It’s 1973. The magnificent chateau of Louis IV is falling into disrepair. Unlike Americans, the French are not known for digging deep into their pockets for worthy causes. What to do??
Fashion publicist, Eleanor Lambert and Palace of Versailles curator, Gerald Van der Kemp had an epiphany. They invited five top designers from France and five top designers from the United States to a runway competition at Versailles as a fund-raiser. The inclusion of American designers also brought wealthy Americans and their checkbooks.
It was genius. French designers dominated the fashion industry at the time and American designers were just starting to come into their own. On the French side were Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro. On the American list were Halston, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta. The French designers considered the Americans “wannabes”. Halson, having dressed Jackie Kennedy, was the only one with international name recognition.
Since this was a fundraiser, budgets were tight. American designers had to share models, they traveled on a chartered plane and stayed in modest quarters close to Versailles, sharing rooms.
Amazingly, the Americans brought down the house with their presentation. Runway shows were forever changed. Black models took their place among the top models. American designers took their place of importance among the elite designers and how new collections were presented were transformed. And, yes, much needed money was raised to restore Versailles!
Versailles ’73 is a documentary directed and produced by Deborah Riley Draper. It was greeted with rave reviews at the New York opening in conjunction with fashion week. Ms. Draper was awarded CNN Outstanding Documentary Award at the 2012 Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival a few weeks ago.
Versailles ’73 is filmed in New York, Paris and Versailles. The many interviews Ms. Draper conducted truly capture the challenges and triumphs of the event. I was delighted to be a part of the pre-launch screening party at the Mandarin Oriental last Tuesday. Many of the original models, other celebrities as well as Cameron Silver who narrated were present. Look for this film coming to Atlanta soon. You won’t want to miss it!