How a noble fundraising effort to restore France’s iconic Palace of Versailles turned into a game-changing battle for world fashion supremacy is chronicled in the superbly told, enjoyably dishy documentary “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution.”
Writer-director Deborah Riley Draper, aided by a skillful trio of editors, masterfully reconstructs the story of this brief, dizzying period in late 1973 when the era’s top French fashion designers — Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Emanuel Ungaro — and America’s most innovative counterparts, including Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Oscar de la Renta and Halston, joined together at Versailles for an unforgettable evening of haute couture, starry entertainment (Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker sang! Nureyev danced!) and A-list partying.
But when America’s hip, ready-to-wear clothing styles and high-energy runway models “brought down the house” following the French designers’ stodgier presentation, the event catapulted the world’s perception of American fashion. The then-unprecedented inclusion of so many gorgeous African American models — as well as a pioneering black designer (Burrows) — in the heady mix caused another seismic shift.
Kicky, evocative interviews with many of the show’s still-alluring American models (Marisa Berenson, Pat Cleveland and Alva Chinn, to name a few) and fun chats with various other observers and participants, both French and American, combine to create a captivating snapshot.
“Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. At Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills.