If you think Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution refers to a battle, you’d be right.
But the skirmish took place on a stage at the Palace of Versailles on Nov. 28, 1973, when five upstart American designers faced off with five established French designers.
The historic event has been lovingly, accurately (and humorously) captured by Deborah Riley Draper, an award-winning ad executive at BBDO. The Savannah, Ga., native is making her directorial debut with this film.
The runway competition began as a charity event organized by publicist Eleanor Lambert to raise money for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles from socialites and jet-setting guests including Princess Grace of Monaco, Andy Warhol, Christina Onassis, Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker.
But it evolved into an event which would launch the fledgling American fashion industry and put American designers on a par with European couturiers.
The rag-tag group of U.S. designers were Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Halston. They competed with snooty French designers Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Emanuel Ungaro.
Not only did the French admit they were bested by the Americans, but the news of the outcome elevated the American fashion industry to an international level. It was also the exquisite black American runway models such as Pat Cleveland who stole the show, getting a standing ovation from the guests. Grace Mirabella, who was present, put Beverly Johnson on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar just four months later.
The film features extraordinary, previously unseen archival footage and spicy commentary by those who were there, including: Decades owner and fashion historian Cameron Silver, models Bethann Hardison, China Machado and Norma Jean Darden, president of the Chambre du Syndicale Didier Grumbach, photographer Jean-Luce Hure and Harold Koda, now curator of the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On Feb. 12, the doc will be available on iTunes, YouTube rentals, Amazon Instant View, Sony Playstation and Vudu. For more information, please click here.
Riley Draper is in development on another fashion documentary about the mysterious Donyale Luna, a doomed 6-foot-tall black model from Detroit who became internationally famous after Richard Avedon photographed her. Despite being the toast of Europe, she was an early devotee of LSD and died of a heroin overdose (or some have said it might have been murder) in Rome in 1979. She was 24.