Black Models Celebrated As Runway Revolutionaries
(NPR)-It was the fashion equivalent of a first-class prize fight — the Thrilla in Manila, only with high heels, not boxing gloves.
In one corner, the titans of French haute couture: the houses of Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro and Pierre Cardin — designers known for being elegant, traditional, proper.
And in the other corner, some of America’s best and brightest: Anne Klein, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Halston and a swiftly rising star, Stephen Burrows.
The audience at the Palace of Versailles that November of 1973 was star-studded, too: plenty of American socialites, one of the richest women in France, and the former Grace Kelly, who became Princess Grace of Monaco.
But as important as those ladies were, the event was transformed by the presence of several African-American models. According to Harold Koda, curator in charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, at the evening’s end, fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert, who had dreamed up the event, described it this way: “It was as if, on this cold night, all the windows of Versailles had been blown open.”