You Should Be Watching: Versailles ’73

Over the years, Worn Through has featured numerous fashion related videos and documentaries.

The slew of new documentaries out this summer season reminded us of what a powerful tool video can be when teaching fashion and conducting costume research.

In a similar manner to Worn Through’s You Should Be Reading, we have decided to launch You Should Be Watching. You Should Be Watching will introduce and evaluate new documentaries and videos while also revisiting some past classics that deserve a second investigation. At times, the column will focus on a single film (like the post below). At other times, the column will review a group of related videos or movies.

We hope the content of the new posts will add to your arsenal of fashion resources.

Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution

Versailles ’73 covers a significant topic in American fashion history, which in the past has received little attention.

Image: Charles Tracy from Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced

Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles, better known as the Battle of Versailles, was organized to raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles. The event pitted five well-known French design houses (Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy) against five relatively new American fashion designers (Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass, and Anne Klein).

The outcome of the 1973 fashion show established American designers and American sportswear as a powerful force on the global stage, challenging the staid dominance of French haute-couture. The success of the American designers, largely credited to the electrifying presentations by their African American models, ushered in a new era of fashionable beauty.

Image: KAPLAN/SIPA – Oscar de la Renta’s show at the Palace of Versailles

Writer-director Deborah Riley Draper’s upbeat retelling of the events leading up to the fashion show and the event itself, utilize excerpts of  interviews with models, designers, and socialites involved with the show in 1973.

At times, the firsthand accounts can veer towards gossip but they do succeed in providing lively and valuable insight. Commentary by individuals like the Costume Institute’s Harloda Koda and designer Stephen Burrows, add depth to the viewers’ understanding of the social importance of the fashionable event.

The engaging documentary is visually stimulating while elucidating the phenomenal influence that a small group of American sportswear designers and African American models had on the global fashion industry.

Further exploration into the ways in which the industry was altered after the Battle of Versailles would have rounded out the film.

Viewing options available on Itunes, Xbox, YouTube, and Amazon. Click here for more information.

Additional Resources:

SCAD Style 2013 Panel Discussion
Featuring Pat Cleveland, Deborah Riley Draper, Stephen Burrows, and Cameron Silver
Link to SCAD’s YouTube Video Post here.

Tavis Smiley’s interview with writer-director Deborah Riley Draper.
Link to Tavis Smiley video post here.

Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced catalog and exhibition.

In addition, we look forward to Robin Givhan’s 2014 book,  One Night at Versailles: The Fashion Showdown that Changed Everything.

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1 Comment

  • Barbara Troeller August 26, 2013 02.54 pm

    Thank you! Kudos for adding this valuable resource to your site. Regards, Babette


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