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Behind the Lens: Bill Cunningham

Culture Watch
Photographer Bill Cunningham.

By Jessica Michault

There are moments in time that change the course of history. In the world of fashion “The Battle of Versailles” in 1973 was one of those turning points that revolutionized the industry. And one man who was there to capture it all was famed New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham.

Now, for the first time ever, SCAD FASH, the fashion and film museum of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) presents exclusive and never before seen images taken by Cunningham of the groundbreaking fashion show. Called “Grand Divertissement à Versailles, Vintage Photographs by Bill Cunningham,” the exhibit illustrates, through the photographer’s candid shots, the unique energy, style and aesthetic of the fashion show, which took place in the gilded place of Louis XIV in France.

The once in a lifetime show pitted the top five fashion designers of France (Marc Bohan of Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent and Emanuel Ungaro) against the best American designers of the era (Bill Blass, Stephen Burrows, Halston, Anne Klein and Oscar de la Renta) ostensibly to raise funds to help restore the palace of Versailles. It was a must attend event that found over 700 of the world’s most glamorous and wealthy individuals coming together, including Princess Grace, Liza Minnelli, Josephine Baker and Andy Warhol, for a heady night of fashion and fabulousness.

The exhibit consists of 66 historic images and an original program of the event on loan to SCAD FASHION from the private collection of Nancy North—one of the models who walked in the show. The Cunningham photos reveal in stark relief how the American design houses came out ahead as the new arbiters of style.

A style that was more sleek and modern and decidedly less stuffy or theatrical than their French counterparts, like winds of change sweeping through the Versailles hall of mirrors, this epic show was the tipping point when American fashion took the lead over Old World Europe. Cunningham’s vibrant images beautifully translate the glamour and excitement of this exceptional night to remember.


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