Remember the fashion show Battle of Versailles – WWD

When it comes to fashion history, the 1973 “Battle of Versailles” – the showdown between a handful of American designers and their European counterparts – stands the test of time.

Contestants Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison and Chris Royer served up some tasty details about the monumental fashion event Wednesday during a discussion moderated by The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan. Organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the event became a reminder of the Tom Ford-orchestrated Battle of Versailles gallery now on view at the Upper East Side museum in “In America: An Anthology of Fashion,” through 5 . September .

Explaining how the extravaganza at the Palace of Versailles came about, Givhan said that Versailles’ curator had asked his publicist friend Eleanor Lambert how he could raise money in an effort to support French institutions, and she suggested pitting five major fashion designers against five American – all of whom happened to be her clients. Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Hubert de Givenchy and Marc Bohan of Christian Dior met Bill Blass, Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows. The Americans used pre-recorded music, an extra set and “sleek, simple and unfussy” clothes and models, “who moved with distinction and personality,” Givhan said. “What began as an international party and a publicity stunt was soon hyped into a match by the media, and the Americans won that match. They won over the crowd and their colleagues.”

Hardison, a model and associate of Burrows at the time, recalled how models then inspired fashion designers and were muses. There was also diversity with models and designers from all kinds of backgrounds, she said.

Speaking to Cleveland about his signature runway style, Givhan said, “No one could twirl and twirl and let their clothes fly the way you can.” Cleveland admitted, “It was something not to fall off the stage with the lights in my eyes. I couldn’t even see the audience and I spun until I got to the edge of the stage. I almost fell off. People were going, ‘Ahhh,’ like they were catching their breath .”

Citing the influence of amazing artists such as Eartha Kitt, Josephine Baker (whom her aunt taught Sunday school) and Isadora Duncan, Cleveland emphasized the freedom women had at the time and how modeling highlighted it. “We didn’t have the underwear that we used long ago in the 50s under our clothes then. So we had bodily freedom. My style is to have that beautiful freedom, she said. “We worked so hard to have it [freedom] over hundreds of years. I am mixed race. I don’t know what thing I am. I’m kind of all of those things, and I try to represent what that beautiful feeling is [being] at the moment in clothes.”

As a “Halstonette”, house model and muse, Royer highlighted the non-stop workload the designer and his team worked on toiling until 10am. 2am or 3am to perfect the outfits. Undoubtedly “a perfectionist,” Halston dragged Liza Minnelli into the event and wanted not only his team to succeed, but the other teams as well, “because this represented American fashion,” Royer said. “It also represented American bespoke, which is kind of the equivalent of French couture. He wanted to identify American fashion and how it can be respected and understood. That was part of the pressure he had at the time.”

However, the talk didn’t just point out the highlights – many of the show’s challenges were also discussed. When asked if the incident was horrific – noting the lack of toilet paper, the building’s chilly indoor temperature and the certain chaos – Hardison said: “It was just a shock. I don’t think it’s fair to say it was that terrible … it was challenging. That’s for sure. We had so much practice.”

Despite feeling they were not treated well by the hosts, the Americans pressed on and despite their competitiveness eventually came together to top the Europeans. The models shared a greater sense of camaraderie, according to Cleveland. “We were like sisters in love. We planned our trip to Paris. We drank champagne on the plane. When we got off that plane, Billie Blair kissed the ground. Then we got into that bus and they took us to a hotel. We were all talking like school girls – two to a queen bed…it was hysterical. All the products we had and we took so much clothes with us in the belly of the plane. It was just overloaded. We were just in showbiz. We all wanted to be dancing girls. We did our rehearsals in New York with Kay Thompson. She was “Funny Face”, Eloise at the Plaza, Liza Minnelli’s godmother and Judy Garland’s teacher. We were in showbiz, so the show must go on, and we did. We just walked into that rainbow and did our tap dance. It was a lot of fun together.”

Givhan noted how the models’ responsibilities included learning choreography and really selling the clothes, which were unstructured and required bringing them to life, so to speak. Royer agreed, explaining that the American models moved differently with fluidity as opposed to the European ones, which walked in a more regimented manner with small cards marked with numbers. Americans understood how the designer wanted them to exude what they wore. “The clothes made the models. If you look at Pat or how Bethann walked the runway, it was “Wow!” It was from the heart … many of the American models had a great passion to be able to work with their designers because they wanted to make a very complete presentation. That was a very important difference for the French, Royer said.

As for whether post-Versailles European design houses were more enthusiastic about diversity and encouraged models to show more of their individuality on the runway, Cleveland said Italy was the first country to respond by hiring black models to do the runway shows, followed by Givenchy . of six in-house Black models. “What happened to black girls with all the struggles of slavery and being hated and everything, this beauty bloomed in a way like those flowers that bloom every 25 years or so. We bloomed. They say the character of a person is like the perfume to their spirit.”

But earlier in the program, Hardison made the point that Givenchy had received some backlash for its diversity efforts.

In terms of Halston’s lasting influence, Royer noted how from its inception in 1972, the designer wanted “his cabin to be one of several personalities and looks for girls with different walks, but ones that were relaxed, fluid and hip,” she said. “The dresses were made to feel good. Once you felt good in them, you started to become the whole picture. If it’s on you and you feel good, you automatically feel a lot better.”

Fast forward to today, Givhan asked the panelists which designers they would pick for Team America, if there was a Battle of Versailles today. Hardison names Ralph Rucci, Christopher John Rogers, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta’s team (of Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia) and Gabriela Hearst. Royer said she and Hardison think alike and suggested Tom Ford, as well as Hearst and struggled to think of more female designers.

Givhan questioned what that says about the industry, but Hardison emphasized how it has always been a women’s business. “There have been great female designers forever. I always say to some of the young girls [designing], ‘No matter how it looks. It is still our business and do not let go of the reins. [But] you are right about that Robin; when you have to think so hard about [leading female designers today]. Pauline Trigère, Anne Klein, Liz Claiborne—you name it. It is not so [now]”, Hardison added.

As for her American dream team, Cleveland chose designers whose clothes she wears to events — Ralph Rucci, Naeem Khan, Anna Sui, Zac Posen, Tom Ford and now Ken Downing, who has the Halston team. I love them. I use them when I sing. I wear them when I go to events. We talk on the phone. It’s so amazing. And Mr. [Stephen] Burrows may come back with these vintage pieces, which I still wear. So I wanted them in order there – party time.”

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