Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Le Grand Divertissement a Versailles

(Commonly Known as the “Battle of Versailles”)

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Le Grand Divertissement a Versailles 1

November 28th marked the 50th anniversary of the unprecedented special collection for the benefit of the Château of Versailles: Le Grand Divertissement (now commonly referred to as the “Battle of Versailles.”) Halston accepted the invitation of Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Cardin, Ungaro, Marc Bohan of Christian Dior, along with the Baronness Marie-Helene de Rothschild, to present a special collection. The event was held in the Theatre Royal au Château de Versailles and became an impromptu comparison of French and American fashions, photographed by CFDA’s 1983 Photographer of the Year, Bill Cunningham. The events included a fashion show and a dinner at Maxime, an elegant event that matched the signature, sophisticated style of Halston himself.

Originally conceived as a publicity stunt and fundraiser, it was Gerard Van der Kemp and Eleanor Lambert, Halston’s publicist, who came up with the concept and assembled the designers from both sides of the pond. Baroness Marie-Helene de Rothschild was charged with the European invitation list and partnered with CZ Guest to develop the list of American designers.  The Battle of Versailles evolved into a spectacular clash between American and French designers. It has since etched its place in fashion history as a pivotal moment, marking a transformative chapter in the American fashion landscape.

The event featured a lineup of prominent American designers, including Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, and Anne Klein. Despite their notable success in the United States, these designers had not yet attained the international recognition enjoyed by their counterparts—five esteemed French haute couture designers.

The Norton Simon-sponsored exclusive dinner was graced by distinguished guests, among whom were the Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson, Grace Kelly, Babe Paley, and Jaqueline de Ribes. Halston extended a special invitation to his close friend Liza Minnelli, accompanied by her godmother Kay Thompson (Broadway producer and author of Eloise). Halston’s entourage, featuring figures such as Elsa Peretti, Stephen Sprouse, John and DD Ryan, added to the evening’s allure. The glamour was further heightened by renowned model Pat Cleveland and Nancy North, the wife of Halston’s right-hand man Bill Dugan and an inspiration to Andy Warhol, who entertained guests with lively jazz tunes.

This ensemble, including American and African American models, played a vital role in the event’s resounding success, contributing significantly to Halston’s vision. Billie Blair, Bethann Hardison, Pat Cleveland, Amina Warsuma, Charlene Dash, Ramona Saunders, Norma Jean Darden, Barbara Jackson, Alva Chinn, and Jennifer Brice, all African American, comprised nearly 30 percent of the American roster as runway models. They shared a deep understanding that their role extended beyond wearing the clothes—they were there to breathe life into them.

Halston’s participation in the Battle of Versailles signaled a pivotal moment in acknowledging American fashion on the world stage. Halston’s sleek and refined designs, emblematic of the burgeoning American fashion aesthetic, played a crucial role in the overall triumph of the American presentation. The one-of-a-kind fashion event stands as a historic juncture in fashion, disrupting the traditional dominance of French haute couture and firmly establishing American designers as influential figures in fashion on a global stage.

In honor of this landmark event in fashion history, last night the Fashion Institute of Technology hosted a celebration of Stephen Burrows and his contribution to the Battle of Versailles. The evening included a live conversation with Burrows, guest appearances from the Versailles models, and a larger conversation surrounding the American fashion and Black models that took center stage on that iconic day.

ABOUT WITH LOVE HALSTON

Roy Halston Frowick, known simply as Halston, was an American fashion designer who started his career as an illustrator and window display artist in Chicago. In the early 1950s, Halston launched his millinery business and soon garnered a well-known clientele.  With instant success, he opened his first hat boutique on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile in the late 1950s. Soon after arriving in New York in 1958, he was recruited to the prestigious position of head milliner for high-end department store Bergdorf Goodman. His fame rose in 1961 when he designed the pillbox hat Jacqueline Kennedy wore to the inauguration of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Halston soon made the transition to women’s clothing at Bergdorf where he designed many gowns and masks for the famed Black and White Ball. In 1968, he opened his own haute couture atelier on Madison Avenue where he launched a ready-to-wear line featured in his boutique. He acquired international fame in the 1970s with his minimalist, clean designs, often made of cashmere, ultrasuede and silk chiffons that were a new phenomenon in the high society circles.  Essentially, Halston redefined American fashion.

Halston personally appointed his niece Lesley Frowick as guardian of his archives. Her mission is to disseminate the Halston legacy on the highest level.  Now she partners with fashion industry experts Steve Gold, Patrick Morgan, Audrey Schilt and Scott Vogel to launch the scholarship initiative, With Love Halston. Together, they honor and uplift Halston: the man and genius who pinned American fashion on the map.

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