Director of fashion documentary Versailles '73 on the runway show that changed history

Forty years ago, New York fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert set out to produce a runway show called Le Grand Divertissement à Versailles in 1973, a fundraising catwalk to save the dilapidated Palace of Versailles in France. But the fashion show -- which positioned American designers Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Halston, Anne Klein and Stephen Burrows against French designers Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Emanuel Ungaro -- ultimately changed history.

In her documentary Versailles '73: American Runway Revolution, showing this week at the Sie FilmCenter, writer, director and producer Deborah Riley Draper examines just how and why this night of fashion became a mile marker for modern couture history. Compiling countless interviews by the models, designers and major players who were there, Riley Draper effectively re-creates a very visually important moment in time that had little actual footage of it survive.

Riley Draper will be at the Thursday, January 31, showing along with supermodel and America's Next Top Model judge Pat Cleveland. In advance of that appearance, Riley Draper talked with Westword about Versailles '73.

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Westword: At the time, this particular fashion show was not seen as anything special -- yet watching the film, there is no way Versailles '73 couldn't have transformed the fashion world with all of the people who were involved -- Halston, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Stephen Burrows, Yves Saint Laurent and the like.

Deborah Riley Draper: All of those people saw the show with their own eyes. The footage was lost and some of it was destroyed in a flood, so there just isn't a lot of footage left. The photos in the film are from the photographers themselves who managed to keep a lot of it. But you know, forty years ago, they didn't realize what they were doing, so they weren't prepared to document it. Now, iPhones would have been rolling, and everyone would have had it posted on Instagram before the show was even over.

With as much as fashion is a visual medium, this documentary seems to transcend the lack of footage of the actual event -- the cross-section of interviews came together to tell the story in a way that made up for photographic evidence.

I've actually heard that a lot from fashion and film critics: They said that in some weird way, they felt like they could see what was happening through the words. They felt like they were in the audience and they could almost feel it, in a spooky kind of way.

Absolutely! The setting itself -- the centuries-old Palace of Versailles in disrepair -- came through just the way the models, photographers and designers described it.

When I was talking with Rachel [Saltz, of the New York Times], who I think was the first person to review it, she said, "This is the weirdest thing -- I felt like I was there," and she had never been to Versailles. And I thought, good. That is what was supposed to happen.

Supermodel and famed America's Next Top Model judge Pat Cleveland -- who was in the film and walked in the show -- is joining you in Denver for the screening. Were you friends before the making of the documentary?

It was through the making of the film that we have actually become friends. I met her husband and her two children, and I've seen them a lot through the course of production and post-production. She's extremely supportive of the film. She's come with me to the New York screening and to Toronto Fashion Week to support the film as well.

She really felt this was an important story. A lot of people in fashion know Pat Cleveland, but they don't know how she arrived. They just know that she's famous for being the most dynamic cat walker in history. So everyone knows her, but the don't really know her story. And they kind of see her as a guest judge on America's Next Top Model with Tyra Banks. She's got a relationship as a mentor with Tyra, but they don't really know why. She is a very interesting woman.
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies

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