*There is a dazzling documentary being shown in intimate settings throughout New York City to the crème de la crème of fashionistas that is receiving rave reviews from its viewers.
It’s an ingenious film about fashion that should be required viewing for anyone entering the fashion industry. The highly stylized fashion presentation is chockfull of factual fashion anecdotes about fashion industry competiveness on the highest level which is cleverly written, directed and produced by Deborah Riley Draper with charm, wit and divalicious aplomb.
The documentary – “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution” – chronicles the events leading up to the iconic 1973 fashion showdown at the Chateau de Versailles between American and French designers nicknamed the “Battle of Versailles.” Viewers are mesmerized by the fierce competition that emerged between such lions of French haute couture as Yves St. Laurent, Christian Dior, and Emanuel Ungaro, and American designers Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows, the first African American fashion designer to achieve international recognition
One such private showing was held on Thursday, May 16, 2013 at the Museum of the City of New (MCNY). The pre-screening wine reception and private screening was followed by a spirited panel that included Mikki Taylor, editor-at-large at Essence Magazine, Draper, Burrows and 3 of the Versailles models: Pat Cleveland, Charlene Dash and Alva Chinn who eagerly shared their take on the “Battle of Versailles” show and the important role Burrows played. His masterful sketches illustrating the movement and freedom of his clothing were vital contributions to the success of the show.
The models became animated when explaining how Burrows’ bold color blocking and form-fitting silhouettes became a sensation as the models swayed and danced down the legendary runway, including his original design concept for the gown modeled by Norma Jean Darden. However, the piece de resistance was the smack down the American designers served at Versailles. The ultimate upset brought down the house at Versailles and changed the course of fashion history. Black had finally arrived and was In Vogue! Learn more: www.versailles73movie.com.
The private MCNY event was presented in conjunction with Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced, the first major exhibition exploring the work of Burrows who defined the look of the disco club scene, establishing a new, liberated era of American fashion. The exhibit focuses on Burrows as an American design force, featuring original sketches, photographs, video, and over 50 garments, ranging from his first fashion collection to slip dresses that twirled on the floor of Studio 54 to his signature “lettuce” edge, red zig-zag stitching, his use of fringe and metallic fabrics, and bold color blocking and slinky, body-defining silhouettes. The over-elaborate exhibition displays a pivotal period in Burrows’ career — from 1968 to 1983 — when his flamboyant style epitomized the glamour of the city’s nighttime social scene. Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced will run through July 28, 2013. Learn more: www.mcny.org. (Photos courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
About Stephen Burrows
Stephen Burrows was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1943. He began designing in 1966 after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology. At the beginning of the decade, the city’s fashion industry still largely followed the directional edicts issued by the French haute couture and the American design hierarchy, but over the course of the 1960s, the emerging counterculture broke all of high fashion’s rules, embracing handcrafting, hand-dyeing, surface embellishment, and explosive color combinations. As a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology and as a young designer, Burrows embraced the sensuality and free-spiritedness of the time, creating colorful garments that playfully wrapped the body, accentuating the movements of the wearers – many of whom were his circle of friends caught up in the freewheeling club scene of the East Village and Fire Island in the late 1960s.
What began downtown as a visionary, small-scale design enterprise building a cult following at “O” Boutique (across from the legendary Max’s Kansas City) rapidly leaped into full-blown commercial production as Burrows’ clothing caught the attention of a broader fashion public. From creating eclectic looks for his friends in the 1960s — unisex, anysex clothing of leather and suede, studs and fringe patched and whip-stitched into pants and vests — to his full-length, slimming jersey works on the floor of Studio 54, Burrows’ distinctive style has steadfastly followed his overriding design philosophy: that “clothes be colorful, alive, fresh, sexy, feminine, and most of all, fun to wear. They must move as the body moves, be danceable, comfortable and have a great fit, and they should give the feeling of an engineered sensuality.” Even when forms took new directions, the colors, freedom and danceability of the 1960s never left Stephen Burrows’ work.
The first African American designer to receive international acclaim, Burrows is considered an industry legend for his innovative work in matte jersey, chiffon, and velvet. Dubbed “an American original” by The New York Times, Burrows is recognized as the designer who created the fluttery hem referred to as “lettuce edge.” In 1970, Geraldine Stutz, the president of Henri Bendel on West 57th Street (who was on the lookout for hip new designers to invigorate uptown fashion), made him Bendel’s designer-in-residence, providing him with his own atelier in the store. There, his debut collections featured vivid jersey color blocks and tightly fitted, studded leathers that directly reflected his East Village sensibility. Although he proceeded to simplify his approach to feature linear, monochromatic design, more explicitly sensual women’s wear, and lighter fabrics (notably chiffon-weight, matte Jasco jersey embellished with his signature lettuce edge), his work always maintained the spirit that had characterized it from the beginning.
Burrows is the winner of many top fashion awards including Coty Awards in 1973, 1974, and 1977. In 2006 — his fortieth anniversary year — he was honored with the CFDA’s Board of Directors Special Tribute Award.
About MCNY Book — Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced
To accompany the exhibition, the Museum published Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced (Rizzoli, USA) that includes over 80 glossy pages of gorgeous photographs, many of which have never been published, as well as original design sketches. The book was edited by the exhibitions co-curator, Italian-based journalist, art director, and art curator Daniela Morera, and features essays by four authors: Phyllis Magidson, the Museum of the City of New York’s curator of costumes and textiles; Daniela Morera; Laird Persson, fashion historian and commentator; and Glenn O’Brien, fashion, art, and music editor and critic. Exploring Burrows thematically by color, print, silhouette, time, place, and celebrity clientele, Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced provides a vivid overview of his work from 1968 through 1983. The book was designed by Pure+Applied.
About MCNY Exhibition Credits
Stephen Burrows: When Fashion Danced is organized by Phyllis Magidson, MCNY’s curator of costumes and textiles and guest curator Daniela Morera and exhibition design by Cooper Joseph Studio. The exhibition is made possible by the generous support of Target and The Coby Foundation. Additional support is provided by Laura Lofaro Freeman, Claire and Charles Shaeffer, and the Nando Peretti Foundation, among other donors. Support towards the implementation of the exhibition was provided by Southpaw and Madame Paulette Professional Cleaning and Restoration Services; with a special acknowledgement to Anna Marie for her drawings. The exhibition’s companion book is made possible in part by a grant from Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
About The Museum of the City of New York
Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. For additional information please visit: www.mcny.org.
Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.