“If you don’t have a high school or college reunion, this is your reunion,” model Alva Chinn told Style.com yesterday at the Met. (Hers was far more glamorous than ours: Jason Wu, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, Donna Karan, and Iman all stopped by.)
Chinn and her “classmates”—from left, Amina Warsuma, Norma Jean Darden, Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash, Chinn, China Machado, Billie Blair, and Bethann Hardison, with Stephen Burrows, center —were honored yesterday at a luncheon hosted by the Costume Institute to celebrate their victory in one of the greatest fashion face-offs ever, the 1973 Grand Divertissement à Versailles.
The epochal runway show pitted American designers (including Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and the luncheon’s co-hosts, Oscar de la Renta and Stephen Burrows) against French greats (like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, and Emanuel Ungaro) to raise money for the restoration of Versailles. But it also served as American fashion’s coming-out party, one which proved the U.S. could hold its own against France. “We were all worried [whether] we would look good at Versailles,” de la Renta said. “We could have never imagined that we would look that good.”
But if it was a watershed moment for American design, it was a landmark moment for models, too: The show featured African-American women on a European runway for practically the first time. Karan, who was a “very pregnant assistant” to Anne Klein at the time, credits them for the U.S. success. “What Versailles did was put us on the map,” she told the audience. “It had nothing to the designers, we just clothed them—it was the girls sitting in this room.”
As the girls of ’73 stood up to accept their awards, they were applauded by the likes of Iman and Veronica Webb, both of whom followed in their footsteps. “There’s so many people that helped me get my start in fashion here today,” Webb said. “Bethann taught me how to walk!”