Directed by one of the most prolific documentary filmmakers, Fritz Mitchell, “Battle at Versailles” is a long-form documentary about the fashion industry in the 70’s. The film presents the story behind the first fashion show in 1973 at the Palace of Versailles, France. During the fashion show, five French designers were competing against five designers from America to decide who had more to offer. In fact, this film is more a story about how these American designers worked to prove themselves as worthy competitors in the fashion scene, as well as to show how big of the impact these five designers had on fashion in Paris and France in general.
The film starts by introducing the audience to a publicist Eleanor Lambert, one of the organizers of the fashion show. We discover that this show was designed as a way to raise money in order to help restore the decaying palace. Later, the narrator, Stanley Tucci, introduced all the people that were involved in the show. Starting with the French team; Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, and Marc Bohan for Dior. This team decided to present their designs in a traditional way. The other team, consisting of Stephen Burrows, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Halston on another hand wanted to push the boundaries to show forward-thinking, and creativity throughout their portion of the show.
Photo courtesy of agnautacouture.com
Bethann Hardison, a former fashion model at the Battle of Versailles
Next, Tucci introduces us to the fashion world of the current era. We are told that in the 1970s American designers didn’t have a lot of respect in France. American designers were portrayed as less talented and less experienced, who needed to earn recognition if they wanted to compete in the fashion industry. While this fashion show offered a chance at earning this recognition, not all American designers and models accepted the offer to join the show for free. However, the interviews from the models and designers that were a part of that show give the us a first hand insight into to the 28th of November, 1973 and what it actually took for Americans designers to pull off a show that later turned out to be an event that change the fashion industry forever.
Photo courtesy of Vogue/Made to Measure
Liza Minnelli, an American actress and singer performing at the Battle of Versailles
Looking at the film as a whole there is a lot that can be said about this piece. From the fact that Fritz Mitchell hasn’t present any new approach to the already well know story, to the fact that the same people were interviewed for a similar documentary in 2012. However one thing that can’t be criticized is the consistent mood and feeling the audience gets from watching this film. All the images and shots taken specifically from this piece are simple, clean and kept in the same color scheme. Surprisingly, even though original pictures and clips from the show are incorporated into the interviews footages, you still get the feeling that they belong and work well together. The piece is gorgeous to look at, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is the after taste of unfulfilled expectations.
Pros of watching “Battle at Versailles”:
- The music is definitely the strongest part of the whole piece. The background music work really well with the interviewers and vice versa.
- The film is a cohesive and pleasant experience.
- An interesting introduction that consists of 150 seconds that are mainly clips that were edited together in the style of a trailer.
Cons of watching “Battle at Versailles”:
- The director went over a story that has been already told in multiple ways before, including documentary approach without really showing anything new.
As a conclusion “Battle at Versailles” is a visually pleasant piece that clearly introduces the fashion show of 1973. However the film does primarily focus on the American point of view. Unfortunately there are not enough opinions or interviews from those associated with the French team that could help support or refute the film maker’s main argument of whether or not the American victory over the French was such a big success. The phrase mentioned at the end “French show was one that your mother and grandmother would go to, while American on the other hand was a show you would took your daughter to.” Whether or not French designers needed to accept the Americans superiority, the fact is that it the fashion show in Versailles from 1973 was a turning point in the fashion industry and this documentary managed to present that really well.
Follow the link to watch the full documentary. Let me know what’s your opinion below.