The inspiration came from Zendaya, who was fascinated by an epochal moment known as the Battle of Versailles Fashion Show. Back on November 28, 1973, when five American fashion designers – Halston, Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Oscar de la Renta and Anne Klein – squared off in a joint show against une équipe Française. The French stars were no slouches: Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin and Christian Dior. Each designer was allowed to show eight designs.
It was a seminal moment in American fashion, when Yanks finally believed that they could compete with the powerhouses of Paris.
Tommy’s show tonight even had a living connection: uber model Pat Cleveland, the star of the Versailles show, who stormed onto the catwalk, an illuminated discofloor worthy of Saturday Night Fever. Spinning and dancing down the runway in a silk lurex one-shoulder bat-wing cape cocktail – a latter day Sister Sledge homage – Cleveland was cheered to the rafters of the Art Deco monument.
Though Cleveland was not quite the star of the show. That accolade must go to Grace Jones: attired in a gold leotard, lilac metallic blazer and high boots, the 70-year-old performer drew huge applause for spanking her own bottom before the packed house of 1,500 in the four-tiered historic theatre.
It was here that Stravinsky revolutionized music with the world premiere of The Rite of Spring. It’s also the same theatre where the late great Karl Lagerfeld staged the first ever fur couture collection for Fendi.
The show was the latest collaborative Hilfiger venture with a global star. His two previous teammates, Gigi Hadid and Lewis Hamilton, sat front row.
“Zendaya dreamed up the show concept. She has participated in every design meeting we’ve held. She’s been incredibly active, and she has really great taste. She has 73 million followers, and since she was a Disney star they are quite young and growing up very well with her. It’s a very exciting project,” Hilfiger told FashionNetwork.com.
Pre-show, scores of rollerbladers danced brilliantly to a mash-up of disco classics, before they cleared the catwalks and the action ignited. High glam cinched disco queen frocks; corseted denim dresses; zodiac-print tops and suits; screen goddess glittering columns; gold lamé jumpsuits; and lean leather pants the models looked as though they had been poured into.
Nearly all the large cast were people of color. Many of them plus size, frequently winning bursts of applause from hundreds of people in standing areas along the runway.
Tommy even referenced his own past in a marvelous video starring Zendaya, which looked like it was shot in Soho, New York, but was in fact filmed in Soho, London. In a wonderfully tongue in cheek moment, he managed to include a poster for People’s Place, the boutique he first opened in 1971 back in his hometown of Elmira.
Tommy is clearly delighted with his new hook-up with Zendaya, which looks certain to exceed the considerable success of the Hadid and Hamilton collaborations.
The original fashion battle – organized to raise money for the restoration of Versailles – also attracted an A List crowd: Princess Grace of Monaco, Andy Warhol, Gloria Guinness, Jacqueline de Ribes and Liza Minnelli.
Those five American designers used youthful models, 11 of them black, and their energy and polished sportswear, against all odds, stole the show against the French establishment. To their shock and horror, les enfant terribles of French fashion suddenly looked like the ancien régime.
Remarkably, that historic upset seemed prescient, given the fact that the theatre Tommy chose stands close to luxury shops that were looted en masse just before Christmas by rioting yellow vest protesters.
All things considered, Hilfiger stormed one of Europe’s great citadels of culture, and wowed all of Paris with what the French love most about America: black culture, dance music, energy and optimism.
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