Back in the day, like every young “fashionista”, living for everything fashionable, we talked endlessly about fashion designers, models, photographers and illustrators, from our lofty perch at the WWD art department. With a front seat to everything new and cultural on the horizon, we were consumed with the impending showdown at Versailles…where five young fashion forward designers and their coterie of black models were throwing down the gauntlet to French counterparts, in November of 1973. The brainchild of Eleanor Lambert, the event changed the dynamics of the fashion world, by casting the American designers as creators of youthful style and energy. The distinguishing crux of this turning axis was the inimitable verve of the sashaying young black beauties, that re-calibrated that moment, in fashion, into what the future of beauty and style would become. Billie Blair, Alva Chinn, Pat Cleveland, Norma Jean Darden, Barbara Jackson, China Machado, Bethann Hardison, Charlene Dash, Ramona Saunders, Jennifer Brice and Amina Warmsuma – wearing Stephen Burrows, Oscar De La Renta, Halston, Anne Klein (Donna Karan was her assistant then) and Bill Blass – waltzed down that runway and into fashion history. Knowing they had won the contest between the American and French design houses, but unaware of how much they had truly recast the nature of the business, they soon found themselves and others on every runway and fashion magazine in the world, bringing cultural diversity and vibrancy to life, everywhere.

The historic significance of that moment was celebrated in high style at the Metropolitan Museum, through the tireless efforts of Donna Williams, our hostess and Chief Audience Development Officer, along with Thomas Campbell and Harold Koda. The light filled setting for the luncheon in the Temple of Dendur brought together style setters, designers, writers, journalists, celebrities and artists who shared an appreciation for these beautiful pioneers and what they had done. The American spirit was alive in the room, and reminds me of what we are capable of doing when the odds are against us. In a time when women of color were not considered among the beauty standards in fashion, the unexpected act of showcasing them as such, jolted the mind and filled the senses of the unsuspecting audience. America’s ability to surprise the world with the new and different is a national strength that cannot be underestimated and is a boundless source of inspiration for others. As Oscar De La Renta remembered of that moment, “We were one that day.” And as ONE, our ability to win is increased.

Donna Karan, Iman, Liya Kebede, Veronica Webb, Renauld White, Jason Wu, Ruben and Isabel Toledo, Sam Fine, Lynn Whitfield, Kathryn Chenault, Cicely Tyson, Veronica Webb, Audrey Smaltz and Soledad O’Brian were among the celebrants.

ABC Evening News feature on event.

Donna Karan, Oscar De La Renta, Stephan Burrows
Pat Cleveland, Stephan Burrows, Alva Chinn
The assembled Models from Versailles

Audrey Smaltz (left) Barbara Harris (right)
Jeffrey Banks and Norma Jean Darden
Terrie Williams and Robin Bell
Audrey Smaltz
Renauld White (left) Billie Blair (right)
Soledad O'Brien and Spencer Means
Reuban Toledo, Alva Chinn, Isabelle Toledo
Cicely Tyson and Soledad O'Brien

Glenn Tunstull, Barbara Summers, Renauld White
Lynn Whitfield
Bethann Hardison

Jason Wu (right)
Teri Agins
Katherine Chenault
Gail Wright-Sirmans

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