Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Battle of Versailles, by Robin Givhan. Flatiron Books, 2015

In 1973, Versailles, the fabulous palace created by Louis XIV, was falling apart for lack of funds. Eleanor Lambert, the publicist for American fashion designers- a job she created out of nothing- had the idea of a big fashion show, using both French and American designers. The French, of course, were skeptical, because at that point in time, American designers were not considered to be anything but copyists- people who came to Paris to see what was new there and then went home and copied it for American buyers. This actually worked well; most rich Americans couldn’t get haute couture no matter how much money they had. They had to be Somebody. American designers created clothing that was ready to wear, not fitted expressly to the woman’s body through multiple fittings and the most costly techniques.

Five French designers and five Americans agreed to put on the fund raising show. Immediately the arguing started- what models would be used? What order would the designers show in (everyone wanted to be the grand finale)? What would the presentation be like?

In the end, the show changed not only the minds of the French about American designers- they really could create new looks! – but how fashion shows were presented. The Americans brought life to the runway though music and dance; they took the unprecedented step of using many women of color as models; they showed that clothing for business women could be just as exciting as clothing for the ladies who lunch.

Givhan gives us a very detailed look not just into this one show, but into the fashion industry of the time. She follows the lives of the designers and models, the fashion trends, and what has happened to fashion shows today. Givhan grounds the fashion in the social changes of the 70s; this book is as much sociology as it is fashion. As someone with a strong interest in both, I found the book fascinating.

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I was given this book free in return for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things affected my review.  

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