This November will mark the 40th anniversary of the Grand Divertissement à Versailles fashion show, which is credited for changing the course of fashion history. Award-winning writer and producer Deborah Riley Draper will premiere her documentary film “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution,” during a special screening at Drexel University on April 18 at 6 p.m.

The film recounts the 1973 fashion showdown between American and French designers at Chateau de Versailles that changed the global perception of African-American models and made a name all over the globe for American designers, including internationally acclaimed African-American designer Stephen Burrows.

Pat Cleveland — one of 11 African-American models — traveled to Paris with the five American designers who were eager to earn their ranks in the international fashion industry.

The designers – Halston, Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Burrows – remain fashion distinguished icons today.Along with Karen Bjornson and Anjelica Huston, Cleveland belonged to Halston’s regular troupe of models, nicknamed “the Halstonettes.” Cleveland graced the cover of Jet magazine when she was fourteen. “Jet was the bible in the African-American society. This weekly magazine was sold everywhere and told who, what, when and why of that day.

Going from Jet Magazine to Vogue was a major career shift for Cleveland.

“The climate in the 1970’s was impossible. African-American women were not considered beautiful and there were racial issues still prevalent. I did not know I had even jumped barriers,” said Cleveland.

“African American women had their own rhythm then and now. The American designers let us have the runway and this meant just having our souls come through our modeling. Clothing is not just about fabric. Clothing is a good thing.

“Designers were inspired by the way we moved; we were inspired by the clothes,” she said. “I lived for that moment. This fashion show was my big moment; everything has worked up to that moment.”

Cleveland loved her career and enjoyed meeting people and traveling the world through modeling. “I did not have to sacrifice anything for my career because I worked hard to have it all. You have to work for anything, even if you are a cook or a stylist. There’s no difference in the fashion world. You have to structure your life and be responsible for what you want, if you really want it. Combing your hair or not, it is who you are and It represents a lifestyle.”

Drexel Historic Costume Collection will display a Halston-designed gown in The URBN Annex’s Pearlstein Gallery the night of the screening. Sandra Blumberg, owner of Philadelphia-based art consulting firm Blumberg & Harris, donated the gown.
“The Versailles Ball was a real highlight for me in the ‘70s. I was invited by Halston and Eleanor Lambert to attend,” said Blumberg, who also will be attending the screening and discussion.

The screening will take place in the URBN Annex Screening Room (34th and Filbert Streets). The event is hosted by the Design & Merchandising Program in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. It is free and open to the public.

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The early 20th century was a period of significant advancements for businesses, government entities and individuals in the United States.A century ago, this country celebrated the opening of New York’s Grand Central Terminal, formed the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and passed of one of the first minimum wage laws in the country.

In 1913, women and minors were starting to be shielded from employment disparity with newly formed minimum wage laws in several states. Many women felt devalued when compared to male counterparts. Some worked 50 hours a week with a 45-minute lunch and earned a weekly wage of almost $9.

This year commemorates the 100-year anniversary of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., the single largest African-American women’s organization in the country. Of the many notable events planned to commemorate the sorority’s founding, one holds significant historic relevance — the Women’s Suffrage March Reenactment.

The recent reenactment in the nation’s capital recreated the day the sorority’s founders participated as the only African-American organization in the Women’s Suffrage March on March 3, 1913. This was the first public service act of the sorority.

“The women of Delta Sigma Theta have been and remain a vital contributor to the success of our communities and a defender of rights of all people for 100 years,” said National President, Cynthia M. A. Butler-McIntyre. “We are going to take this year to honor the rich legacy of our 22 Founders, celebrate the inheritance they generously placed in our hands, and humbly take up the torch they lit for us to carry and pass on to the next generation.”

Philadelphia resident Loraine Greer is an active member of several women’s organizations that advocate on behalf of women’s rights.

“Committed to educating and empowering women, I especially felt compelled to attend the reenactment march,” she said.  “I saw it as an opportunity to strengthen my voice in an effort to continue advancing the socio-economic and political advancements for women. My attendance brought awareness to positive images of women and the hard work needed to improve opportunities within our communities and cities alike.”

Like many participants, Greer experienced an overwhelming sense of sisterhood, empowerment and uplifting.

“I watched older women walk five miles, with arms locked and a cane guiding each step,” she said. “This was an emotionally motivating experience, something I will never forget.”

Director Zhuairah McGill and cast members called the Meeting House Theater home for three consecutive weekends with performance of Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.”

For Colored Girls will be performed in the Meeting House Theater located 3500 Lancaster Ave. Performances will run Friday through Sunday, with a final show on Sunday, April 7.

“I wanted to honor women in their triumphs in failures and to let them know that no matter what you go through in life, you can withstand it,” McGill said.  

After seeing the movie in 2010, McGill wanted to present For Colored Girls on stage – in the format it was originally intended to be performed.

“The struggles in For Colored Girls are as relevant today for young women as they were when this play hit the stage.” McGill realized through her daughter’s friends that most women 35 and under only experienced the play in the movie theatre.

“They lacked an understanding of the history and impact this work that has had on audiences for decades and I felt compelled to bring light to the transformative and transcending power this play has,” she said. “When you see this play up close and personal, it is a different experience. There are no cover-ups or retakes. It just is.”

According to McGill this play is an African-American classic and landmark in American theatre because it “illuminates the tales of women in all the shades of life’s experiences.

A powerful ensemble cast bears the passion, drama, comedy and pain that paint the visions, confessions and revelations of these women known only by the various colors of the rainbow.

“Though Shange at times reveals some ugly truths about abuse, relationships, and domestic violence, she does not allow the darkness to go unchallenged,” McGill said. “Instead she gifts us through poetry and dance, reminding us that women bear a complicated love and invites you to transform, cross the rainbow and experience the light that exists on the other side.”

For many viewers, the play was an emotional journey.

“I laughed and cried,” said Marcia Logan. “I was so moved that words seem so inadequate to express the greatness of this show. The last song and those words moved me to sob like a baby.”

This production is a partnership with West Philadelphia’s Community Education Center and First World Theatre Ensemble. The CEC was founded by local community members to promote shared experiences and nurture fellowship among its varied neighborhoods across cultural and economic differences.

Through selected classic and original works, First World leverages theatre as a powerful platform for social change and nurtures public conversations around critically important social issues that impact all of lives. For more information on current and upcoming performances, visit http://www.firstworldtheatre.biz.