What do the Met Gala, New York Fashion Week, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the International Best Dressed List and the iconic Battle of Versailles all have in common — aside from being fashion industry staples? Their existence can all be attributed to one woman: Eleanor Lambert. Iconic fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert is considered to be the person responsible for helping create these now iconic institutions as well as helping to put American fashion on a global stage. Lambert is widely recognized as the original fashion publicist and just made her debut on the small screen thanks to Netflix’s limited series, Halston (streaming now).
Lambert tirelessly advocated for American fashion designers, the New York fashion industry and acted as an unofficial American ambassador for arts and culture. Lambert was even appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to the National Council on the Arts of the National Endowment for the Arts, for her work garnering global attention for American fashion and in turn helping stimulate the economy — she was kind of a big deal!
On Halston, Lambert is portrayed by Tony Award-winning actress, Kelly Bishop — yes, grandma Emily Gilmore from Gilmore Girls — and stars opposite Ewan McGregor (who stars in the title role). On the show, we first get to meet Lambert as she urges Halston to join her elite team of American fashion designers to compete in a benefit show, aiding with the preservation of the palace of Versailles. Lambert was responsible for putting together the now historic event: dubbed The Battle of Versailles. The show featured the work of five American designers: Stephen Burrows, Halston, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta and Anne Klein.
The American designers were pitted against French heavyweights Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Marc Bohan (head designer of Dior at that time) and Hubert de Givenchy. This showdown between the two teams couldn’t have been any different. The French presentation was overly opulent and grand whereas the American presentation was minimal and fresh. From an opening number from Liza Minnelli, the freshness of Stephen Burrows’ signature lettuce hem, Black models like Bethann Hardison and Pat Cleveland gliding across the stage and Halston’s seductive gowns flowing in the wind — the Americans presented the European fashion and high society sets with something they had never seen before. In the end the Americans ended their presentation to thunderous applause and as some historians tell it, won the “battle.” It was a tour de force for putting American fashion on the map. And all because of Eleanor Lambert.
Sadly Eleanor Lambert only appears in episode 2 of the limited series but in her brief screen time, we learn so much about the impact of this one woman and the way she changed the landscape of American fashion forever. And if you love fashion and fashion history, we definitely recommend checking out the rest of the series to see cameos of icons like Pat Cleveland, Alva Chinn, Bethann Hardison, Bianca Jagger and Karen Bjornson.