Fashion show documentary highlights the importance of diversity


Anna and Pat Cleveland talk to the director of Versailles ’73: American Runway Revoultion during the filming of the documentary. Photo courtesy of Coffee Bluff Pictures.

Morgan Jupina

Kent State hosted a screening of “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution” Saturday night to fundraise for a trip that MODISTA: Minority Fashion Group will take to New York City in April.

The event, in honor of Black History Month, opened with a VIP reception where guests were able to speak with film director Deborah Riley Draper and models Billie Blair and Pat Cleveland about the groundbreaking fashion show in 1973.

Draper said the fashion show was originally meant to raise money to fix $60 million of damages at the Palace of Versailles. She said the event did much more than raise money — it made American history and would forever change the fashion industry.

“The most significant part about Versailles is how American designers who were unknown at that moment were able to step onto the global stage and show the entire world the level of creativity and talent and design that was in New York, because at that time everyone looked up to Paris for fashion,” Draper said.

American designers who chose the models to wear their garments for the Versailles fashion show included Halston, Anne Klein, Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows and Oscar de la Renta.

Draper said out of the 36 models chosen for the fashion show, 11 were black, which created a huge shift in American and fashion history.

Pat Cleveland, a black supermodel who modeled in the Versailles show, said people in the ‘70s enjoyed the presence of the black models.

“People liked the rhythm and culture of the black models. It was a time when America loved music and jazz and wanted that feeling,” Cleveland said. “It was just the right moment.”

Cleveland said many emotions filled her while on the runway.

“I think what I was feeling the most was that I had to represent my country. I was very patriotic and dedicated,” Cleveland said. “We were like a family that allowed everyone to partake in America’s creativity.”

Billie Blair, also a black model in the Versailles show, said she didn’t realize they were making history during the event.

“For me, the experience is still blossoming and it will continue to blossom,” she said

Tameka Ellington, assistant fashion design and merchandising professor, said the event was very important to Kent State.

“They traveled around the world and changed the fashion industry. Before 1973 black models and designers were very rare, they were mostly underground,” Ellington said. “The Versailles event brought them mainstream.”

Dawn deFoor, receptionist at Vacca Office of Student Services, said she was excited to meet the models and better understand the history of the event.

“Hopefully I’ll get to learn about the journey of how these people got to Versailles and how it still impacts the industry today,” deFoor said. “I think this made a big splash and there’s still a rippling effect going on today.”

Draper said four months after the show in 1974, Beverly Johnson was the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue.

“The show really elevated the presence of African American models,” Draper said.

Ellington said she hopes the documentary taught people how important diversity is in the fashion industry.

“I’m hoping that being able to showcase this movie and showing how important it was for these women to be recognized and that the world started to view diversity in a better light, people will see how important it is to accept everyone for their own individual beauty,” Ellington said.

Cleveland said the greatest advice is to “use the gift you were given.”

“You should build a team to work together like a family. It’s not a one-man show, it’s more like a circus,” Cleveland said. “All that dreaming, just don’t stop it. Your dream makes the world go ‘round.”

Morgan Jupina is the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact Morgan Jupina at [email protected].