Raf Simons created a Robert Mapplethorpe Collection

26 Jun

Raf Simons s/s 2017

It was the invitation that bore the first clue to what the SS17 collection would hold – a self portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer best known for his highly controversial documentation of New York’s gay and fetish communities in the 1970s and 80s. Mapplethorpe’s image and images ran throughout the collection, appearing on every garment both literally and in more referential ways. Besides the photo prints, both of the artist and of his subjects and still life compositions, his influence could be felt in the shine and studs of a leather bar trucker hat, the subtle sexuality of a thin belt worn around the neck. 

Raf Simons s/s 2017

More than simply repurposing the work, Simons expressed a desire to present the world of an artist he has followed for years to a new audience. “I want to challenge myself also for the [Robert Mapplethorpe] Foundation to hopefully make it believable to a different audience… (to) reach out to different generations, not only people who are following art.”Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons about this collaboration

Usually when I work in collaboration with an artist I go ask the artist. This time I was the one who was asked to collaborate. The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation contacted me because they wanted to know if I was interested in finding a way to do something together. As soon as we started talking I began to feel that they’re really in another world. I was curious to find out why they wanted to do this and then I was interested to see what kind of schedule they had in mind. Maybe this was something they wanted to do in relation to the retrospective that was going to open, the documentary that’s about to come out and the film that’s been shot.

Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons s/s 2017I went through all the work. Mapplethorpe kept all his original contact sheets. The archive is very beautiful to look at. Every print is in the same scale so you can see everything. There’s a huge number of books with categories for famous people, black guys, flowers, Lisa Lyon, her portraits, Polaroids… I was familiar with most of it, but there were also many things I’d never seen before. I was quite struck from the emotional impact seeing portraits of artists and certain people I admire who have passed away.Raf Simons s/s 2017

I’m a fashion designer, so I thought the biggest challenge for me was not to be boring and show Mapplethorpe’s work in a gallery again, but instead to show it in relation to my own environment.

Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons s/s 2017

Raf Simons declared: “It’s so easy to go wrong.” 

I am a huge fan of the work by Raf Simons and of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. But this time, I think Simons did go wrong. Years ago I made some clothes with printed-on photo’s of Joy Division and I can honestly say, these items were much more interesting than this collection. I wish I could show some pictures of the Joy Division items, alas I wasn’t and still am not good at documenting my work….

Simons could have been much more creative with the Mapplethorpe theme. I think, the way the photographs are presented in/on this collection doesn’t do Mapplethorpe’s work right at all.


Mapplethorpe, A Biography  

by Patricia Morrisroe

Book cover

The only biography I read as often as the biography of Coco Chanel!







Battle of Versailles, 
the Most Glamorous Night in Fashion 
History (Book & Documentary)

19 Jun

back & front cover book

The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History 

On November 28, 1973, the world’s social elite gathered at the Palace of Versailles for an international fashion show. By the time the curtain came down on the evening’s spectacle, history had been made and the industry had been forever transformed. This is that story.

Conceived as a fund-raiser for the restoration of King Louis XIV’s palace, in the late fall of 1973, five top American designers faced off against five top French designers in an over-the-top runway extravaganza. An audience filled with celebrities and international jet-setters, including Princess Grace of Monaco, the Duchess of Windsor, Paloma Picasso, and Andy Warhol, were treated to an opulent performance featuring Liza Minnelli, Josephine Baker, and Rudolph Nureyev. What they saw would forever alter the history of fashion.

Models at VersaillesModels at Versailles

The Americans at the Battle of Versailles- Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows – showed their work against the five French designers considered the best in the world – Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Marc Bohan of Christian Dior. Plagued by in-fighting, outsized egos, shoestring budgets, and innumerable technical difficulties, the American contingent had little chance of meeting the European’s exquisite and refined standards. But against all odds, the American energy and the domination by the fearless models (ten of whom, in a groundbreaking move, were African American) sent the audience reeling. By the end of the evening, the Americans had officially taken their place on the world’s stage, prompting a major shift in the way race, gender, sexuality, and economics would be treated in fashion for decades to come. As the curtain came down on The Battle of Versailles, American fashion was born; no longer would the world look to Europe to determine the stylistic trends of the day, from here forward, American sensibility and taste would command the world’s attention.

Pulitzer-Prize winning fashion journalist Robin Givhan offers a lively and meticulously well-researched account of this unique event. The Battle of Versailles is a sharp, engaging cultural history; this intimate examination of a single moment shows us how the world of fashion as we know it came to be.Models at The Battle of Versailles Bethann Hardison , left, at the Battle of Versailles


Book preview  by writer Robin Givhan:.

The most glamorous night in fashion 
history—one that put American 
designers, once and for all, on the map.

On the evening of Wednesday, November 28, 1973, as guests began arriving at Versailles, the palace glowed under a full moon and through a scrim of light snow—the first dusting of the season. Red-uniformed, saber-wielding gendarmes flanked the gilded gates, along with some 100 footmen in 18th-century white-powdered wigs and livery. The evening’s host, Marie-Hélène de Rothschild, dressed in a green ostrich-trimmed gown by Yves Saint Laurent and with solitary diamonds pinned in her thick hair, greeted her noted guests, brushing kisses on the cheeks of the French and offering handshakes to the Americans.Marie-Hélène de Rothschild wearing YSL, with Grace KellyMarie-Hélène de Rothschild wearing YSL, with Grace Kelly

The pale blue invitations with gold script had announced that the Grand Divertissement à Versailles—a lavish fundraiser for the palace and the first chance for striving American designers to test their creativity against their legendary French counterparts—was to begin promptly at 9 p.m. The dress code was black tie for men and long gowns for women.

The Versailles gala was unabashedly, unashamedly jaw-dropping. “The hype of the thing was enough to make your eyeballs go up into your head,” recalls the Texas socialite Lynn Wyatt. “You opened your eyes and you were just blinded by the splendor and beauty.” guests pre-party at Maxim's held by Baron Alexis 
de RedéGuests at  pre-party at Maxim’s held by Baron Alexis 
de Redé

For the American designers—Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Bill Blass, Halston and Oscar de la Renta—walking to their private boxes in the Théâtre Gabriel felt like entering the Colosseum to be devoured by the lions. The Grand Divertissement à Versailles had not been organized as a competition, but due to media attention and human nature, it had become just that. The American designers, who’d said yes to the show because it promised to bring them publicity, now just wanted to survive it with their dignity intact. They’d spent days fighting with one another and wrestling with sets, music, and choreography that were still in disarray. Their music was canned. They’d booked their models—10 of whom were African-American—on the cheap and had agreed to share them. Would the young women have enough stage presence to bring the clothes to life? Would they all be able to hit their marks?

The French designers—Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin, and Christian Dior’s Marc Bohan—went big. Their production was sweeping. It carried the weight of tradition. They had booked Josephine Baker and Rudolf Nureyev. But while the Americans worried they’d be dwarfed by the French spectacle, the French, who’d expected to easily dazzle and then gloat, worried that they’d overreached.

Entertainers will often talk about the perils of being over-rehearsed and how it sucks any sense of spontaneity and serendipity from a performance. The Americans had nothing to fret about in that regard. Their dress rehearsal had been cursory at best. Liza Minnelli, wearing Halston’s gray wide-leg trousers and camel-colored turtleneck, with a red sweater draped around her neck and a fedora atop her head, pep-talked the three-dozen models toward confidence for the opening number, an adaptation of “Bonjour, Paris.”holding-battle-at-versaillesLiza Minnelli performing at the Battle of Versailles

“I’m going to run out onstage and hit the first note, and you run out behind me,” Minnelli told them. “The more natural it looks, the better—just like people on the street seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Tap each other on the shoulder: You’re not modeling; you’re acting. Make it look as natural as possible.”

The models trotted out after her in a panoply of quintessential American sportswear contributed by the participating designers, all in shades of beige: peacoats, trenchcoats, pleated skirts, pullover sweaters, shirtwaist dresses with their collars popped, easy trousers, and hats—broad-brimmed, tipped to the side, pulled snug over the ears. The only backdrop was a last-minute sketch of the Eiffel Tower by the illustrator and set designer Joe Eula. As Minnelli hit the final notes, Blass’s assistant, Tom Fallon, who was -backstage, heard the audience applaud and cheer. Minnelli came racing backstage. “My God!” she exclaimed. “We got them.”

Now the trick was to not lose them.Pat Cleveland being fitted by Stephen BurrowsPat Cleveland being fitted by Stephen Burrows

Anne Klein was up first. The designer put model Barbara Jackson in a beige leotard with cap sleeves—little more than a bathing suit, really. “She had me lead the group of models downstage. She wanted me to run down toward the audience, and then she said, ‘Kick your leg up!’ She wanted people to just see all legs,” Jackson recalls. “I wasn’t as flamboyant as Pat Cleveland or Billie Blair. I had a little funky quality to my walk. I would come out with a big grin on my face—happy to be there. I was very happy to be there. Ebony Fashion Fair was my training ground, and it was more entertainment and not just showing fashion…You just wanted to walk to the beat of that music and flip your hair.”

It was quite a start for the Americans.Oscar de la Renta showOscar de la Renta show 

Klein’s so-called Africa collection included black shirts, pleated skirts with abstracted elephant prints, djellabas, loose-fitting shirtdresses with drop shoulders, and sexy two-piece dresses with coordinating turbans. While the French models had walked with regal, self-conscious slowness, hands on hips, making precise pivot turns, the Americans were moving to the rhythms of prerecorded contemporary music. Klein used the soundtrack from Scorpio Rising, a 1963 cult film about gay Nazi biker culture that included songs by Elvis Presley, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Ray Charles—artists embedded in American popular culture.

The choreographer Kay Thompson, who had starred in the 1957 fashion film Funny Face and who was Minnelli’s godmother, had insisted that the models move at top speed. “Zoom, zoom, zoom! One, two, three! It was completely different from any kind of show,” recalls the journalist Enid Nemy, who was covering the event for The New York Times. andy warholAndy Warhol at The Battle of Versailles

Originally, each designer had planned to show about 70 looks, but Blass forcefully argued for ruthless editing, believing a few well-chosen garments would have a bigger impact. Still, even with only about 20 looks each, that amounted to at least 100 exits. The models had to make whiplash-fast changes with the help of a few assistants—many of them amateurs recruited for the evening. Nicole Fischelis was a 21-year-old French kid working in the Paris buying office of Saks Fifth Avenue when one of the store’s executives enlisted her help in getting the models dressed. “I couldn’t say no,” Fischelis remembers. “To be in Versailles and to be backstage and have a view of what was going on—it was a big coup.”

The backstage area was expansive, but it was crowded and dark. There were close to 300 stagehands, models, and assistants passing through.Donna Karan, who at the time was Klein’s design assistant, was backstage, too, six months pregnant and so overwhelmed by the stress of managing Klein’s models that she started having what she described as “pre-labor contractions.” In particular, she had to get Blair out of one garment and into the next. Pronto. “Literally half of me was being undressed and half was dressed,” Blair says. “When you finished a passage, right offstage they were standing there with the next garment.

It only worked because the clothes were simple. “You pulled them on,” Karan says. “There were no zippers.” Unlike the French styles, with elaborate hooks and eyes that practically required a lady-in-waiting to fasten, the American clothes were designed for a quick-moving, independent woman. This was fashion’s future in the wings of the Théâtre Gabriel: a woman getting dressed fast and furiously.Pat Cleveland and Oscar de la Renta atPat Cleveland and Oscar de la Renta

Klein had gotten the American segment off to a rousing start. It wasn’t the clothes that made everyone snap to attention, however. Klein didn’t design showstoppers. Grace Mirabella, then the editor of Vogue, who was in attendance that night, described them as “any woman’s” kind of clothes. People didn’t remember how the garments looked, but they couldn’t forget their attitude—or that of the models. They were snappy. 

Burrows was up next. The French, with their couture models, had shown beautiful clothes worn by restrained women. Burrows was about to set those women free. He and the photographer Charles Tracy had choreographed the entire segment in a matter of minutes. Each model walked out individually wearing one of Burrows’s wildly colorful, body-conscious matte jersey gowns. There were halter dresses that hung from the neck by little more than a thread. Others were pieced together from a rainbow of fabric so that they exploded like fireworks on the models’ bodies. The rippling hems gave the garments a sensual energy.  Stephen BurrowStephen Burrows colorful show

Burrows had managed to get all of his favorite mannequins for the show; the group was predominantly African-American. The music cued up: Al Green’s “Love and Happiness.” Burrows eschewed disco in favor of soul, with its irresistible rhythms, deeply felt groove, and sensuality. Whenever he had a fashion show, Burrows loved to egg the models on, telling them to have fun and to cut loose. He did not alter that philosophy for the formality of Versailles. In fact, he encouraged them to really have fun.

Oozing attitude and confidence, Alva Chinn strutted out in a rippling four-tiered toga. She’d left conservative Boston for New York in search of freedom and adventure. That path had taken her to France—and there she was, on the stage at Versailles in front of an audience of swells. Sashaying into the spotlight with her head thrown back, she had arrived at a place she had never imagined.Pat Cleveland wearing Stephen Burrows. Photograph by Charles Tracy.Pat Cleveland wearing Stephen Burrows. Ph. by Charles Tracy.

Amina Warsuma, another black model, didn’t feel nervous. She had worked in Europe before, and she loved it. It seemed like home. She’d always felt under scrutiny in the United States, under pressure to reach a version of perfection that she could never quite achieve. In France, she could be herself. She let the music guide her. Norma Jean Darden, a Sarah Lawrence College graduate, was swaddled in a long color-block coat. She was pleased with herself, and it showed. Karen Bjornson had been trying to figure out how best to show off her bubblegum-pink dress, with its multiple slinky tiers, each finished in a lettucelike hem. She’d been watching Cleveland’s whirling charisma. The vitality was contagious. Bjornson, who was usually more reserved on the runway, was invigorated. The shy girl from the Midwest began to stride to the beat of the music.Stephen Burrows’s illustration of lettuce-edge dresses for Coty fashion show, 1973.Stephen Burrows’s illustration of lettuce-edge dresses

The Americans were on a tear. They were controlling the clothes, bending them to their will. There was no way the clothes could be stiff or static, not as those limber young bodies put them to work.

In hindsight, the kind of extravagant movement that occurred on the Versailles stage was a caffeinated version of what was happening on the New York runways of young designers like Clovis Ruffin. It was akin to the sort of posing and posturing, representing a delight in the clothes, in the woman, and in the sheer pleasure of touting one’s own glory that was the hallmark of the Ebony Fashion Fair road show and that continues at amateur fashion shows in the basements of black churches, at sororities on college campuses, and elsewhere. In 1973, Burrows was emblematic of a moment when fashion was connecting to women in ways that were both emotional and practical. In one of his dresses, a woman’s body was free. And she was on her own, for better or worse.

One of the last models to appear was Bethann Hardison. She stalked out wearing a long yellow woven dress—Burrows’s homage to Paris couture—her androgynous figure rocking from side to side in a proud swagger. She arrived downstage and fixed the audience with a death stare. And then she swiveled, the train swirling out behind her. “Bethann walked like a gangster!” Tracy exclaims. “We all backed away.” Burrows and a guestStephen Burrows, seated left

As the segment unfolded, Cleveland was revving up backstage. She would be the last model to make an exit in Burrows’s segment. Her dress, with its angled, color-block bodice, had a long, full train, and she began spinning before she even stepped out from the wings. When she emerged into the light, she was whirling like a top. She kept going, faster and faster, with the fabric of her dress fanning out around her tiny frame. As she got closer to the edge of the stage, the entire audience held its breath. She was twirling so fast it seemed as though she might spin right off the stage. She came to the very edge. And stopped. A perfect landing.

Then, as Burrows and Tracy had planned, all the models who had lined up at the back moved toward the front one last time en masse. They were an army of Technicolor creatures, swaddled in feathers, and styled like exotic birds. When they were as close to the audience as they could get, they froze. And they posed.

“It was the beginning of voguing. They were giving crazy attitude,” Tracy says.

The audience shouted its approval, and programs flew into the air like confetti.Models Bethann Hardison and Daniela Morera with designer Stephen Burrows at VersaillesModels Bethann Hardison and Daniela Morera with designer Stephen Burrows at Versailles

“Burrows made such an impact. It was, ‘Wow!’ There was none of that old regime,” Nemy says. “He was the breakout star because of everything about it: the models, the clothes. They were clothes that I liked a lot and wanted to wear.”

If the American designers were an Olympic relay team, Burrows had just given them a tremendous lead before passing the baton to Blass.

For his Great Gatsby–meets–Deauville collection, Blass relied on Cole Porter and re-created the glittering sophistication of the café society upon which the designer had built his business. His dresses fell to midcalf and had a retro glamour; they were not skin-baring and sexy. His models wore little sculptural hats with elegant netting that shielded their eyes. Even his daytime suiting had a sheen of untouchable sophistication, thanks to the tailored wool jackets that topped slim skirts dripping in sequins.

Blass also had Billie Blair.Battle of Versailles

Fallon’s only job—at least the only one that mattered—was getting Blair onstage. As he searched through the freeway of traffic that was whirring backstage, he was frantic. “Where the fuck is Billie Blair?” Fallon called out to no one and everyone. Then he suddenly saw a flash of sequins and found her standing exactly in place. Everything was moving so quickly, she didn’t even have time to reassure him as she raced to make her cue.

Blair’s hair was a glistening cap of marcel waves, and she bore an eerie resemblance to Baker. She carried a single cigarette in a holder. Smoke floated skyward; her head tilted up at a haughty angle. She was draped in jersey and sable. “When I put on a Bill Blass—the fur and the fabric and the fit—you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t the most elegant, complete woman. You couldn’t tell me anything else,” she says.Halston at The Battle of VersaillesHalston’s  segment

With the start of Halston’s segment, the Americans moved full-throttle into evening wear. The star designer had cast his portion of the show with his favorite models and his famous friends. The choreography that Thompson, along with Eula, had devised was simple but dramatic. The models positioned themselves onstage in the pitch dark, and as the spotlight landed on each woman, she suddenly became animated. She would show the clothes and freeze. And then her part of the stage would return to darkness, and the spotlight would illuminate someone else.

Halston’s music was the moody theme from the 1969 Luchino Visconti film The Damned. The clothes were after-hours sexy. Some were elegant; others were nearly scandalous. Shirley Ferro wore a sleeveless gown that swooped seductively to reveal the curve of her lower back. Nancy North was drenched in a sequined gown with a neckline that plummeted to her waist. Bjornson’s voluptuous dress was cut on the bias and benefited from her theatrical pirouettes. Elsa Peretti and Chris Royer posed together, holding cigarettes tucked into long, thin holders.A guest, Elsa Peretti, Halston, and Marisa Berenson celebrate the Battle of Versailles. Photograph by Reginald GrayA guest, Elsa Peretti, Halston, and Marisa Berenson celebrate the Battle of Versailles. Ph. by Reginald Gray

Chinn’s one-shoulder toga revealed her naked breast, with only a feather boa providing a hint of cover. Marisa Berenson’s sequined gown was see-through. China Machado’s gown—a term used loosely here—had no bodice, but rather a large feather fan set in silver that she held at her chest.

The choreography in Halston’s portion of the show took full advantage of the wide, deep stage, creating a cinematic tableau to rival the best of Hollywood. He was counting on his boldfaced names to impress his audience. But Halston had made one miscalculation. While Berenson, whose maternal grandmother was the Paris-based designer Elsa Schiaparelli, was a recognizable part of the jetset, the celebrity of all the others was lost on the predominantly French audience.Battle of Versailles

“They were next to the black girls who knew how to walk,” recalled a gloating Oscar de la Renta. “And they were flat.”

Still, Halston had done enough to keep the audience entertained, which was no easy feat since it was by then almost midnight.

In the finale of the American show, de la Renta had Blair playing the part of a seductive magician. His soundtrack was “Love’s Theme,” an instrumental soul-meets-disco song by Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra. It began with the rat-a-tat-tattapping on cymbals and swelled into an easy dance rhythm with lush strings and insistent drums. And out walked Blair in a filmy green gown, a kind of glamorous caftan, to play fashion’s mesmerizing illusionist.Models show designs by Oscar de la Renta at the 1973 Versailles showModels show designs by Oscar de la Renta

She dramatically pulled a pink scarf out of her palm and five models emerged wearing pink chiffon gowns. She produced a lilac scarf and five models swanned across the stage cloaked in lilac.

Fischelis, finally able to take a breather from her dressing duties, peeked out and got a look at what was unfolding onstage. “The model was moving with so much grace,” she recalls. “She was different from the French way. There was a ray of light shining down on her, and she was just moving her arms above her.”

The clothes were positively spare compared with de la Renta’s more recent work, which is far more ornate. At Versailles, his gowns were ethereal. For his finale, the models filed out in a rainbow-colored serpentine line—Chinn, Cleveland, Warsuma, North, and the rest. “At the end of my show, people were standing and clapping,” de la Renta said. “In Paris, they’d never seen girls walking to music. No one had seen people move in that way…There was some magic to it.”halstonwapoElisabeth Taylor, Halston & Liza Minnelli

Minnelli returned to the stage to wrap everything up. She performed the title song from Cabaret in Halston’s black cocktail dress, which was dripping with bugle beads. Then the models joined her, gorgeous in black dresses from all the designers, to sing “Au Revoir, Paris,” which Thompson had written for the occasion. “Au revoir, Paris! Au revoir, mes amis!” sang de la Renta, as he remembered how he had savored the final moments of the show.

As the curtain came down, the audience of French elite jumped to its feet. Thunderous applause and wild bravos reverberated off the walls of the massive theater. The Americans were astounded.

“The indelible impression was the stunned reaction of the French,” Nemy recalls. “The French came out with the old-glory backgrounds and those kinds of clothes. After that, the Americans came out with incredible youth—and it was like night and day. I didn’t watch the show as much as the audience reaction. I’d seen the dress rehearsal. This was a mostly French audience. I couldn’t believe what was -happening.” The guests were both vocal and physical, shouting their bravos from the great boxes of the Théâtre Gabriel and beating their hands in applause. The battle of VersaillesAudience at Battle of Versailles

“The American team won because of Kay Thompson,” says Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s partner. “It was like a Broadway production, more or less. The Americans won not because of the clothes but because of the choreography.” De la Renta also gave credit to the self-assurance and theatricality of the American models and their way of moving. “What made our show was the black models,” de la Renta said. “There is zero question about that.”

After the show ended, everyone rushed backstage with congratulations. Baker came looking for Blair, her sweet doppelgänger who had been the star of the American portion. “Where is she?” Baker asked Fallon.

“I knew who ‘she’ was,” Fallon says. “I went and got Billie. Josephine Baker reached out and touched her face. She said, ‘I came to Paris in 1922. And you came to Paris tonight.’ ”Josephine Baker performed live for the finale of the French portionJosephine Baker

The French designers were generous with their compliments, in part because it was the performance that had wowed them, not the clothes. The clothes were not feats of technical wizardry. Instead, the magic was the way in which the presentation connected the clothes to contemporary life. The joie de vivre of American fashion had been made plain by the models. The clothes had been shown with personality, movement, and individuality. Givenchy and Saint Laurent were enamored with the way in which Blass and de la Renta had allowed the models to bring expressiveness to their work, something that was not part of the French fashion vocabulary. This transformation on the runway was akin to shifting from oil on canvas to photography; there was spontaneity, realism, and beautiful imperfection.

Saint Laurent was especially delighted with Burrows because of the way he had bridged the divide between contemporary street culture and the atelier. His clothes were alive because of the models, and his models seemed relevant and effervescent because of his clothes. 

“To have Saint Laurent tell you, ‘You make beautiful clothes,’ it was enough for me. It was like the crowning moment of the trip,” Burrows says. “Saint Laurent was the king of fashion at the time.”Yves Saint Laurent at a pre-party at Maxim’s held by Baron Alexis 
de Redé.Yves Saint Laurent at a pre-party at Maxim’s held by Baron Alexis 
de Redé

The evening continued with a midnight supper hosted by Guy and Marie-Hélène de Rothschild. The multicourse dinner was held in the King’s Apartments, accessed through the Hall of Mirrors, which was lined with footmen. When the Americansentered, they were greeted with a standing ovation, cheers, and applause.

“I remember floating down in a Stephen Burrows gown with a long train that never ended. It was a rainbow, a butterfly dress. It was just fantastic,” Darden recalls. “The French looked at us like we were creatures from outer space.”Gloria Guinness and Andre Oliver at the de Redé party. Photograph by Reginald GrayGloria Guinness and Andre Oliver at the de Redé party. Ph. by Reginald Gray

The guests were seated at 83 tables, each covered in royal blue linens printed with gold fleurs-de-lis in an echo of the theater. The tables were scattered across five rooms within the apartments, which were illuminated only by warm, flickering light from white tapers in gold candelabra. There were endless rows of stemware. Each place setting included a large golden gift box of Revlon fragrances. The guests dined on assorted pâtés, smoked fish, truffle-infused ham, chilled beef and duck, and desserts that reminded Darden of spun gold. It was all accompanied by a steady stream of 1965 Château Lafite Rothschild and 1969 Bollinger champagne.

Karan couldn’t stop staring at the haute cuisine and the formal settings. “The portions were this big,” she recalls, making a teeny-tiny circle with her fingers. “There were 12 forks and 13 spoons!” 

There was no toast that evening, no pronouncement of a winner in the runway battle. There was just the insistent chatter of more than 800 guests and models against the background of unobtrusive music.

“The Americans were in seventh heaven, drunk with joy. They’d had a remarkable exhibition of clothes and creativity,” Nemy recalls. “The French were happy too—not miserable. The Americans knew what they had done.”

On that snowy night at Versailles, the American designers shone brightly onstage. Black models were a triumph, a thunderclap of glory. The tale unfolded in France, but the story was wholly American: a culmination of social shifts, ambition, idealism, and magic.

The Battle of Versailles


Book review

Robin Givhan, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for her Washington Post fashion criticism, has done the hard work. In The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled Into the Spotlight and Made History, Givhan distills cogent points about fashion against a backdrop of one real-life glittering showdown in Paris.

It’s educational, but this is no textbook. Versailles is full of intrigue and tension, fashion designers Mean Girl-ing each other, Oscar de la Renta and Halston getting in delicious snits. Liza Minnelli and Josephine Baker show up. So do Andy Warhol, Rudolph Nureyev and Kay Thompson, fraught with plastic surgery but full of Funny Face energy.

The story revolves around a 1973 fundraiser to restore Versailles, the palace of King Louis XIV of France. Eleanor Lambert (and Versailles curator Gerald Van der Kemp), probably the most effective fashion PR woman in American history, dreamed up the idea.

Eleanor LambertEleanor Lambert

Lambert was on a mission to raise the profile of the American fashion designers she represented. And to do that, she knew she had to conquer France.

Why? Well, here’s why Givhan’s book should be required reading for all fashion students, or anyone who considers themselves fashion-literate.

Paris dictated fashion for the entire Western world. The word “couture” has become an annoying mall catchall, but couture is actually a revered French tradition centered around a religious devotion to personalization and fit. American department stores just copied the work from ateliers like Dior and Balenciaga, literally, and Givhan explains how.

But changing social norms, sexual freedoms, civil rights and advancements of women in the workplace began to change how people dressed. That ushered in more creativity and caused a market for ready-to-wear items. The whole thing made French traditionalists uneasy, even while their own customers became interested in things off racks.

Then came Versailles. The event was never marketed as a Franco-American war, but of course that’s what it was. In some ways it was even bloodier, because it was passive-aggressive.

Ten designers came to Versailles from France and America. Givhan explores each of the American designers, from egomaniac Halston to reliable Bill Blass to helpful yet proud de la Renta to aimless upstart Stephen Burrows. They all had disdain for the fifth designer on the bill, career clothier Anne Klein, who dared to present — shudder — separates.Baron Guy de Rothschild, curator of the Versailles gerald van der Kemp and Grace KellyBaron Guy de Rothschild, curator of the Versailles Gerald van der Kemp and Grace Kelly

A cadre of new black models shook up the American presentation, bringing personality and a dance sensibility to the stage. The wild spectacle played against the palatial backdrop of Versailles, pitted against the couture of Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Pierre Cardin.

Givhan’s depth of reporting is evident. She offers many names to keep track of, but tells the story with a chatty sensibility that never feels slow.

Versailles is a treasure trove of interviews, from Klein’s then-assistant Donna Karan, to de la Renta, who died in 2014. The book has a tone of affinity for de la Renta, whom Givhan describes even at the end of his career as the “sometimes grumpy, always charismatic eminence gris.”

Versailles offers plenty of cocktail party tidbits: the fact that Burrows created his famous “lettuce hem” by accident; that France removed a law banning trousers on women only in 2013.

And then there are the bigger points Givhan makes. Did the American pluck shown at Versailles transfer to our current celebrity-driven fashion world? Were the black models really revolutionary, or simply a fleeting oddity for the bored and gilded crowd? What is fashion’s state of diversity today, and what does it say about the things we hold important?

They are questions worth asking, even for those who are not sure why.



DVD cover

The documentary Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution is for sale on Amazon.com & iTunes.

Website: http://www.versailles73movie.com/




Ulyana Sergeenko, Couture Collector & Street-Style Star turned Designer

12 Jun

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko (born 30 August,1981 in Kazakhstan, Russia), the wife of billionaire insurance oligarch, Danil Khachaturov, first came to the fashion world’s attention, not as a designer but as an elite shopper. From around 2011, she graced the front row of the couture shows, diligently attending Dior, Valentino and Jean Paul Gaultier, among others, and just as diligently changing her outfits several times a day.  With her old school glamour (big swooshy skirts, small, feminine waists, and  limousine-only shoes) she became one of  the first social media style stars and according to her telling, soon grew frustrated that pieces she had collaborated on with designers  were later appearing in collections with no credit given to her contributions……

Ulyana Sergeenko Street Style Star

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

Ulyana Sergeenko

So she did what any sensible billionaire fashionista would do and launched her own label. And not in an unassuming, quiet way with private one-to-one appointments, but with a full catwalk attack.

While it’s impossible to estimate her commercial success (like all couture labels, this one is uncommunicative when it comes to  the nitty gritty of actual numbers), it undeniably has its followers, not least among them fellow Russian Natalia Vodianova who, being married to Antoine Arnault, son of Bernard, has her pick of LVMH’s sprawling stable of high end French designers.

Natalia Vodianova in Ulyana Sergeenko couture

Natalia Vodianova in Ulyana Sergeenko couture

natalia vodianova wearing ulyana sergeenko couture

Sergeenko’s front row featured Carine Roitfeld, Grace Coddington, and a coterie of her own high-spending countrywomen, who give Sergeenko a standing ovation when she comes out for her bow. Clients are Beyonce, Dita von Teese, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga and around 160 or so other.

The make of these clothes – all produced in Moscow, where Sergeenko employs some 100 seamstresses – is impressive, often highlighting traditional Russian crafts. As for the aesthetics: these veer towards the traditional: wasp waists, sweetheart necklines, richly embellished fabrics. Her collections embraced its Russian heritage – flounced gypsy skirts, pixilated embroideries, filmy, puff-sleeved negligees, hand-made lace tunics – and a richesse of bustiers.

What Sergeenko lacks in formal training, she makes up for with conviction.

Fall 2011 Collection

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Fall 2012 Collection

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Spring 2013 Collection

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Fall 2013 Collection

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Spring 2015 Collection

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Spring 2016 Collection

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official website: http://ulyanasergeenko.com/

ulyana-sergeenkoUlyana Sergeenko





James Galanos, one of History’s great American Fashion Designers

5 Jun
James-GalanosJames Galanos, ph. Richard Avedon, 1975

Hubert de Givenchy, the illustrious French couturier, ones looked at an inside of a James Galanos garment and exclaimed “… we don’t make them this well in Paris!”


Short Biography

James Galanos was born in 1924 in Philadelphia, PA. After graduation from high school in 1942, Galanos enrolled at the Traphagen School of Fashion, in New York City. He completed two semesters before leaving to gain experience as a designer at the New York East 49th Street emporium of Hattie Carnegie. His job there turned out to be more clerical than creative, and, disappointed, Galanos left.

After a failed launch of a ready-to-wear dress business by textile magnate Lawrence Lesavoy, the intrepeneur agreed to send the 24-year-old Galanos to Paris, just as couture houses there were rebounding from the war. Couturier Robert Piguet absorbed the American into his stable of assistants, among whom were Pierre Balmain, Hubert de Givenchy and Marc Bohan. At the Piguet atelier, Galanos met with fabric and trimming suppliers to choose materials, sketched and draped up designs under the eye of Piguet, who oversaw his work on a daily basis.

American fashion designer James Galanos with supermodel Dovima in his studio, 1960.James Galanos with supermodel Dovima in his studio, 1960

In 1948, Galanos decided to return to the U.S and accepted a job with Davidow, a dress-making firm in New York. The new job allowed him very little creativity, and he resigned shortly.

In 1951, James Galanos decided to take a shot at California, and when the opportunity arose for him to open his own company, Galanos Originals, in 1952, he created a small collection, which was immediately ordered by Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. He then opened his New York showroom where a Neiman Marcus clothing buyer discovered him and predicted his styles would soon “set the world on fire.” Stanley Marcus, the president of Neiman Marcus, agreed and soon proclaimed that the greatest and most treasured luxury in the world for a woman to have would be a dress by James Galanos. Legendary magazine editors and style arbiters such as Diana Vreeland, Eleanor Lambert and Eugenia Sheppard became fans, ensuring that he would become a household name within months. From this first collection, his clothing has been admired for its particularly high quality, especially considering it was ready-to-wear, not custom-made. His chiffon dresses in particular made his reputation in the early 1950s, with their yards of meticulously hand-rolled edges. Many designers worked with chiffon, but Galanos was a true master of the genre.

Chiffon dresses 

1970's James Galanos


1959-61 2

1960In 1953, Galanos embarked on another venture altogether – he began designing for movies. His first job was to create costumes for Rosalind Russell, the star of the forthcoming film “Never Wave at a WAC.” Russell, who at that time was considered the best-dressed of all American actresses, loved Galanos’ designs, and she became his friend and a loyal client.

Galanos gathered some of the most talented craftsmen available in his workrooms; many were trained in Europe or in the costume studios of Hollywood, for whom he continued to design from time to time. Nondas Keramitsis, Galanos’ head tailor, moved to Los Angeles from his native Greece to make women’s clothing. He had heard about Galanos through relatives and soon started working with him in his Los Angeles studio. Keramitsis and a crew of about 22 tailors he oversaw made everything by hand. If Galanos’ work was compared to that of anyone else, it was compared to French haute couture. His business was more comparable to a couture house than a ready-to-wear manufacturer; there was a great amount of hand work in each garment, and all of his famous beadwork and embroidery was done by his staff. Galanos always chose fabrics and trimmings personally during trips to Europe and Asia. Though he constantly looked for the best fabrics, Galanos often felt compelled to create his own. So he would make jackets out of different colored ribbons to toss over his chiffon dresses in impressionist colors. Or he would cross black satin ribbons over black lace for the bodices of delicately frothy short evening dresses. He often lined his dresses with silks that other designers used for dresses themselves, and he was always a firm believer in the importance of hidden details. These details made a difference in the feel of the clothes on the body and the hang of the fabric, and his clients all over the world were willing to pay a great deal for them. Details that were not hidden included sequins, feathers, metallic brocades and laces. He often balanced his most glittering dresses with quiet tie-dyed velvet sheaths and long, clingy styles in black crepe or crushed velvet. “Galanos: Perfection, and Lots of It,” read the headline in The New York Times after Galanos’ show of some 200 designs in 1988. “While he travels to Europe for his fabrics – many are the same as those used in the Paris couture collections – most of Galanos’s designing is done in California,” reported the Times. “His standards are as high as those found anywhere in the world. If a comparison is made, it is usually with the Paris couture. It is reasonably astonishing that an American designer of ready-to-wear should merit that kind of homage over so long a period of time.”


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James Galanos, 1970, American, denim and sable fur

Galanos was also famous for his exquisite furs. He used mainly mink, sable, lynx and broadtail and handled the furs imaginatively, as if they were fabric. He smocked and quilted the surfaces, nipped the waistlines and used drawstrings, ruffles and capelets to give a strong fashion slant to all that opulence. He often designed for Peter Dion, the furrier who made sure that the quality of the pelts and the workmanship supported the innovative design. At the top of the line were coats made of lynx bellies, so soft and fluffy they looked airborne. The short style was selling for $200,000, the long one – for $300,000. The fitted coat was a Galanos specialty, successful in almost any fur, including fox.

Coctail dresses

1963-641963-'64james galanos


Galanos was also famous for his exquisite furs. He used mainly mink, sable, lynx and broadtail and handled the furs imaginatively, as if they were fabric. He smocked and quilted the surfaces, nipped the waistlines and used drawstrings, ruffles and capelets to give a strong fashion slant to all that opulence. He often designed for Peter Dion, the furrier who made sure that the quality of the pelts and the workmanship supported the innovative design. At the top of the line were coats made of lynx bellies, so soft and fluffy they looked airborne. The short style was selling for $200,000, the long one – for $300,000. The fitted coat was a Galanos specialty, successful in almost any fur, including fox.

Many of the world’s most socially prominent women were Galanos customers. “James Galanos designs for wealthy women who go to luncheons and cocktail parties, dine at the finest restaurants and are invited to the best parties,” reported The New York Times. “His clothes are rarely seen in business offices. It isn’t only because of the five-figure price tags, although they are daunting to all but the highest-paid executives. It’s also the glamour quotient of the clothes.” Galanos agreed, “I design for a very limited group of people,” he told Time magazine in 1985.

Evening wear

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Aurora Borealis by James Galanos 19591959

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James Galanos
James Galanos
In the 1980s, Galanos made national headlines as First Lady Nancy Reagan’s favorite designer. The fact that Mrs. Reagan wore a 14-year-old Galanos gown to her first state dinner at the White House attested to the timelessness and durability not only of his workmanship, but more importantly, of his design. This type of occurrence was commonplace among his faithful customers, which included Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Grace Kelly, Diana Ross, Betsy Bloomingdale, Rosalind Russell, Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Lamour, Judy Garland, Loretta Young, Ali MacGraw, Ivana Trump, Carolyne Roehm, Kim Basinger, Arianna Huffington and many other notable personalities and film and media stars.

Nancy Reagan wearing a dress by James Galanos, photographed by Horst P. Horst, Vogue, May 1981.Nancy Reagan in a dress by James Galanos, ph. Horst P. Horst, Vogue, May 1981
Despite his retirement in 1998, Galanos continues to make his presence known in the fashion world. In 2002, he blasted the fashion industry for catering to only young women with perfect bodies. In an interview with WWD over lunch at the Pierre Hotel in New York he asked the reporter, Eric Wilson, shaking his head in contempt, “How many women can wear just a patch over their crotch and a bra? Aren’t you embarrassed when you see a young girl walking down the street practically naked? Fashion is geared only to young people today,” Galanos continued. “All we see is Levi’s and bare bellies to the point of nausea. There are no clothes for elegant women. Let’s face it, some of the things you see in the paper are absolutely monstrous looking – and I’m not squeamish. God knows I made sexy clothes in my day, but there’s a point when you have to say, ‘Enough, already’.”

“While he officially retired in 1998,” wrote Alix Browne in The New York Times, “he shows no signs of falling out of fashion.”.Galanos’s vintage gowns remain chic, sought after and popular among the international jet-set, Hollywood stars and supermodels.

Vintage James Galanos can be found on: http://www.shrimptoncouture.com/collections/designer-galanos

vintage-red-carpet-amber-valettaAmber Valetta wearing vintage James Galanos
celine-vintage-jamesgalanosCeline Dion wearing vintage James.

1961James Galanos with model, 1961

Paper-Cut-Project, amazing handmade Paper Wigs & Masks

29 May
Paper cut projectMarie Antoinette paper wig
Duo Amy Flurry and Nikki Salk, aka the Paper-cut-project. The former fashion writer and local boutique owner, formed an artistic partnership to create handmade paper sculptures and installations in the midst of a free-falling economy in 2009.

“It was a glum moment, but both of us still needed an outlet for our creativity. So we got together and imagined one that nobody was directing but us,” says Flurry.

Their first job: Design windows for the New York and Atlanta outposts of Jeffrey, the longtime arbiter of high-end women’s fashion in Atlanta. “We had a plan for a window and thought that maybe we could convince someone to go along with,” says Flurry. “Then, we thought: ‘The Jeffrey window.’ They knew both Nikki and I, and on trust and with a little bit of collaborative effort with their visual director, they gave us the windows in New York and in Atlanta.”

Wigs for the Jeffrey Windows




Since then, Flurry and Salk, a formally trained artist, have cut their way through commissions for some of fashion’s most recognizable and respected names: a mess of Shirley Temple curls in a bouffant for a holiday window display at the Bay; strands of coal-black hair for a series of wigs for Kate Spade; an exclusive collection of animal masks for Hermès.

Animal Masks for Hermès



Horse 2

Any given Paper-Cut-Project sculpture can be made up of thousands of hand-cut, hand-placed, hand-glued pieces, the final work sometimes taking upward of 80 hours to create. And the duo doesn’t have six months to create seven pieces when Italian Vogue comes knocking. Paper-Cut-Project does it in a month. 

Vogue Italia, ph. by Greg Lotus

Paper-cut-project, ph. by Greg Lotus, Vogue Italia

Paper-cut-project, ph. by Greg Lotus, Vogue Italia

Paper-cut-project, ph. by Greg Lotus, Vogue Italia

Paper-cut-project, ph. by Greg Lotus, Vogue Italia

“For the two of us to work together, it is this very fluid knowing because we’ve done it together from the start. It would be almost impossible to bring somebody else in because it’s a piece-by-piece, cut-by-cut situation,” says Flurry. “People look at these pieces, and they think, ‘You must have had a whole crew of people sitting around cutting this stuff.’ It couldn’t work that way.”

And then Christie’s called. The elite New York auction house phoned the duo during the last-minute prep for its high-profile sale and exhibit of Elizabeth Taylor’s couture collection. “They had all these exquisite jewels for couture on the mannequins, and they looked goofy without something on the head,” Flurry says. They knocked out four pieces in two weeks, including a daisy-adorned ponytail to top Taylor’s lemony chiffon sundress she wore for her first wedding to Richard Burton.

Wigs for the “Hollywood Costume” exhibit at the V&A

BarryLyndonBarry Lyndon ElizabethGoldenAgeFrontElisabeth, the golden age BirdsBirds VirginQueenThe Virgin Queen shakespeare in love, ElisabethShakespeare in Love, Elisabeth Shakespeare in love, JosephShakespeare in Love, Joseph GangsofNewYorkGangs of New York CamelotCamelot (front) CamelotCamelot (back)

The duo was also commisioned by Valentino and collaborated with the Victoria & Albert museum, a 16-piece collection of paper wigs for their “Hollywood Costume” exhibit.



The Paper-cut-projectAmy Flurry and Nikki Salk, ph. by Caroline Petters