Versailles ’73: An American Runway Revolution

Black models in France with an American entourage amongst a French aristocracy and historical backdrop… Enough of a cultural explosion for you?

Translate this figmentary scene into reality and wind the clock back forty years in Versailles, France and you have what was at the time one of the biggest happenings in the evolution of American and Parisian fashion, design and presentation I’d say the world has seen to date.

Given these days we’re so prone to acclimatising with anything that is so different to what we know, expectant that bucking the trend is a daily occurrence and a unique point of difference is now no longer so unique, for something like the fundraiser at the Palace of Versailles that fateful day in November 1973 ‘notable’ would be the last thing that came to mind.

Until you scratch the surface.

American fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert’s completely left-of-centre idea at the time in order to raise funds for the repair of the dilapidated Palace of Versailles saw what then came to be a revolution in itself.

Film writer and producer Deborah Riley Draper crafted the critically acclaimed documentary film, “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution”, which was recognised as the 2012 AAFCA Awards Best Documentary. The film is a great insight into attitudes at the time, opinions of the French and global fashion and the standing of the inimitable African-American model.

“Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution” follows the iconic fashion face-off at the Palace of Versailles on November 28, 1973 between five prominent American designers –Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Halston — and five prolific French designers — Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro.  The event’s beginnings as a fundraiser to raise money to restore the Palace of Versailles became a fierce competition. The extraordinary evening left an unforgettable imprint on the fashion industry and forever changed fashion history.  America with great clothes and a colour barrier-breaking collective of Black models who sashayed down the runway, won over the crowd and secured American fashion’s place on the world stage.

The film features never before seen archival footage and commentary by some of the fashion industry’s most respected names including Stephen Burrows, Pat Cleveland, Barbara Summers, Charlene Dash, Cameron Silver, Bethann Hardison, China Machado, Norma Jean Darden, Laurent Cotta, Tom Fallon, Didier Grumbach, Jean-Luce Hure, Harold Koda, Mikki Taylor and many others.

It’s a great watch and a nice introduction to the history of American-Franco fashion rivalry and co-operation for all levels of familiarity.

See the trailer at

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