What Was The Battle Of Versailles?

Clue: far more fashionable than it sounds...


Imagine the Met Gala mixed with the Oscars and the GRAMMYs and you'll get some way to understanding exactly what the event dubbed 'The Battle of Versailles' meant in the context of fashion history.

On November 23, 1973, five american designers - Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows - gathered at the Palace of Versailles to show against the five French designers considered the best in the world: Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Marc Bohan of Christian Dior.  It was all part of a fundraiser for the restoration of King Louis XIV’s palace.


Now the historic event is being turned in to a film, co-written and directed by 'Selma' director Ava DuVernay for HBO Films and based on the book 'The Battle Of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled Into The Spotlight And Made History' by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robin Givhan and released last year.

It "took place during a time when the French fashion industry was really overwhelmingly dominant—not only because the French set the trends and really dressed the most influential women, but because the American fashion industry quite literally copied French designs. It wasn't secretive, it wasn't on the fly. It was done in a way that was completely condoned by the French fashion industry," Givhan told Harper's Bazaar last year.


"American companies paid a fee for the right to copy French designers. For five American designers to be invited to show on a stage alongside the French was really notable for Americans. It was also notable because the Americans brought 36 models with them, and 10 of them were black, which was also unusual. So much of what happened at Versailles was really a reflection of the times. It was a reflection of what was going on politically and socially in terms of race relations. The Americans emphasized ready-to-wear, sportswear and fashion as a kind of entertainment and a women's freedom to choose her own style of dress," added Givhan.

The Americans brought along Liza Minelli and 10 Broadway dancers, while Josephine Baker sang and Rudolph Nureyev danced to a full orchestra for the Parisian camp. Guests included Princess Grace of Monaco, Andy Warhol and Elizabeth Taylor. It was a spectacular that has never since been matched. The biggest Chanel production doesn't have a patch on this.

So, we can be pretty sure the upcoming film is going to be a must-see.


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