to support from a powerful cast of characters portrayed by several famous faces.

Rebecca Dayan is one such face—the multitalented artist who embodies the role of the iconic jewelry designer and Halston muse Elsa Peretti. While the physical resemblance between Dayan and Peretti is uncanny—both raven-haired beauties began their careers as models—it is their shared creative spirit that brings the character to life. Although Dayan hails from the South of France, her Italian accent rings true to Peretti’s Florentine roots. Rants and raves are particularly memorable due in part to the “donna forte” artist that Dayan channels. 

Notably, Peretti outlived many of her contemporaries by 30 years, passing away just a few weeks ago at 80 years old. Given the timeliness of this series, we were eager to catch up with Dayan and learn more about Peretti’s role in the Halston era, as well as her legacy as one of the most esteemed jewelry designers of her time. 

Although we’re discussing Halston’s glamorous heyday of the 1970s and ’80s, Zooming with Dayan in 2021 looks decidedly different than the luxe sets of Netflix’s latest fashion-focused series. Sitting on the couch in her apartment in NYC, Dayan greets me over the screen with a shy smile and a certain je ne sais quoi—exuding that elusive, seemingly effortless French style in a gray V-neck cashmere sweater, minimalist jewelry, and comfortable trousers.

I’m quick to ask for any French-girl fashion or beauty tips, but Dayan is even quicker to wave me off. “French-girl style is just a myth, you know? But it has sold a lot of lipstick,” she quips. 

Before diving into her role as Peretti, I ask the multifaceted artist (in addition to modeling, Dayan has studied fine art and design and is also a producer) what first attracted her to the world of film. “I remember watching the movie After Hours with my mom. I’ve seen it so many times now, but that is what inspired me to explore the creativity of movie-making.”

The 1985 black comedy by Martin Scorsese features a gritty New York City that stands in stark contrast to the world in which Dayan has been immersed since filming for Halston began in 2019, but then again, NYC has always been a home for artists. 

Dayan and Peretti were both drawn to the city in their 20s, but interestingly, it was challenging for Dayan to find primary source materials about Peretti’s life until after her 50s. “Initially, I didn’t know a lot about Elsa, but I was inspired by her as a creative, powerful, independent woman,” Dayan remarks. “There were tons of information, including video and interviews about Halston, Victor Hugo, and other artists from that era, but not a lot about Elsa,” she recalls. “I had to imagine what she would have been like in her 20s, how she would have moved, and danced.”

It is this appreciation for movement that linked Peretti and Halston, particularly in their design sensibilities. Whereas Halston’s understanding of fabric, color, and texture set the tone for women’s fashion of the decade, Peretti embraced forms found in nature, as seen in her iconic bone cuff for Tiffany & Co. as well as the curved fragrance bottle she designed for Halston’s first perfume.

Interestingly, both Halston’s and Peretti’s design aesthetics could easily be worn today. “I loved all of the dresses,” says Dayan. “But especially the cashmere cardigan and dress that Elsa wears at the airport. I would wear that right now.” We also gush over the bone cuff, which Tiffany’s still sells. “It just feels special,” she says. “It’s not just how it looks but how it feels on the body.” Peretti’s designs are truly timeless—there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where Dayan wears an original Elsa Peretti for Tiffany’s mesh bra under a red suit—and still totally wearable in the 21st century.

However, amid the glitz and glamor of the disco era, the burgeoning AIDS crisis infiltrated the scene, decimating the creative community in which Peretti thrived. “It was a very dark time where people would be out at a party, at Studio 54, and then people just stopped showing up. They contracted the virus and died,” Dayan explains. Halston himself was diagnosed in the late ’80s and succumbed to the disease in 1990.

At the end of the series, a title card appears and notes that Halston’s closest friends, Peretti and Liza Minnelli, reunited to hold an event to celebrate the designer’s life. Given Peretti’s recent passing, I ask Dayan how she thinks the icon would like to be remembered by her friends and fans. “It’s hard to say, but I think Elsa would like to be remembered first and foremost as an artist,” she muses. “Hopefully, Tiffany will reissue some of her pieces since they are timeless and classic.”

As for Dayan, I ask what’s next on her agenda as we prepare to enter a post-COVID world. “I’m just excited to get back out there and continue to work,” she says. Ever the artist, she’s already writing a feature film and looking to find distribution for Born Free, a documentary about the maternal health crisis in America that she helped to produce as the first project funded by her nonprofit organization, The Mother Lovers. From model muse to iconic artist, Dayan, much like Peretti, has clearly found her medium. 

All five episodes of Halston will be available on Netflix beginning May 14. 

Photographer: Kat Irlin 
Stylist: Shibon Kennedy
Hair: Blake Erik
Makeup: Cyndle Komarovski


Dress: Miu Miu
Earrings: Love Adorned

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