Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution at FIT

As a follow-up to our coverage of the opening of Stephen Burrows' show at the Museum of the City of New York, we wanted to tell you about the fashion documentary in which he appears. FIT recently hosted Versailles '73; American Runway Revolution as part of its National Women's Month celebration.

See?   We don't just go to parties and events to schmooze, see and be seen.  We do go to lectures and film screenings and book readings to educate ourselves and be exposed to different ideas and experiences.  Learning is a lifelong pastime.  And we're never too old to learn something new!

The 91-minute documentary, written, directed and produced by Deborah Riley Draper, chronicles the dueling designers from France and the US, with five of France's finest couturiers (Yves St. Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Hubert Givenchy and Christian Dior) squaring off against five American designers (Halston, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows), the last two of whom designed ready-to-wear.  Strangely, no start-to-finish film of the event seems to exist, and Deborah Riley Draper had her work cut out for her piecing together film footage, stills, and interviews from both then and now to recreate the story of the Versailles event.

Held at the opera house at Versailles, as a fundraiser to pay for renovations, preparations for the event became a contest of egos, as the French tried to outdo the American contingent in every way, even going so far as to sabotage rehearsal time (forcing the Americans to rehearse after midnight), and the availability of food.  The French show oddly included a dance interlude by Rudolph Nureyev.  This color photo captures the blast of color in Stephen Burrows' designs, as well as the very spare stage the Americans were forced to work with, compared to the sumptuous backgrounds the French displayed.

Here is a screen shot from the movie of the designer Stephen Burrows being interviewed in the film.

Those of us who read about or went to discotheques in the 1970s remember Halston and Liza Minnelli as fixtures at Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager's infamous Studio 54. This photo captures them with Marisa Berenson and another gentleman in Paris before the show.

This then and now shot of Marisa Berenson includes the added treat of a cameo of Diana Vreeland.

Model Barbara Jackson then and now. At a panel discussion after the showing, eight of the original eleven models participated, including Barbara.

China Machado then and now.

Another of the models. Doesn't she look like Hedy Lamar in her 1970s photo?

We met Nancy North at the Stephen Burrows show last week. She was one of Halston's regulars.  (That's him with her in her "Then" photo).

Model Karen Bjornson's hair and dress in her "Then" photo really capture the disco '70s vibe.

Harold Koda was one of the many commentators interviewed during the documentary who gave context and meaning to the events covered in the film.  It was the unanimous decision that the American designers were the clear-cut winners and the consensus was that runway shows in Europe changed forever as a result. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Here's a screen shot of Pat Cleveland as she looked in an interview, parts of which were spliced in throughout the movie.

After the movie - which was fabulous - please see it if you can - Model Alva Chinn joined the other seven models in attendance on the stage at FIT to take questions from the bedazzled audience.

The panel included no strangers to the spotlight. The models, the film's director and Mikki Taylor, Editor at Large of Essence Magazine responded to questions from the moderator, designer Leonard Davis (whom we met and photographed at the Museum of the City of New York last week).

The movie was obviously a labor of love. All of the people involved in the fashion show itself and in the making of the movie had intense memories and visceral reactions to the event and its aftermath. It literally opened the door for modeling to more women of color, who could compete as equals on the catwalk.

Left to right: Mikki Taylor,  Essence magazine, Barbara Jackson and Billie Blair.

Left to right: triple-threat Deborah Riley Draper (producer, writer, executive director of Versailles '73, and models Alva Chinn and Pat Cleveland.

Left to right: Charlene Dash, Norma Jean Darden, Bethann Hardison.

To view the trailer on YouTube, click here or go to:

What we're wearing:

Jean is wearing a Maria Del Greco hat, HIGH coat, Nordic House leopard tote bag and Pataugus shoes.

Valerie is wearing an unlabeled vintage hat, three - count 'em, three - coats in layers, and nothing else you can see except Bernie Mev shoes.

To put a cherry on top of our marvelous evening, we stopped briefly into FIT's gift shop, where we each bought a pair of knee length black polka dot socks.  On sale!


We made it into Bloomberg News (the .com version) of all places (no - not the financial section - the culture page).   Click here and scroll down just a tad to see our smiling faces.


  1. Thanks for sharing a piece of fashion history. Doubtful I'll see the film out here in the backwoods of the west, but maybe it will be online someday. I remember reading (as a very young girl....well, not that young) about Studio 54 and all the happenings of the glitterati, in the pages of Vanity Fair. I dreamed of moving to NYC, but it might as well have been to the moon, for this little farm girl. Now I live the glamorous life through the IFs!

    1. Please visit or download at ITunes or Amazon. Enjoy!

  2. The film is available via or at iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, or Amazon.