The great fashion face off of 1973

Renée Gunter modeling in Japan

Not Versailles, but look at the fierceness of the 70s!

Fashion is an industry filled with big personalities and even bigger talent, so it’s no surprise that tensions rise up here and there. But perhaps one of the biggest showdowns happened in Versailles forty two years ago. I stumbled upon this story while reading about Robin Givhan’s new book which covers the great fashion face off of 1973 in stunning detail.

The night started innocently enough – billed as a fundraiser for the gorgeous Versailles palace. A beautiful setting filled with beautiful fashion, what could possibly cause ruffled feathers? Oh – did I mention – the ten designers featured were five established Frenchmen and five up-and-coming Americans? The heavyweights: Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Christian Dior (represented by Marc Bohan). On the US side: Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows. Is it just me or does this sound like the most epic Project Runway episode ever?? To top off the night, Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker both performed. Close your eyes for a moment and just imagine the scene – Versailles as a backdrop, amazing live music, and glorious gowns traipsing up and down the runway.

You may be wondering what the big deal is. (It’s only natural – I wondered too.) So there was an amazing party in France forty years ago and we had a fashion showdown – why is this a pivotal moment in vintage history? In previous articles we talked about Paris falling out of favor as the fashion capital during the war years. Well, by the 1970s this mindset was on repeat. French couture was losing its footing in a world that wanted to be less structured. Guess who was waiting in the wings to clothe the groovy masses? You guessed it – the American designer. The strong showing of American ingenuity and style that night really rocked the Parisian scene and paved the way for America’s acceptance in the couture world. But the night is also pretty epic because it was one of the most diverse runway group to date – roughly a third of the models were African American. Think about that for a moment – remember the buzz when Burberry announced Naomi Campbell and Jourdan Dunn would be the new faces for their 2014 campaign?

As with any big historical event, you have to ask – what would have happened if this face off never happened? Or if the Americans didn’t bring their A game? Would fashion have stayed within the structured, couture world? Sadly, it seems like the show of diversity in 1973 didn’t seem to create lasting change in the industry. Tell me what you think in the comments below….

Replies for “The great fashion face off of 1973

  • Lyn Palfrey

    I enjoyed reading that article. I did not know about that showdown but I love the designers who participated. It would be “A night to Remember”. I am always telling my customers that “Fashion goes around & repeats itself every 30-40 years.” Lyn Palfrey. Dressed To Kill.

    • Becky Oeltjenbruns Post author

      Hi Lyn! Thanks – I really enjoyed writing it because I learned something new too 🙂 And did you happen to see my post on the Met Gala history? The gal who organized this 1973 event also kick started that gala (and countless other things – she’s my new icon!) Oh and email me directly if you’d like to be featured on our site – we always love connecting with fellow vintage experts!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language