* The Battle at Versailles by Robin Givhan


My interest in fashion hovering near zero, it was difficult for me to read The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History with the zest it deserved, and I confess to having skim-read in several parts. However, the bits that bored me were not about fashion, but about celebrities (1973 celebrities, mind you, most completely forgotten today), and the ridiculous cat fights between designers as the French-American fashion show in Versailles was being planned — all told with a breathless reality-TV quality that explores every incident  leading up to the big fashion show. And the author tries a little too hard to make the Versailles event as seminal to the blind-tasting event comparing French and Californian wines described in the excellent  Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine (she misquotes the title), while there is little reason to believe that the two events have much to do with each other, apart from the location.

On the other hand and quite unexpectedly, I found the fashion stories intriguing, even enlightening. I did not know that American department stores, as late as the 1970s, bought licenses to reproduce French designer clothes.  That the woman who put together the Versailes show essentially invented Fashion Week in New York. And, more significantly, how fashion was changing from couture to ready-to-wear and sportswear under the influence of Anne Klein at the time of the show. The author also delves into the shabby treatment of women designers at the time, and the tribulations of African-American models, paid little and relegated to decorative roles, with little improvement to this day.

 

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