- By The Museum at FIT
- In Interview
- On 31 Mar | '2015
– Patricia Mears noted that during the 1970s, “The rules were thrown out…I think [Yves Saint Laurent and Halston] were looking for a vocabulary, something to define the decade.” How did the Battle of Versailles help to define the 1970s?
RG: I think the Battle of Versailles captured the sense of transformation that was such a part of the 1970s. Each of the American designers, in their own way, reflected change. Anne Klein captured the new feminism. Halston was part of the rise of celebrity culture. Bill Blass and Oscar de la Renta both were examples of the distance that American designers and the American fashion industry had come. Stephen Burrows spoke to the social liberation. And certainly the black models—and their impact on the show and influence on the other models—captured the tumultuous racial climate.
– What similarities and differences do you see in American fashion today in comparison to the years leading up to 1973, when the Battle of Versailles took place?
RG: American fashion is still sorting its way through the concept of diversity. It’s still figuring out how it wants to be perceived on the world stage. Is about commercial clout? Is it a form of mass entertainment? And how does creativity factor into it? The biggest difference is probably that American designers no longer feel that they must in some way acknowledge Paris as a rite of passage. Paris is still held in high esteem but it does not dictate.
– While conducting research for the book, were there any aspects of French and/or American fashion history that surprised you?
RG: I was surprised to discover there had been a formal fashion show at the White House hosted by Lady Bird Johnson. That suggested to me that fashion was held in great regard and that it was not the third rail of politics that it is now.
– Are there any behind-the-scenes stories from working on the book you’d like to share with us?
RG: Well, it was always easy to go plummeting down a rabbit hole as one discovery led to another. It was easy to get distracted by some delightful tangent. Also, there was a lot about Stephen Burrows that I couldn’t fit into the book. He is a quiet, introspective man—supremely interesting. His business didn’t survive but his influence is quite something. He should write his memoir.
– Eleanor Lambert proposed the idea of the Battle of Versailles, and FIT Library’s Special Collections recently acquired Ms. Lambert’s archive. What made Ms. Lambert so central to fashion in New York?
RG: This book wouldn’t have been possible without access to Eleanor Lambert’s papers. She was, as I said in the book, a woman with “bulldozer determination” and the heart of “P.T. Barnum.” She believed in American fashion and she was a consummate connector. She had relationships in politics, within the garment district unions, in high society, among artists and among the fashion designers themselves. All of those connections were necessary to make Versailles happen. I don’t know that anyone else could have pulled it off.
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