Review: Robin Givhan’s ‘The Battle of Versailles’

April 3, 2015 7:43 PM

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Review: Robin Givhan’s ‘The Battle of Versailles’

Robin Givhan’s enthusiastic history The Battle of Versailles is an effort to do for fashion what George Taber’s The Judgment of Paris did for wine: focus on a broad cultural shift through the lens of a single occasion. In Taber’s case, that was the shock moment in 1976 when California wines bested French ones at a blind taste-testing in Paris; in Givhan’s, it’s a fashion show and fundraiser for the crumbling Versailles palace, held three years earlier in its vast Theatre Gabriel. Showcasing the style of five French and five American designers, the “battle” is an almost accidental triumph for the New World, a dividing line between the past of Parisian couture and the future of American ready-to-wear.

Or at least, that’s how Givhan frames it, in order to elevate this single, lavish, rather absurd evening to revolutionary status. But her own narrative blurs that clear-cut line, making it plain that ready-to-wear was already in the ascendant before the event and that, after it, Paris remained (and ...

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