‘Halston’ Finds Its Elsa Peretti in Rebecca Dayan

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When Elsa Peretti passed away in mid-March, the outpouring of the fashion world was immense. Though she had never met her, Rebecca Dayan felt the loss in a different, particular way. Dayan has spent the last year-plus immersing herself in the world of Peretti to portray her in the new Netflix series “Halston,” out today, with the hopes of meeting the legendary muse and jewelry designer once the series premiered.

“On one hand, it was obviously really touching to see how many people are influenced by her — whether it was people in fashion or in design — and how people respected her,” Dayan says, over a Zoom call from her home in New York. “But it was also incredibly sad because I didn’t get to meet her when we were filming. And I would’ve loved to be able to meet her once the project was out.”

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The France-born model and artist-turned-actress, 36, consumed everything she could get her hands on about Peretti, including the series’ director Daniel Minahan’s personal archive of magazines and books. She was familiar with Peretti’s designs for Tiffany, but was most intrigued to learn about her less-publicized personal life.

“I did not know her as a woman at all until I started. I knew her work for Tiffany’s, but learning about her life was one of the most interesting things for me because she’s not talked about in that way. And it seems from what I gathered from who she was, that’s how she wanted it,” Dayan says. “She wanted to be known mostly for what she did creatively rather than her life.”

Dayan says she was most surprised to learn that Peretti had been cut off by her family when she decided to pursue her creative dreams, and had to work as a model to support herself.

“When you put it back in context, it’s the early ‘60s and it’s a woman from high society who was probably expected to marry and she was not about to do that. We think, ‘Oh, it’s the ‘60s, everyone was free and stuff.’ But no, she had to fight for it. Learning that was really interesting.”

The world of Halston was a shock to the system to return to after their COVID-19 shutdown, which put the project on pause for a good five months.

“In that time period people were very free and very loose in their behaviors in a lot of ways. Off camera and on camera were totally different worlds. That was a bit daunting at first,” Dayan says. It’s that dichotomy that will make the show an especially desirable brand of escapism for this moment.

“I think there was something about that time period. It was the last hoorah before the AIDS crisis that unraveled all of that. It was the beginning of women’s liberation and all sorts of other things,” she says of the Halston era. “It’s a very glamorous, obviously fun and daring time period where it was okay to be misfits and shine your crazy colors.”

Dayan came to acting later in life (by Hollywood standards), first pursuing fashion (she was a design assistant at Sonia Rykiel before becoming a model) and then art. A love of acting had always been present, though, she says, but it took her some time to circle back to it in a professional capacity.

“It’s early and late because when I was a kid I loved performing, and I would always put on little comedy shows and fashion shows. And I did theater and then I kind of went away from it until I was in my early 20s, when I got back to it,” she says.

She was raised in a culturally focused household in the south of France, her film-buff mother showing her movies at a young age and introducing her to artist friends.

“I grew up in an area that was very famous for [art]: Picasso was there, Matisse was there back in that time and same with music and film,” she says. “In that sense, they definitely shaped my curiosity and interest for it, but nobody around us was in film really at all.”

Her teenage years were when she started to connect more deeply with why movies were important to her, and to see film as an art form. Having found success in modeling and art first, it felt risky to make a shift to acting, but she never doubted that it was where her passions laid.

“I came to it a little later than I feel like a lot of people do. And so there was a lot of apprehension around it — ‘am I crazy for wanting to do that?’ But I always had the support from my family. That was definitely something that I’m thankful for,” she says.

Following “Halston,” she is turning her attention toward project development, writing and producing a handful of things. In the works is a feature film she is developing with a friend, subject matter still a secret; she’s written a short film that she hopes to shoot later this year, and she produced a documentary called “Born Free,” about birth in the U.S. If it all seems rather ambitious, Dayan simply sees the forms of her artistic expression as limitless.

“I think my artistic process can be applied to it all,” she says.

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