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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Historic Fashion History Was Made When 10 African American Models in 1973

On November 28, 1973, fashion history was made when 10 African American models were selected to participate in the Battle of Versailles to raise money to restore the famed palace. The event was a face-off between old-world French designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Dior, and Hubert de Givenchy) and American relative newcomers (Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass, and Anne Klein, who brought along her then-assistant, Donna Karan).

The grand event, staged in the Royal Opera of Versailles, where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette held their wedding festivities, would soon take on a life of its own: Liza Minnelli was scheduled to perform on behalf of the Americans while ex-pat Josephine Baker—accompanied by burlesque dancers—would represent the French. More than 700 guests would make their way to the event, including Andy Warhol and Princess Grace.

Each American designer was to submit eight women for consideration in the show—and Burrows's final picks were all black models (in the end, an unprecedented ten out of the 36 American models were black). The designer downplays his role in history: "I just picked the girls that I liked," Burrows recalls. "The girls I worked with in New York. We had no idea it would turn out the way it did."

To the beat of a thumping R&B sound­track that included Al Green's "Love and Happiness," an array of black and white catwalkers—which included Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, Alva Chinn, Billie Blair, Jennifer Brice, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, Amina Warsuma, and the late Ramona Saunders—sashayed down the runway with a vibrance and attitude that blew the audience away.

Read more:

Deborah Draper, a friend of Brown Girl Collective, recaptured the magic of that historic night in the documentary film, Coffee Bluff Pictures presents Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution. View the film's trailer or watch the entire documentary here:

Pictured (Clockwise, from top left): Alva Chinn, Bethann Hardison, Charlene Dash, Amina Warsuma, Pat Cleveland, Barbara Jackson,
Norma Jean Darden, Billie Blair, Jennifer Brice and the late Ramona Saunders -- Bottom photo features several models from the event.



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