The true story behind the fashion extravagance seen in Netflix’s Halston

“Versailles is collapsing; it was there that Napoleon was crowned with the empire, it was that of Marie Atoniette. lodge, for god’s sake, “formidable fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert calls on a reluctant Halston to enter a fashion contest inside Netflix’s iconic palace. Halston.

Ryan Murphy’s drama chronicles the rise and fall of the legendary designer in the ’70s and’ 80s, with Ewan McGregor in the title role and Kelly Bishop playing Lambert, known as the “godmother of fashion”.

Lambert was plotting a coup to overthrow France’s monopoly on the fashion industry and dismantle the European snobbery that was undermining American talent by pitting them against each other in “the fashion event of the century” – the Battle of Versailles in 1973.


Known for having founded New York Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and the Met Gala, Lambert’s tour de force was arguably the competition of French designers against American designers in the former royal residence of Louis XI, which then set a precedent for the future of ready-to-wear and diversity on the catwalks.

She supported Halston as one of the greatest artists of his time and felt he should be recognized as such by his international peers. The Battle of Versailles was an opportunity to showcase his talents.

How the Battle of Versailles was born and the creators who participated in it

Eleanor Lambert and Palace of Versailles curator Gerald Van der Kemp proposed an event that would restore the palace’s dilapidated walls and exhibit the creations of some of America’s most talented and underrated designers alongside their French counterparts. . The extravagance would also include some of the best artists from Europe and the United States. Liza Minelli, a close friend and confidante of Halston, supported American designers with a series of performances.

a portrait of eleanor lambert from the fashion designers council of america
Eleanor lambert

BettmannGetty Images

Representing the United States were Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston and Stephen Burrows. Klein was accompanied by Donna Karan, then 25, who was acting as his assistant at the time.

The French designers were Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro and Marc Bohan from Christian Dior.

Robin Givhan, who wrote The Battle of Versailles: The Night American fashion fell in the spotlight and made history, described the Americans invited to share the same stage as the French as “truly remarkable”.

Givhan said Harper’s Bazaar US: Not only was the French fashion industry extremely dominant, but the American fashion industry literally copied French designs. It wasn’t secret, it wasn’t on the fly. This was done in a way that was totally tolerated by the French fashion industry. American companies paid a royalty for the right to copy French designers. “

American businessman david j mahoney, american fashion designer halston, artist liza minelli and actress marisa berenson, at the maxims private party in paris for people attending the big publicity fundraiser in versailles for the maintenance and restoration of the castle of versailles to be held at the castle

BettmannGetty Images

On the eve of the extravagance, a number of issues were brewing behind the scenes at American designers, which is also detailed in Ryan Murphy’s drama. The rooms assigned to American designers were cramped and dilapidated, and far inferior to those the French had received. French creators also monopolized rehearsal time.

It upset Halston – who was used to working in an environment full of orchids – as well as finding out he wouldn’t shut down the show (he was in fourth place). Oscar de la Renta received this honor instead, which would end with a final performance from Liza Minelli. Not only that, but it was also said that de la Renta only agreed to be on the show on the condition that Halston did not shut it down.

American singer Liza Minnelli performs on November 29, 1973 during a concert to benefit the restoration of the Palace of Versailles photo by dpa photo by dpa via getty images


Minelli, who had recently won an Oscar for Cabaret, had to give him a private pep talk to get him out of his sulkiness. (Halston is not credited as a costume designer for Cabaret; he redesigned Minelli’s entire wardrobe after she called him and told him that she didn’t feel comfortable in any of her costumes.)

Halston collected his number and the show continued.

Guests and performers

Stars in the Palace Theater audience included Princess Grace of Monaco, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Birkin, Andy Warhol and Christina Onassis, with French socialite Marie-Hélène de Rothschild hosting the event.

American-born artist and civil rights activist Josephine Baker opened the show for the French camp, which began their two-and-a-half-hour performance.

france november 28 josephine baker at the rothschild gala in monaco city, monaco on november 28, 1973 approval is required for watsa, 38 rue condamine 75017 paris 33 1 48 07 52 00 photo by daniel simongamma rapho via Getty Images

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The show put on by the French was widely seen as stuffy, oppressive and overly formal, as were many of their couture creations. According to Daily women’s clothing, Cardin had a rocket on stage, Dior a lavish pumpkin-shaped car, YSL a “mile-long Bugatti on stage” and Ungaro, a rhino pulling a gypsy cart.

They “were aiming for something Marie-Antoinette would have recognized,” Givhan explained.

The Americans’ presentations were more progressive, inclusive and contemporary – which dovetailed perfectly with their ready-to-wear designs and fashion philosophy “as a kind of entertainment and a freedom for women to choose their own style of dress.” .

WWD added, “The American segment vibrated with the vibrancy of the groovy disco era, and a more liberated view of femininity.”

Liza Minelli brought Broadway sparkle and glare to their shows, which were also minimal and sparse, emphasizing their designs and patterns, rather than elaborate sets.

the battle of versailles


The United States also had an advantage over the French with their inclusiveness, using 11 black models out of the 36 they brought with them. The models were Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn, Billie Blair, Bethann Hardison, Jennifer Brice, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, Ramona Saunders and Amina Warsuma. It was unusual for the time.

“I would like to say that he has also done more for diversity than people want to say,” said the executive producer of Battle of Versailles previously said Susan Hootstein documentary The cup. “For what it was: having 11 African American women representing the modeling industry – forget America – among all those arrogant snobs, and right after the civil rights movement.”

The Cleveland model added that the event brought these models into the mainstream, revealing In the style: “After [Versailles] they couldn’t get enough of these girls. It is especially the 7th Avenue girls who arrive in Europe after 73, and they are very well received. Things were changing. It was all about the music, the dancing and the fun people had. It brought liveliness to everything instead of just being in a very quiet fashion house; ladies having tea and watching girls walking around the room. ”

Although many laughed behind the backs of the participating American designers, the United States conquered the battle against the French and was ultimately adopted and respected by the rest of the world. Exactly as Eleanor Lambert had planned from the start.

Halston is available to stream now on Netflix.

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