New Documentary Revisits Famed Fashion Face-Off at Versailles

Pat Cleveland Vittadini Fall 2011 - P 2012
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Pat Cleveland Vittadini Fall 2011 - P 2012

"Versailles '73: An American Runway Revolution," chronicles U.S. designers' groundbreaking victory against their French counterparts.

There have a lot of fashion shows that have made history -- infamous collections from Yves St. Laurent to Chanel come to mind -- but the one that took place at the famed palace of Versailles in 1973 is worthy of a documentary, and it's getting one.

Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution is the story of this incredible show that took place in November of 73, when American fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert and Versailles curator Gerald Van der Kemp organized a fashion faceoff between Parisian couturiers YSL, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Emanuel Ungaro and a group of American sportswear designers: Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta. The event was established initially to raise money for restoration of the palace of Versailles -- but when the audience contained Princess Grace, Andy Warhol, Christina Onassis and Josephine Baker, it turned into something else.

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The show was nicknamed the "Battle of Versailles" because there was a real competition between the French and American designers -- and the Americans triumphed because of the models they sent to walk the runway: a group of black models that sashayed the runway to R&B - a combined phenom that blew the French away. Those models included Pat Cleveland (a famous Halston model), Bethann Hardisan, Billie Blair and an impressive group that wound up changing the fashion industry's idea of models. They also turned the Versailles event into a moment in time where American designers became important on the world stage. It's hard to imagine there was a time when that wasn't true -- but New York didn't really become a fashion capital until the mid-1970s.

The movie just finished its last interviews with the models, and we can't wait to see it when it hits theaters, hopefully sometime in 2012.