battle of versailles: ava duvernay to direct film version of epic 70s fashion showdown

Ava DuVernay will direct the historic 1973 face-off between new American designers and their established European rivals.

by i-D Staff
22 March 2016, 1:45pm

On one night in November 1973, the biggest designers in the world faced off in a runway battle that would reshape fashion for decades to come. The show, aptly titled the Battle of Versailles, was dreamt up by Eleanor Lambert and Versailles curator Gerald Van der Kemp to fund the famed but crumbling palace's restoration.

It pitted the top French designers -- Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy -- against their American counterparts Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass and Anne Klein (with then-assistant Donna Karan in the wings). Each group was asked to submit eight looks per designer -- a total of 80 -- which would be judged to determine the strongest continent. At the time, North America was still considered Europe's gaudier, out-of-step little sister, but the evening would change that. 

More than 700 guests poured in to the palace -- including Princess Grace of Monaco and Andy Warhol -- to watch the contest. While the European team were tipped to win, the American designers cast an unprecedented number of black models in their show, blowing the old guard out of the water to win the night. Looking back, it becomes clear the Battle of Versailles Fashion Show helped the world fall in love with American fashion, and earned New York's designers respect on par with their European counterparts. 

The legendary tale is already the subject of a book, penned by fashion critic Robin Givhan, and a documentary directed by Fritz Mitchell. Now, the evening will become a feature film on HBO directed by Ava DuVernay. The celebrated Selma director has co-written the script, drawing heavily from Givhan's book. While there's no word on casting yet, we have a number of ideas for models...

READ: i-D speak to Fritz Mitchell about the enduring relevance of the 1973 event


Photography Alain Dejean

Óscar de la Renta
Ava DuVernay
Stephen Burrows
the battle of versailles
battle of versailles
bill blass