The Battle of Versailles was a historic fashion show that took place in the palace of Versailles, France, to raise money for its restoration. The show pitted French designers against American ones. 700 prestigious guests attended including Princess Grace, Jane Birkin and Andy Warhol. Josephine Baker opened the show for the French and Liza Minnelli performed for the Americans, hot on the heels of her Oscar winning performance in Cabaret.
Each designer submitted 8 designs for consideration. The Americans were considered by the French as just sportswear designers and snubbed their noses at them. However, the American designers and their models, eleven of them black, stole the show.
The designers were:
French- Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Marc Bohan (Dior) and Hubert de Givenchy.
American- Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Halston, Anne Klein (with her assistant Donna Karan).
The event became legendary.
The French seemed to have invested more energy into the show itself rather than into the designs. It was extravagant and formal and went on for 2 and a half hours. It came off as decidedly old-fashioned in comparison to what the Americans had to offer.
The American segment oozed with youthfulness, modernity, vibrancy and fun. It lasted only 30 minutes and was the clear winner. Their segment emphasized the politics of the time with womens’ liberation and race relations, and put a spotlight on the changing culture. It was an expression of the freewheeling, progressive Seventies. Vogueing was invented at the show with the models lining up and striking poses at the edge of the stage!
A documentary was made by Deborah Riley Draper chronicling the event in 2012. Another was made in 2016 and narrated by Stanley Tucci.
It also features in the Netflix series Halston.
Before Versailles, American designers had to prove themselves worthy of Paris. That pressure was removed for subsequent Americans, and American fashion was taken more seriously in Europe. Long gone were the days of American companies literally copying Parisian designs. They earned respect. It was also a game changer for African American models.
See what we have in stock from these designers below (click on any photo to shop).
Yves Saint Laurent
Oscar de la Renta