Ask a fashion world insider about 1973’s Battle of Versailles fashion show that pitted five American designers (Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, and Stephen Burrows) against five French ones (Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, and the house of Christian Dior) in Louis XIV’s palace, and the phrase “a forgotten moment in fashion history” is likely to come up. But 43 years later, the event is anything but forgotten—in fact, it might well be the most popular fashion show of the 2010s. The proof is in the number of films made and in production about the night: three so far. The first was in 2012, when Deborah Riley Draper made the documentary Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution. Then came Made 2 Measure’s March 2016 documentary, which is followed by news today that Ava DuVernay will co-write and direct a film for HBO Films based on Robin Givhan’s 2015 book, The Battle of Versailles. All raises the question: Why are we so interested in the Battle of Versailles now? Or even more bluntly: Why would someone want to watch a movie about a 1970s fashion show when they could be watching Calvin Klein’s live Periscope of its ad campaign starring Cameron Dallas and Bella Hadid?
The two questions might be more interrelated than you’d think. As the scope of the fashion world grows to include more people obsessed with It girls, Vine stars, and social media heroes, so does the industry’s collective desire to reflect on what would have been epic social media moments of its past. (Don’t forget, the Battle of Versailles boasted performances by Jane Birkin, Liza Minnelli, and Josephine Baker.) Add to that the fact that the legacies of many of the participating designers continue to be talked about today, from Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior (which was represented by Marc Bohan at the time) to Oscar de la Renta. And then there were the antics. Halston threw a fit, Liza got the jitters, and Princess Grace was in the audience near Andy Warhol. Sounds like ideal film fodder, no? You’ll have to watch the two existing documentaries now or tune in to HBO in the future to see how the drama stands up.