Years Later, Versailles Models Still Walking the Walk
NEW YORK (AP) - They didn’t really know it at the time, but the black models who walked in the Versailles fashion face-off in France in 1973 carved a path on the catwalk for generations to come.
Lately, though, there has been some erosion - not just for black models, but for models overall, says Bethann Hardison, one of those trailblazers who now spends most of her time on the other side of the business as a casting director, agent and adviser.
"The ’fashion model’ has become extinct. They are no longer muses, they are girls with clothes on them," says Hardison. "In the early and mid-’90s, things started to change and diversity got lost."
She’s talking about skin color, body types, hairstyles - anything that shows personality, she explains. "Now designers, they don’t want models to be so recognizable. They are picking girls you wouldn’t notice. They want the girls to walk front to back, and tell them, ’Don’t smile, don’t swing your hips, don’t do anything but walk.’"
Back at Versailles, when a group of upstart American-based designers, including Halston, Anne Klein and Bill Blass, unexpectedly beat French couturiers in a fashion competition that really put the U.S. sportswear industry on the map, Hardison says she was expected to work the crowd. "Halston said, ’Bethann, we’re counting on you.’ At rehearsal, I couldn’t bring it, I was so nervous, but in the show, when the moment came, fear made me go down there and do it for the team, and I did it."
There were almost a dozen black models on the runway, which was unheard of at the time. It showed the Americans as modern, especially compared with the more old-school, rarified styles of Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent and Hubert de Givenchy.
Many of the models continued with steady catwalk work through the 1970s and ’80s, perfecting unique looks that designers would use as inspiration.
Hardison says designers weren’t using them to make a social statement; they were trying to reflect the new global audience they were speaking to. Some designers and brands continue to do that today, she observes, but too many are caught up in having that blank canvas they think won’t distract from their clothes.