It was a fashion battle of the bands. In November 1973, American and French designers went head to head in an ostentatious and outrageous fashion show in Paris.
The competition, set up by American fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert with the assistance of French aristocrat Marie-Helene de Rothschild, was held in the Theatre Gabriel in the Chateau de Versailles. It was ostensibly a benefit for charity; the evening would be dinner and a fashion show between five French (Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Marc Bohan) and American (Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows) designers. Although it wasn’t exactly a “competition”…it totally was, and the French went into the show as the presumptive winners. After all, Paris was the fashion capital of the world.
But as with most things, the world of fashion was changing during the tumultuous 1970s. Fashion used to be the realm for the aristocratic ladies who lunch; wealthy women who change their haute couture clothes several times a day. Now,the fashion world was changing, and ready-to-wear clothing was on its way up. The French rejected the trend. The Americans embraced it. The fashion show wasn’t just about the pretty dresses-it was about whose vision of the future reigned supreme.
To the shock of the fancypants audience, the underdog Americans emerged as the undisputed winners. Their designs were fresh, their runways energetic, and their models racially diverse. Despite their catty infighting, shoestring budget and technical difficulties, in this fashion show, the Americans elbowed their way onto the world stage, ushering in a tectonic shift in the way race, gender, sexuality, and economics would be treated in fashion for decades to come.
I don’t know anything about fashion, so a lot of this flew over my pretty little head. But I was still really interested in this little slice of history, even when I didn’t buy what Givhen was arguing (she says that this fashion show paved the way for ready-to-wear clothing while also saying the shift from couture to ready-to-wear was inevitable. Which was it?). Also, I wish there were more pictures. She kept talking about these beautiful clothes and stunning models but they were barely represented in photographs. All in all, I enjoyed being in this world, which I know so little about.