I just heard that Lee Radziwell, younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, passed away two days ago. Radziwill (1933 – 2019) was known for her impeccable style and was even entered into the Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1994. While I was reading up on her I rediscovered this photograph of her in 1976 wearing the identical hammered satin dress by Halston that we have in the FHM collection.
Shrimpton Couture posted a link to a great snippet from Barbra Streisand’s April 1965 CBS special that is worth taking a look at. Unfortunately the original soundtrack was scrubbed and replaced with a medley of Barbra’s songs, probably for copyright reasons. Originally the sequence played a soundtrack of her singing about the simple life (Brother Can You Spare a Dime, Second Hand Rose) while trying on the glamorous clothes.
In 1973 New York fashion promoter Eleanor Lambert had an idea for a fashion show to promote American ready-to-wear. The November show was ostensibly created as a fundraiser for the restoration of Versailles but it became an historically important fashion event akin to the debut of Dior’s ‘New Look’ collection of 1947. The extravaganza featured five Paris haute couturiers (Yves St. Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Marc Bohan for Dior, Hubert Givenchy, and Emmanuel Ungaro) and five of Seventh Avenue’s best designers (Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Oscar de la Renta.)
Every moment of this story, from inception to after-party, is excitingly recounted in the smoothly edited documentary ‘Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution’. A huge cast of models, photographers, socialites, and fashion historians, most of whom were there, recall the story from the stereotypical icy Parisian reception of the American contingent through the dramatic melt-downs and infighting that took place right up to curtain time, to the thundering applause from the audience who tossed their programs into the air while screaming Bravo.
The French went first, with a 2 1/2 hour presentation that was heavy and dull with overly-theatrical sets, long musical numbers, and formal fashion parades. This was followed by the American 35 minute presentation that used blank sets, emphasizing the lively presentation of willowy models as they danced across the stage in colourful, easy-fitting clothes. The American presentation won the unanimous acclaim of the guests and media.
American fashion had been gaining international importance since the 1940s, but this event made even Paris recognize the leading role American ready-to-wear and sportswear design now had in the world of fashion. The Versailles show was also instrumental in opening doors to black models that only ten years earlier were absent from mainstream American fashion presentations. The minimalist style of the show and dramatic moves of the models even changed how fashion would be shown for the next 25 years.
The film is at its best when it lets the still stunningly beautiful models recall, almost with disbelief that they were there, the events of the evening. A few grainy clips and photos survive, which help to bring the recollected stories to life, but it is difficult to believe that no complete film of the show was originally made or survives.
The documentary slips a little by using too much footage of experts who weren’t there but pontificate like they were. Also, the film drags towards the end as the message gets repetitive about how important the show was to black history. With a ten or fifteen minute edit, this documentary would be perfect.
(Originally blogged October 29, 2008)
I admit it, I was a child of the 1970s, or rather a teenaged boy of the 1970s, which means I was old enough to buy my own clothes but not smart enough to always choose wisely (I still have a fear of corduroy and velour). If it were not for my high school annuals I would have been successful in destroying all evidence of my ever wearing beige double knit trousers with a beige turtleneck rib-knit sweater. Yes, I owned puka shells in 1975 and a gold chain in 1978, but at least I had enough sense to never streak, wear platform shoes or perm my hair.
Despite my teenaged experience of the decade, in retrospect I am beginning to appreciate the era and its fashions. We all make fun of that decade but back then rush hour was really only an hour long, television was not any better than today but it was free, and eating out or making a long distance phone call was a special occasion, not something you did in the car, while driving.
Fashion in the 1970s almost seemed to disappear; French couture no longer had any power and most of us lived in jeans and T-shirts. However, this era also produced some of the most wearable clothes of the modern era, from a simple Halston bias cut dress to an Yves St. Laurent ethnographic-inspired evening gown.