bill cunningham's battle of versailles photos will go on display for the first time ever

66 of Cunningham’s previously unseen photos from the night that changed fashion will go on display at Savannah College​ ​of Art and Design‘s museum.

by Taylor Ford
19 May 2016, 10:50pm

Bill Cunningham was snapping New Yorkers' most stylish outfits before the pound sign and the letters O, O, T, and D ever meant anything to anyone. Also before Instagram: European fashion fans weren't able to see the innovations taking place in American sportswear at the touch of a button. They scoffed at the country's penchant for knocking off styles from Paris and Milan. And so, in an effort to raise funds to restore the crumbling Château de Versailles, publicist Eleanor Lambert dreamed up the insane idea of a France vs. US sartorial showdown.

In November, 1973, five American ready-to-wear wizards — Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, and Roy Halston — faced off against five French couturiers: Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan of Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, and Emanuel Ungaro. The competition: a series of completely over-the-top fashion shows and performances. Liza Minnelli opened and closed the American portion, while Josephine Baker represented France. African-American models walked for the first time ever. And about 700 famous faces including Andy Warhol, Princess Grace looked on — and you bet your ass Bill Cunningham was there in his blue coat with his Nikon ready.

The Battle of Versailles was a night that definitively changed the course of fashion history, catapulting America's fashion industry into the big leagues. Four years later, Cunningham's pioneering street style column "On the Street" launched in the New York Times.

66 of Cunningham's previously unseen photos of the event are on display at Savannah College of Art and Design's museum, SCAD FASH, in the show Grand Divertissement à Versailles, Vintage Photographs by Bill Cunningham until August 21st. But you'll have to see them the old-fashioned way. Per the gallery, no images from the show will be circulated, not even for publicity purposes. These are IRL vintage fashion images, #nofilter.


Text Taylor Ford
Photography Alain Dejean

Bill Cunningham
Savannah College of Art and Design
battle of versailles