November 1973 may simply be the defining moment for New York Fashion Week, the one that turned the tables around and globally redefined American Fashion’s position in the fashion universe. 1973 showcased the “Grand Divertissement à Versailles”, aka: “the Battle of Versailles“, which changed the world of fashion permanently.
The irony is that American sportswear designers –Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, and, Oscar de la Renta– showed their collections at the Palace of Versailles that year, competing against five French couturiers –Marc Bohan (Christian Dior), Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, and, Emanuel Ungaro. Look at it as sportswear amicably competing with haute couture. Even Hubert de Givenchy proclaimed his admiration publicly for the innovations the Americans displayed.
Yves Saint Lauren’s Rive Gauche line, his very successful read-to-wear diffusion line, was essentially a template of the American approach to fashion. The 1970s really changed the way business was done, and with technology came a quicker dissemination of designs and ideas. Halston’s jet-set look was basically haute couture light, yet completely American. His fashion shows became a hot commodity.
Studio 54 and Andy Warhol’s cult of celebrities elevated Fashion designers into popular celebrities and Fashion Week was no longer just for the clothes, it was the place to be. Designers from Stephen Burrows to Ralph Lauren to Oscar de la Renta exemplified the diversity of styles and clienteles. Fashion became much more democratic. At the end of the day, everything was accessible… and much more affordable than couture.
The Reagan Years, with its over-the-top Dallas/Dynasty 1980s vibe, elevated Fashion Week’s profile with a new dose of luxury and excess. The shows weren’t just must-sees, the front rows read as a society “Who’s Who.” Today, celebrities have taken over in the front row for good or bad, proof of the growing importance of pop culture around the world. If only they were as stylish as the society gals. But, as the red carpet indicates, their impact on branding is enormous and even one big celebrity Oscar image can launch a designer label.
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