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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Versailles '73 American Runway Revolution

When you think of the runway today, most likely you imagine tall, thin models stomping down the catwalk, glaring at you as they stop and turn in a pouty way.  Amazon-like, these creatures can be a little intimidating.

But it wasn't always like that. And after seeing the film documentary, Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution, now I know why.  Shown as a special screening at Soho House in Los Angeles in their intimate and cozy theater, director and visionary, Deborah Riley Draper, has created a film that captures a historical moment in fashion. The American world of ready-to-wear American Sportswear faces the Parisian haute couture creme de la creme in the epicenter of fashion.  Namely at the Palais de Versailles.  The same palace where Marie Antoinette donned her exquisite robes, chapeaux, and parasols - not to mention bijoux.

The film is beautifully narrated by Cameron Silver in his smoothest velvet voice, describing the rhymes and reasons of the meeting.  Apparently, there were some renovations that needed to be done in 1973 to Versailles, so the ultimate fundraiser was created.  Putting together a guest list of the who's who of the world, Eleanor Lambert (American publicist) and Gerald Van der Kemp (Versailles curator) created a fundraising pool of the most wanted in the world - and perhaps accidentally created the biggest change to the fashion runway. The idea was to have French and American designers showcase their designs on the stage at Chateau Versailles, to be followed by a dinner of the rich and powerful.  

Jane Birkin performing with models
The French designers: Yves St. Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin and Emanuel Ungaro.  Fearing that the Americans would put together a splashy show of movie stars, musicians etc, the French team assembled their own stars.  Josephine Baker sang J'ai Deux Amours, Rudolph Nureyev danced, huge set designs embellished the stage, and Paris Couture was modeled in its most traditional manner.  Their portion of the event was over two hours.  

The American designers: Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston and Stephen Burrows.  Strapped with a small budget, the American team had to use models they could afford.  And this included some of the most beautiful African American models who were rarely seen in the Paris fashion world.  They were a group of young girls who had to navigate through a foreign language, a culture of fashion that would scare off anyone, and the drama of artistic egos fighting to make themselves known in Paris.  

Liza Minnelli opened singing Bonjour, Paris (from the film Funny Face) alongside the models.  The show ran swiftly from designer to designer, ending with the looks from Stephen Burrows, who created chiffon dresses with trains, growing in length as each model came out.  Unlike the Couture models who moved slowly and methodically to show the precision of the clothes, these girls came out with a  vengeance, walking like thoroughbreds down the stage demanding attention.  

This stare, this walk had never been done before.  Simultaneously, the American sportswear designs were also fresh and new.  The Americans had come to Versailles like nervous cats and came out like victorious lions.  The audience rose to their feet, throwing their programs in adoration.  And of course the party began.

Ms. Draper commented that she had been inspired to make the film after reading an article on a luncheon held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January 2011, honoring the models of Versailles.  The story is intriguing and she captured the excitement and 'revolution' that happened that night.  She mentioned to me that her personal lesson from the project was to stay true to who you are and follow your dream or vision, even if no one else can see it.  Something so simple that truly takes all of your inner strength and courage.  

Co-hosts Cameron Silver and Mikki Taylor
Producer/Director Deborah Riley Draper
Marisa Tomei
Jennifer Tilly 
Jessica Robin Trent and Meredith Tomkins 
After the screening, all of the guests joined from a round of cocktails in celebration.  Perhaps not in the style of Versailles, but Soho house does offer dramatic views of the LA cityscape.  Guests included were Traci Ross, Jennifer Tilly, Marisa Tomei and more.  I had the disticnt pleasure of sitting with Raf Simons (my new favored designer from Dior) and his friends/staff.  And our co-hosts Cameron Silver and Mikki Taylor.  Sort of a mini-Versailles '73...

The film will premiere in Atlanta, GA on Tuesday, September 4.  

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