(Kansas City, Missouri) - Fashion changed forever on November 28, 1973, when a team of top U.S. designers—including Oscar de la Renta, Roy Halston Frowick, and Anne Klein—faced off on the runway against Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, and the rest of a well-heeled French lineup considered the best in the world. The lavish event in King Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles drew many of the world's social elite.
The Americans stole the show, in no small part due to a dynamic and groundbreaking group of models featuring 10 African Americans.
Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan of The Washington Post details the spectacle and impact of that memorable night in a discussion of her new book The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History on Thursday, May 21, 2015, at the Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St. The presentation begins at 6:30 p.m.
The haute, high-fashion affair in Versailles nearly 42 years ago—when America was otherwise absorbed by Watergate and Jonathan Livingston Seagull—had been conceived as a fundraiser for the restoration of the famed French palace in which it was staged. Bill Blass and Stephen Burrows filled out the upstart team of U.S. designers. The disdainful French also had Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and Emanuel Ungaro.
The celebrity- and jet set-studded audience included Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, Andy Warhol, Christina Onassis, and Paloma Picasso.
Against all odds, the uninhibited energy of the U.S. contingent wowed the crowd. It was a turning point. The exquisite runway models emerged as stars, with Beverly Johnson becoming the first African American model to appear on the cover of American Vogue magazine the following year. The evening would prompt a major shift in the way race, gender, sexuality, and economics would be treated in fashion for decades to come.
Givhan has covered the news, trends, and business of the international fashion industry for The Washington Post for the past 15 years, winning the Pulitzer for criticism in 2006. She also has worked at The Daily Beast, Vogue, and the Detroit Free Press. The Battle of Versailles is her first book.
Givhan spoke at the Library in December 2013 on the kinship of fashion and political power.
Admission to the event is free. RSVP at kclibrary.org or call 816.701.3407.