If you catch one fashion event this week—frankly, this month—let it be tonight’s screening of Versailles ‘73: American Runway Revolution at MODA. The film, which details a historic fashion face-off between American and Parisian fashion designers, premiered at Cannes in 2012, but tonight’s showing is special. It will accompany the museum’s current exhibition, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair, and feature a panel discussion with a designer and models who were a part of the epic event, as well as the filmmaker, Deborah Riley Draper.
Not to spoil the show, but if you aren’t familiar with what went down at Versailles in ‘73, here’s the deal: Five fresh, young American designers (Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, and Oscar de la Renta) competed in a fashion runway showdown with five iconic French designers (Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro) in a fundraising event to restore the famous palace. The French designers, long considered the masters, came out with elaborate sets, perfectly crafted couture, and immaculately groomed models, perhaps a little prim. The American designers—including the African-American designer Stephen Burrows, who will be at MODA tonight—breezed in with flowing, colorful sportswear; energetic movement; and a diverse group of models, including eight African Americans—two of whom, Pat Cleveland and Ramona Saunders, will also be speaking at the event tonight. (The French used no models of color, because it was so unusual at the time.) The Americans’ whole relaxed, dancing affair redefined cool in the face of the French pomp and formality, calling to the fashion establishment to let its hair down. The crowd, which included Princess Grace, Andy Warhol, and Liza Minnelli, went wild—and despite the French homefield advantage, the event now known as the Battle of Versailles was indisputably “won” by the devil-may-care Americans.
The significance of this goes beyond fun clothes. The event actually shifted an entire paradigm in fashion, one that not only proved American designers were to be reckoned with, but also that said, “Look at the beauty of diversity!” It broke down racial barriers in the industry, creating a social revolution, much like Eunice Johnson’s Ebony Fashion Fair.
Tonight’s event begins with a Champagne reception at MODA at 6 p.m. and a chance to view the Ebony exhibition, then a viewing of the film at 7:30 p.m. in the Hill Auditorium across the street, followed by a panel discussion with filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper, designer Stephen Burrows, models Pat Cleveland and Ramona Saunders, and Ebony Fashion Fair commentator, Audrey Smaltz. It will be moderated by television correspondent Gail O’Neill, a former fashion model, and tickets can be purchased here for $35, or $30 for MODA members.