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Brilliant NYTimes writer Guy Trebay recently penned an article acknowledging the pivotal role African-American models played in asserting the image of American fashion:
The story begins with the 1973 Grand Divertissement à Versailles, a fashion show created in theory to showcase French and American design, but which was in reality a showdown to determine which country would dominate the industry. French couturiers Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Emanuel Ungaro, and Christian Dior (designed by Marc Bohan) went toe-to-toe with American designers Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Halston, Anne Klein, and Stephen Burrows. According to Mr. Trebay, American fashion ‘came of age’ at that moment not because of superior designs, but moreso because of casting. Trebay says, “the Grand Divertissement à Versailles was very nearly the first time that anyone in Paris had seen an African-American woman on a catwalk…there is no arguing with contemporary reports that described the presence of black models as a major factor in the transformation of American fashion, which the French had derided as mass-produced goods, into a global force.”
The article goes on to interview several African-American models including Bethann Hardison, Alva Chinn, and Pat Cleveland. Bethann says, “Black models were not the norm then and are hardly the norm now. But we were part of a time period where being a runway model meant something, a time before runway models were given up for print girls, and it was the runway girl who sold your merchandise. That really started changing people’s minds about us and what we could do.” Amazing.
Read more here.