WHAT HAVE PEOPLE BEEN SAYING ABOUT THE BATTLE OF VERSAILLES?
Washington Post fashion critic Givhan uncovers a little-known piece of fashion history: a 1973 show aimed at raising funds for Versailles Palace in France. The Versailles show put five American designers on the map in an era dominated by Parisian haute couture. Givhan provides illuminating insight into the styles of each designer, such as Oscar de la Renta's "ladylike formality," Anne Klein's groundbreaking designs for the modern working woman, Stephen Burrows's colorful palette and signature jersey dresses, Bill Blass's distinctly "American—not New York" sensibility, and Halston's simple tunics and ankle-grazing sweater dresses. In addition to the designers, Givhan introduces fascinating characters such as PR dynamo Eleanor Lambert, creator of New York Fashion Week, and the unprecedented number of African-American models in the Versailles show, including "runway queen" Billie Blair. At the gilded event itself, the French designers' ostentatious display was dwarfed by the raucous American production's "spontaneity, realism, and beautiful imperfection." Givhan paints a captivating portrait of the ethos of the era, from race riots and the Kerner Report to a "cultural... fascination with black identity" and glamorous nights at the disco, with juicy tales about arrogant designers acting out. While candid about the designers' faults, this is largely a glowing tribute to five iconic artists and their legacy in the fashion world.
‘The Battle of Versailles’ by Robin Givhan
"Through her meticulously-researched work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Givhan sheds light on a period when American fashion was more than red carpet recaps and Kanye West sneaker collaborations. At that time, American designers were both trying to get their clothes on the backs of celebrities and connecting (or at least attempting to connect) to the seismic social shifts. This was represented in Klein’s effortless sportswear, which coincided with second-wave feminism. Halston’s “Love Boat”-ready tunics supplied Jerry Hall with a 1970s Studio 54 wardrobe and a served as a beacon for the era’s hedonism." -- Christopher Muther, The Boston Globe
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"The author argues forcefully that it was a revolutionary one, for the platform it gave to black models, hitherto and since frequently marginalized or excluded, and to the underrecognized designer Stephen Burrows, the gifted creator of the “lettuce edge” technique who she declares was “in modern terms, Alexander Wang, Hedi Slimane and Nicolas Ghesquière all rolled into one.”
Well, this may be a slight exaggeration. But with those three musketeers of la mode all having secured lucrative, high-pressure appointments at venerable houses, “The Battle of Versailles” also provokes a few questions: Why have French designers endured as global brands (Dior, Saint Laurent, Givenchy), while the Americans (Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Halston) botched succession? Are Europeans simply more practiced at anointing crown princes?
It’s the existential issue of the hour: livestream after death."
-- Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times
"Givhan vividly evokes a host of fascinating characters mostly unknown outside the fashion world. One, the publicist Eleanor Lambert, arrived in New York from small-town Indiana at the age of 22, “endowed with bulldozer determination, a love for the arts, and the soul of P.T. Barnum.” She went on to “almost single-handedly” build American fashion into an industry, establishing Fashion Week, the influential Coty Awards and eventually the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The five American designers who went to Versailles, naturally, were her clients."
--- Joanna Scutts, The Washington Post
“Robin Givhan’s book recounts how the French fashion establishment in November 1973 fell in love with American couture. The Battle of Versailles tells the behind-the-scene story of the night that wildly cheering French critics gave a standing ovation to five American designers and their stunning black models. Givhan provides readers with both a front row and backstage view of the drama. It’s a wonderfully fun read of how a few daring Yanks won recognition in world fashion.”
—George Taber, author of The Judgment of Paris
“In The Battle of Versailles, Pulitzer-prizing winning fashion critic Robin Givhan expertly captures the players and the scene of a turning point in both fashion and American culture, showing that chutzpah and savviness count as much as craftsmanship and refinement. With in-depth reporting and her warm, informative voice, Givhan proves that a fashion show is about far more than clothes. Indeed, as this fascinating book shows, it can spark a social revolution.”
— Dana Thomas, author of the New York Times bestselling Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster
“Reality TV has nothing on The Battle of Versailles. The year is 1973, and five legendary French couturiers face off against a team of their Seventh Avenue counterparts. There are hissy fits, liveried footmen, a party at Maxim’s, and (prefiguring “Spinal Tap”) a backdrop mistakenly measured in feet instead of meters. Halston refers to himself in the third person. A motley supporting cast that includes Josephine Baker, Liza Minnelli, Kay Thompson, Rudolf Nureyev, showgirls from the Crazy Horse, and a phalanx of dazzling black American models creates a spectacle, and the gratin of Paris society turns out. In this picturesque account, Robin Givhan weaves together the tectonic social and cultural shifts that set the stage for an epic fashion showdown.”
—Holly Brubach, author of A Dedicated Follower of Fashion
“It was a big deal when American Fashion went to Versailles…who better than Robin Givhan to tell this captivating story?”
- Diane von Furstenberg