Women Writers Reading Challenge #31: The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Robin Givhan


There is just something about fashion, and the culture of the 70s, and battles between the French and the Americans that I just find endlessly fascinating. I have to admit that as far as political history goes, anything that happened after the 1960s feels much to recent and much too boring. But socially and culturally, the 70s were such an interesting time. It was a time of transition, of gritty realities, of dancing and music and drugs and freedom. There was a sense that life as everyone had known it was ending, and it was up to them to make the most of it. Even though the “battle” of the Versailles fashion show was really the beginning of real respect for American fashion designers, it signaled the end of haute couture as the most influential area of design.

Robin Givhan’s book takes you closer into the world of fashion at the time and sets the stage for what would be deemed the Battle of Versailles, a fundraising opportunity to help rebuild the famous palace. Five American designers (Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Stephen Burrows) would be the guests of five of the great French designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan of Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, and Pierre Cardin) and show collections which showcased the epitome of American and French design.

What happened was historical–unthought of and unheard of. The Americans put on an amazing display from virtually nothing and stole the show. I admit I didn’t expect to be as captivated by this book as I was, but Givhan’s talent for fast-paced, interesting nonfiction made this book difficult to put down. If you have any interest in fashion history, you’ll definitely enjoy this well-researched and interesting look into American fashion’s coming of age moment.

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