Billie Blair: A force of revolution at the Battle of Versailles
The star-studded room at the Versailles, on a late November evening of 1973 included everyone from Andy Warhol to Josephine Baker and the Princess of Monaco. The room was the Battle of Versailles. While the French came with their elaborate sets, the Americans arrived with Liza Minnelli and 36 models in tow.
Born in Arkansas, Billie Blair is of African-American descent. She began her career as a model by working through local modeling agencies in Detroit, which largely booked models for the Cobo Hall auto shows. She credits her claim to fame in the 1970s to Marji Kunz, then fashion editor of the Detroit Free Press. With Kunz's guidance, she flew to New York in 1973, a trip that was planned to last only three days, but instead turned into 20 years after Blair signed with the Ellen Harth agency and Eileen Ford of the Ford Models agency.
Blair modeled at The Battle at Versailles Fashion Show in 1973, where along side Pat Cleveland, Bethann Hardison, Jennifer Brice, Alva Chinn, Norma Jean Darden, Charlene Dash, Barbara Jackson, Ramona Saunders, and Amina Warsuma; created a mark for Black Models in the fashion industry.
The French had a lot going on onstage but it was much more rooted in tradition and in history. They were aiming for something Marie Antoinette would have recognized. The American style of presentation was very, very contemporary—to a large degree, pretty spare. There weren't elaborate sets and they pretty much relied on the performance of the people.
So much of what happened at Versailles was a reflection of the times- of what was going on politically and socially in terms of race relations. The Americans emphasized ready-to-wear, sportswear and fashion as a kind of entertainment and a women's freedom to choose her own style of dress.
So for the Americans coming into their own in the 70s, it was a time when music was a powerful expression of sexual freedom and independence and the models in general were encouraged to be much more emotive on the runway. The performance of the black models really brought a kind of personality to the runway that had not been there in that kind of abundance before.