Fashion Historians Celebrate ‘Revolutionary’ African American Models

Some of the African American Models from 1973's Grand Divertissement à Versailles.

Remember the movie Mahogany starring Diana Ross?  She was the talk of Paris with her keen sense of style that came across in her look and later her designs.  It was the exact same setting in 1973 during the Grand Divertissement à Versailles, when the African American female models stepped onto the stage in Versailles and set the town on fire.  National Public Radio reported on the effect their monumental European appearance made on the world and the celebration to be held in New York to commemorate it.

Last Monday, approximately 200 people came out to celebrate those African American women who carved a new day in modeling for women of color at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.   Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert put the event together and described it saying, “It was as if, on this cold night, all the windows of Versailles had been blown open.” 

The evening was supposed to simply showcase French and American design, but in fact came to represent “Who’s the hottest in the world of fashion?” According to former model Sandi Bass, the french turned to black women after that night.  They were taking the stage by storm, one turn and strut at a time.  Nearly 40 years later, the modeling world is again in need of a revival of black women gracing the stages of the world and Monday’s event was a reminder of that.  

The year of the Versailles event, Bass started her European modeling career.  She remembered that night in 1973 saying, “There was a certain kind of walk that we had at the time, and I’m just going to say it was pretty much the ‘black girls’ walk.’  We were free, we were spirited, we would smile. … It was like a little trot down the runway.”

Hats off to the trailblazers!  Read more here.

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