At the inaugural Essence Fashion House during the 25th anniversary of Essence Festival, attendees were treated to an intimate screening Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution, by award-winning filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper. The documentary tells the legendary story of the 1973 “Battle of Versailles,” a fundraiser-turned-fashion-face-off between 5 French and 5 American designers. The event is recounted through original footage and hilarious stories from the models, designers and journalists that bore witness to the epic event.
While the “Le Grand Divertissement at the Chateau de Versailles” started out as a charity event for the restoration of the French palace, it morphed into a platform for young American designers to prove they were just as talented as famed French couturiers Yves Saint Lauren, Pierre Cardin, Emmanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior and Hubert de Givenchy.
“There are moments in history that change the course of history. That was a moment that changed the course of fashion history.”
In contrast to the Parisian houses’ extravagant runway show, American designers Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass and Anne Klein presented a stripped down show featuring eleven Black models–something very unprecedented at the time. Black Girl magic prevailed, Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison and Alva Chinn sashayed and twirled down the catwalk with youthful vibrancy and pizazz. The Americans stole with thier lineup of fresh sportswear, stunning the primarily French audience.
Following the 90-minute screening, Draper joined Chinn and Fashion & Beauty Expert Mikki Taylor in an intimate discussion about that legendary night with Essence Fashion Director Marielle Bobo.
The trio agreed that no one anticipated that the chilly November night would become such a pivotal moment in time, signaling the end of the old guard of fashion heavyweights and showcasing the beauty of Black models. “There are moments in history that change the course of history. That was a moment that changed the course of fashion history,” Chinn explained.
While incredibly proud of how far we have come since that epic night, the panelists reminded attendees that there is still much progress to be done. Taylor added that we most hold all fashion brands accountable for promoting diversity and celebrating Black beauty year round as opposed to when it’s “trending.”