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Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution (2012)

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In an era known for protests and sit-ins, the 1973 Grand Divertissement at Versailles, made a statement of its own - a fashion statement. The legendary event pitting the five lions of ... See full summary »

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In an era known for protests and sit-ins, the 1973 Grand Divertissement at Versailles, made a statement of its own - a fashion statement. The legendary event pitting the five lions of French couture Givenchy, Dior, Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin with five American designers Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows and Bill Blass created a cross-stitch of change across fashion, race, business and catwalks. When African American models Bethann Hardison, Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn, Billie Blair, Norma Jean Darden, Barbara Jackson, Jennifer Brice, Romana Saunders and Amina Warsuma boarded the plane to Paris, they had no idea they would help change the course of fashion and pull off its biggest coup. Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution tells this story. Written by Anonymous

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Required Viewing for Fashionistas
17 September 2013 | by (Ontario) – See all my reviews

In November 1973 New York fashion promoter Eleanor Lambert brought acclaim to American design when her fashion show fundraiser for the restoration of Versailles became an important historical event akin to the debut of Dior's 'New Look' collection in 1947. The event pitted five of Paris' haute couturiers (Yves St. Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Marc Bohan for Dior, Hubert Givenchy, and Emmanuel Ungaro) against five of Seventh Avenue's brightest stars (Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Oscar de la Renta.)

Every moment of the story, from inception to after-party, is told through some very smooth edits of a huge cast of models, photographers, fashion historians and others - many of whom were there. Everything that could go wrong very nearly did, from a stereotypical icy Parisian reception of the American contingent to dramatic melt-downs and infighting that took place right up to curtain time.

The French 2 1/2 hour presentation was heavy and dull with stagey, overly-theatrical sets, long musical numbers, and formal fashion parades. This was followed by the American 35 minute presentation that used blank sets, placing all the emphasis onto the lively presentation of willowy models dancing across the stage in colourful, easy-fitting clothes. The American presentation won the unanimous acclaim of the guests who threw their programs in the air while jumping to their feet screaming Bravo.

American fashion had been gaining popularity and importance since the 1940s, but this event made Paris recognize the importance of American ready-to-wear and sportswear design. The show was also instrumental in opening doors to black models that only ten years earlier were just beginning to break into mainstream American fashion shows

The film is at its best when it lets the still stunningly beautiful models recall, almost with disbelief that they were actually there, the events of the evening. A few grainy clips and photos survive, which help to bring the recollected stories to life, but it is difficult to believe that no complete film of the show was made or survives.

The documentary slips a little by using too much footage of experts who weren't there but pontificate like they were. Also, the film drags towards the end as the message gets repetitive about how important the show was to black history. With a ten or fifteen minute edit, this documentary would be perfect.


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