The Battle of Versailles

The Battle of Versailles:

The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History

by Robin Givhan


As Paris Fashion Week kicks off, it's only fitting to dedicate this week's "Book Mark" to the Battle of Versailles by Washington Post's writer and 2006 Pulitzer Prize for her fashion criticism, Robin Givhan.

Robin Givhan-  photo by Helayne Seidman

Robin Givhan- photo by Helayne Seidman

I was prompted to buy this book because I am a fan of Givhan's writing. She has written articles from Vogue to Essence magazines. One of my favorite pieces by her is about First Lady, Michelle Obama and the social and cultural changes of having an African-American family in the White House for the first time. 

The "Battle," comes down to one night of fashion in Versailles--a city just outside of Paris--when the top five American designers face-off with the top five French designers for an iconic fundraiser fashion show to restore King Louis XIV's palace AKA The Palace of Versailles. Stephen Burrows was the only African-American fashion designer of the night. Unfortunately, he is not as popular today but was famed for his design of colorful jersey dresses often worn by models of the time in social settings. 

Through historical accounts, Givhan chronicles the evolution of the fashion industry and how American designers shifted French fashion standards of couture (clothes made to order based on the client's specific measurements)  to ready-made wear or prêt-à-porter (clothes made in various sizes and purchased 'off-the-rack').  

Givhan's ability to describe intricate details leading up to and on the night of the fashion show in Versailles, and place it in historical context easy enough for anyone to wrap their heads around without feeling like it's a university textbook;  makes the book an excellent read. 

I would highly recommend this book if you appreciate the art of fashion, fashion history or history in general.