Ava DuVernay to Direct Film About the Pivotal 1970s Moment That Put Black Models and American Designers on the Map.

Ava DuVernay Versailles

Yet another amazing project for Ava DuVernay! The Selma filmmaker is set to direct an HBO production about a pivotal moment in fashion history for both black models and American fashion designers. The movie will depict the fashion show that took place at the Palace of Versailles November 28, 1973. The show, a fundraiser for the restoration of King Louis XIV’s palace, pitted American designers against French ones. Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, Halston, and Stephen Burrows — the sole black designer in the group, went up against Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, and Marc Bohan of Christian Dior. The face-off marked a turning point for American designers who were consistently up against the history, heritage, and prestige of the French fashion industry.

In a bold move, 10 of 30 the American fashion models were black. The models included Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, Billie Blair, Jennifer Brice, Alva Chinn, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, China Machado, Ramona Saunders, and Amina Warsuma. The American designers emerged victorious — a victory which birthed the very concept of American fashion and broke racial barriers at the same time.

Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic Robin Givhan chronicled this historic moment in American fashion by looking at how race played a role in helping American designers to define themselves on the world stage in her book The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History. Givhan’s book will serve as the basis for the DuVernay helmed project, which the filmmaker is co-writing with Michael Starrbury.

The event at Versailles was also chronicled in Deborah Riley Draper’s 2012 feature documentary Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution.

This upcoming project isn’t DuVernay’s first fashion-related film. In 2013, she directed The Door, a short film for Miu Miu, which starred Gabrielle Union and also featured Alfre Woodard, Emayatzy Corinealdi, and Adepero Oduye.